“Mishpacha Memories” Brings History to Life at Hebrew Cemetery

By Brian Yesowitch, Hebrew Cemetery Association Historical Chair

Most of us have experienced excitement and admiration when we hear about someone in sports, entertainment, or another field who has done something noteworthy and newsworthy. For many of us, that excitement grows, and our hearts swell when we learn they’re Jewish!

It’s such a common feeling for many Jews that even Adam Sandler wrote a song about it — “The Hanukkah Song.” In it, he lists famous Jews like Kirk Douglas, Leonard Nimoy, and Goldie Hawn. By the way, Adam is also our nation’s most recent Mark Twain Prize for American Humor recipient and yes, he’s Jewish!
It is in this spirit that our Hebrew Cemetery Association and our Cultural Arts Committee at the Levine Jewish Community Center are inviting all of you to our upcoming “Mishpacha Memories” program on Sunday. June 11 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., rain or shine at the Hebrew Cemetery. The program will consist of two tours of our cemetery, where reenactors will take attendees back in time to the 1960s, the 1920s, and even as far back as 1870, when our cemetery was founded and there were barely 15 Jewish families in Mecklenburg County. You’ll get a chance to see actors in period costumes (you are also welcome to dress comfortably in the era of your choice) and hear their stories of what life was like in those bygone eras of Jewish Charlotte.

Additionally, our friends at McEwen Funeral Service Pineville Chapel will dress as 19th century undertakers and bring their horse-drawn hearse. We know that was the minhag (tradition) of our cemetery before automobiles were popular because we have mentions in the Charlotte Daily Observer. For example in June of 1876 when the funeral of Jacob Rintels was such an important event in Charlotte that businesses were closed for half a day and people followed the horse-drawn hearse from his home (at the corner of Trade and Tryon) to the Hebrew Cemetery, where Rabbi Mendelsohn from Wilmington, North Carolina performed the funeral service. Mr. Rintels was the manager of Witkowsky’s Dry Goods on that corner. He and his family lived in the apartment on the third floor of that address that is now the home of the Bank of America Corporate Center — the tallest building in Charlotte. There will be a reenactment of the Rintels Family — Jacob, his wife Bess, and their six children.

 Our Mishpacha Memory reenactors will also share with us the stories of Lena and David Lebovitz, whose chain of Lebo’s western and dance clothing and shoes is still popular. Not only were they important to the business community, but they were a founding family of Temple Emanuel in Gastonia and held services in their home before a permanent building could be acquired for that congregation. We also look forward to hearing the stories of fruit and vegetable magnate Moses Richter, whose Spartanburg, South Carolina property was co-owned with movie and television personality Groucho Marx. Groucho was interviewed by the Observer in Moses’ home in the early 1960s. Attendees to the cemetery on June 11 will also get a chance to hear Gladys Lavitan recite “Outward Bound” the Sutton Vane poem that bookended her 80-year Charlotte stage and film career. Leaders in our community in business, literature, broadcasting, and other professions will be portrayed in period costumes at the event. All are welcome.

This event is being co-produced by Sandra Goldman, director of the Hebrew Cemetery of Charlotte and Michelle Rusgo, director of art and culture at the Levine JCC. For Sandra, this event is something she has been working toward for nearly a decade. She is grateful to have found a great partner in Michelle and the Levine JCC. Michelle says, “The collaboration between the LJCC and the Hebrew Cemetery on Mishpacha Memories is a powerful testament to the community of Jewish life where the living and departed are bound together in memories and hope. A historical tour highlighting our Jewish history helps us understand the journey that brought us where we are today and inspires us to appreciate our heritage and the lives of our ancestors.”
Please sign up to attend the event. RSVP online at charlottejcc.org. If you have further questions, you may email Sandra, [email protected] or Michelle, [email protected]

To learn more about the Hebrew Cemetery, purchasing funeral plots, or membership and donation opportunities, please contact our Director, Sandra Goldman at (704) 576-1859 or by email at [email protected].

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