How will America memorialize the victims of COVID-19? Two stone benches and a granite memorial placed in the middle of a Jewish cemetery outside Boston provide one possible answer.

The markers, placed by the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts and dedicated last July, are among the country’s very first memorial’s to the pandemic’s victims—if not the first.

“I’m grateful that there’s a memorial for us to go to sit,” said Lisa Berenson, JCAM’s director of educational programming and development. “It’s just a place for people to gather and reflect. It’s still a comfort.”

JCAM dedicated the memorial as well as two benches at the Sons of Abraham Cemetery at the end of the Baker Street Memorial Park in Beverly, Massachusetts, in honor of people who died during the pandemic.

The first bench is dedicated to those who died without family present or around to mourn them.

“In honor of those we’ve lost for whom there was no one to say Kaddish, may their memory always be a blessing,” reads the memorial’s engraving— a reminder to those who could not have family and friends with them and those who had to die alone.

“There was no one there. There was no one for them,” JCAM executive director Jamie Cotel said. “We have a tradition at JCAM to go to the grave and pay our respects.”

The second bench is in honor of the cemetery caretakers, whom Cotel calls the “last responders.” The bench engraving reads, “In honor of our dedicated caretakers, the last responders who unselfishly performed the ultimate act of loving kindness.”

“There’s a lot of stories on the bench for our caretakers that no one thinks about,” Cotel said. “Everyone thinks of the first responders. We’re the ones they have at the end.”

The memorial is for anyone, Cotel said, including those who did not die during the pandemic period due to COVID-19.

“It’s very important to me that it’s JCAM’s gift to the community,” Cotel said. “Because everyone has to be so careful during the pandemic, people haven’t seen their loved ones for possibly months.”

The memorial, which was made possible by the donation of Slotnick Monuments principal Steven Schneider, is the first of its kind in Massachusetts and possibly also within the country. It reads: “In memory of those lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘And the People Mourned as One Community.’”

The memorial, like the disease, struck close to home. Berenson lost her brother to COVID-19. He died alone, quarantined for his own safety and that of his family. “It was so difficult to know I couldn’t do anything to aid his loneliness and his pain,” said Berenson.

Berenson’s brother died Nov. 5 in a nursing facility in Rhode Island. He left behind his wife and two adult children, as well as Berenson and her family.

Throughout its 125 cemeteries, JCAM has had to bury almost triple the amount of people then normal these past few months, according to Cotel.

“We tried to stay in line with what Gov. Baker has required, but we’ve also had to impose our own restrictions,” Cotel said. “There’s so much pain and suffering and trauma within the community, and I felt like it was important for there to be a space for people to go.”

Reprinted with permission from The Forward.

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