It was when Clara Senders, an infant daughter of one of the Jewish families, died in December of 1877 that the Jews of Albany got organized. The heartbreaking event catalyzed the rallying of the area’s small Jewish population to establish a formalized Jewish community. In April of 1878, Bertha and Isaac Senders, four months after burying their daughter on their land, deeded that land to the newly formed First Hebrew Congregation of Albany, which would now oversee the newly established Albany Hebrew Cemetery.
Today, as I walk through the Waverly Jewish Cemetery (historically known as Albany Hebrew Cemetery), I remember not only the Jewish families who were pioneers here, but also more recent losses of beloved members (among them, “pillars”) of our Corvallis and Salem Jewish communities, who are also buried here. I feel the importance of preserving this place, and I am far from the only one. Our local Burial Society, which rededicated the cemetery in 1989, works to guide and support families who wish to follow Jewish practices for burial and remembrance of loved ones.
The Burial Society in recent years has taken on a larger role of ensuring that the historic cemetery is well cared for. In 2015, because of a generous donation from an individual, we were able to hire landscapers who mowed, weeded, attended the trees and shrubs, and planted rose bushes at the street-side edge of the grounds. In 2016, the cemetery, which was already listed in Oregon’s historic registry, was approved by the Oregon advisory committee to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, thanks to Amy Crain who began working on this project more than a decade ago in conjunction with Daniel Froehlich, archivist for Albany Hebrew Cemetery (Waverly Jewish Cemetery’s original title). In 2015, the Burial Society raised $1500 to pay for an assessment, leveling and cleaning of the tombstones, which improved the aesthetics of this special place. The work was furthered through grants in 2016 and 2017 (which totaled $6000) in Oregon Heritage Grants that allowed us to continue restorations in those years. These grants are still available through Oregon Parks and Recreation and may be obtained with the caring guidance of Kuri Gill.
In 2019, the Willamette Jewish Community Burial Society, with chapters from Beit Am in Corvallis and Temple Beth Sholom in Salem, put in gravel paths to make the cemetery more accessible. Thanks to the 30 volunteers who did the hard work to make this dream a reality.