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Jun 21, 2010

Chessed shel Emmes

Isaac Bitton, originally from Portugal, dedicated his life to restoring the small Jewish cemetery in Faro, Portugal.

When he recently died, he was repaid in kind, being the first, with his wife's body being re-interred from a non-Jewish cemetery she had been buried in due to lack of a Jewish cemetery in the area they lived in outside of Chicago, to be buried in the new Jewish cemetery in McHenry County.
Franks, who paid for the ground, said he knew his friend Bitton was upset when he had to bury his wife, Miriam, in a nonsectarian cemetery in 2004. Bitton himself died two years later at 80. Their bodies were reburied in the Jewish cemetery last month, the first burials there.


"I knew it was important to him and I am so pleased to help fulfill what I knew would be his dream," Franks said. "I liked him very much."

Maynard Grossman is vice president of the Illinois Cemetery and Funeral Home Association and executive director of Shalom Memorial Park and Funeral Home in Arlington Heights. The new cemetery, he said, is a good thing for the Jewish sense of community.

The Jewish commitment to caring for the dead "should be part of the life cycle," Grossman said.

Isaac Bitton of Woodstock was one of 10 children and grew up in Lisbon, Portugal, raised in a strict Jewish family, his family said.

As a teenager, Bitton joined the British army in World War II and fought in a Jewish brigade, said his son, Mike. He later fought for Israel's independence, his son said.

Isaac Bitton and his wife were married in Palestine; the couple immigrated with their three sons to the United States in 1959.

On a trip to the town of Faro, Portugal, in 1984 to visit his mother's birthplace, Isaac Bitton discovered a small, neglected Jewish cemetery. Most of the gravesites were in shambles.

"He was appalled," his son said. "He came back and was committed to getting that place fixed up."

Over the next 10 years Bitton, who owned a flooring business in Woodstock until 1999, worked with politicians and businessmen in Portugal to set up the nonprofit Faro Cemetery Restoration Fund. He raised about $80,000 to restore the cemetery, his son said.

In 1993, the new Faro Jewish Heritage Cemetery was restored and rededicated.

Bitton negotiated deals that ensured a portion of parking fees and other services would be used to support the cemetery, his son said.

"My dad made sure that this would never be in disarray again," Mike Bitton said.

Franks, who worked with Isaac Bitton on restoring the cemetery, serves as secretary of the Faro Cemetery Corp.

In 2007, a year after Bitton's death, the Isaac Bitton Synagogue Museum was opened on the cemetery grounds.

"Without the past we have no present, without the present there is no future," Mike Bitton said, quoting one of his father's favorite sayings. "You have to honor those that came and went before you and it is not nice to leave them in such disarray like that."

Bitton said he is grateful that Franks and the congregation made his father's dream of a Jewish cemetery in McHenry County come true.

It is a place, he said, "where those of us that are left behind can go and visit whenever we like."


What goes around, comes around..

2 comments:

  1. When he recently died, he was repaid in kind, being the first, with his wife's body being re-interred from a non-Jewish cemetery she had been buried in due to lack of a Jewish cemetery in the area they lived in outside of Chicago, to be buried in the new Jewish cemetery in McHenry County.

    I don't understand. Are there no Jewish Cemeteries in the States?
    Did he have no other choice but to bury his wife in a non-jewish cemwetery?

    ReplyDelete
  2. bohr - I would guess that there is no Jewish cemetery in the area near where he lived, and he preferred to have her close by to be able to visit her grave rather than have to drive a couple hours to the nearest jewish cemetery. He was 78 years old or so, and maybe it was difficult for him, so he chose proximity as being more important...

    Also, perhaps with no jewish cemetery in the area, perhaps it was common for all the local Jews to be buried in non-Jewish cemeteries rather than be buried much farther away.

    Having a Jewish cemetery in the area solves the problem.

    ReplyDelete

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