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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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Toronto cemetery to erect new building

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Artist’s depiction of the new building at Bathurst Lawn

TORONTO — Members of the Ivansker Mutual Benefit Society who attended their annual Yizkor service at Bathurst Lawn Memorial Park cemetery between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur may have noticed a significant change at the edge of the cemetery grounds: the former house that was the administrative headquarters for the cemetery has been demolished.

The former house was in poor condition and needed to be replaced. So in its place, the Bathurst Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery Association has begun constructing a new multi-functional one-storey 5,000-square-foot building at a cost of about $1.25 million and due for completion in the spring. Another 2,500 square feet of space will be available in the basement.

At the city’s insistence, the building will be clad with stone, a creamy white stone that is finer than the stucco exterior originally envisioned and will give the structure a look of solidity and permanence. The architect is Cliff Korman. 

“It’s going to have a large meeting room, and the meeting room could also serve as a chapel,” said Sol Zeifman, co-chair of the building committee. “It could be used for whatever funeral services are necessary, for gravesides [services] in inclement weather, and for unveilings and l’chaims.”

The cemetery gates will be reconfigured to allow for building accessibility and parking when the cemetery is closed, Zeifman said, and the design will allow for a second storey, if desired, to be added in future. “Who knows? It may evolve into a community building of sorts if the neighbourhood remains Jewish and the community has a need.”

The cemetery is located on the east side of Bathurst Street north of Dewlane Drive, a few blocks south of Steeles Avenue. Probably close to 80 years old, the cemetery is older than almost anything else in the area. Beth Tzedek Memorial Park, another Jewish cemetery a short distance away on the west side of Bathurst Street, was dedicated in 1949.

Shortly after the Ivansker Mutual Benefit Society formation in 1932, its members purchased the land for the cemetery from a farmer, then began selling off most of it, parcel by parcel, to other Jewish organizations. 

Today an alphabet soup of nearly 60 groups, ranging from Adath Israel to the Zagliember Society, each owns a section of the cemetery. The list includes such small, obscure and historic groups as Beth Myer, Court Topaz, Husiatner Klaus, Lipsker Young Men, Pultusker Landsmanshaft, Stopnitzker Young Men’s Benevolent Association, Tzosmerer Friendly Society and Yavne Zion.

Several years ago, the cemetery association established a community section with nearly 400 plots, all of which quickly sold out. Now the cemetery association plans to redesign its internal roadways, some of which have 66-foot right-of-ways, to free up another 1,100 cemetery plots. Some membership groups, including the Ivanskers, will likely purchase some of the plots for their own members, and the rest will be released for community use.  

Jewish cemetery plots currently go for $4,000 to $5,000 in Toronto, Zeifman said. “That’s an average price, in that range,” he said. “Forty per cent of the money goes into a care and maintenance fund.”

Perpetual care and maintenance is a key reason the cemetery association, whose current president is Philip Covshoff, is trying to raise funds. The possibility that the new building may generate revenue is one that pleases the volunteers on the cemetery association executive, including building committee co-chair Abe Neufeld.

“It would be wonderful if the building would have a commercial benefit, because it is going to cost us a bit,” Zeifman said. “We’d like to keep the upkeep of the cemetery into perpetuity, so anything we can do to offset the expense of the building would be fantastic.”

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