Sixth graders clean up Jewish cemetery in Bonham
By Sally Drayer
As part of their social studies curriculum that includes community service, sixth graders in Marco Rodriguez’ social studies class at the Ann and Nate Levine Academy in Dallas agreed to help with the cleaning of headstones and other community service projects in Bonham.
The Willow Wild Cemetery Association of Bonham received a grant from the Texas Jewish Historical Society (TJHS) to help with the restoration of the section designated and recently consecrated as the Jewish cemetery. TJHS arranged for the consecration and awarded the grant at its summer board meeting held in Bonham in July.
After a bus ride from Dallas to Bonham, the students received instructions from Ms. Lou Ashmore, the Bonham cemetery’s caretaker, on the tombstone cleaning process. With rubber gloves and goggles, the students gathered bottles of cleaning solution and tools needed and began the process. As they cleaned, the carved lettering written in both English and Hebrew began to become more legible. Preceding the cleaning of the tombstones, the students faced east, read a psalm in both Hebrew and English. They washed their hands both before entering and after leaving the Jewish section.
In addition to cleaning the cemetery in Bonham, the students packed boxes of donated snacks for the local food pantry. Also, they hung shelving and cleaned a garden where a future playground will go at Foster Village North Texas, an organization that provides resources for children impacted by the foster care system.
Ashmore remarked that the students seemed to be really engaged in the importance of the mitzvah and that it was a special day for Willow Wild and the Bonham community. Rodriguez was happy for the opportunity to teach his students about Jewish history in a small town in North Texas.
Giving back by cleaning gravestones is a mitzvah that can’t be repaid and therefore is one of the highest levels of tzedakah. Students reflected on this experience: “When we cleaned the yard at the Foster building, it was nice doing service for others,” said one sixth grader. “It [cleaning the tombstones] was the absolute best way to help Jewish people who couldn’t help us back,” added another.
Sally Drayer is a member of the Texas Jewish Historical Society.