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  • Beth Chaim Cemetery: Klondike Jewish Cemetery Restoration Project contributed by Dr. Norman E. Kagan from the American Jewish World, April 23, 1999. "On cemetery ridge overlooking Dawson City in Canada's far northwest Yukon Territories, 'Beth Chaim,' the resting place of some five Jews, was rededicated on August 22, 1998. Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray, who is Jewish, was the keynote speaker and guests from Vancouver to Toronto joined locals to commemorate the Yukon-led cleanup of this old, nearly forgotten testament to the wandering Jews of a century ago. The project got its official start in the American Jewish World newspaper, on October 24, 1997, when Dr. Norman E. Kagan began to publicize the need. A group of Whitehorse, Yukon, Jewish citizens heard that call, incorporated themselves as the "Jewish Historical Society of Yukon" in February, and successfully petitioned the government for oversight of the untitles cemetery land. With the financial support of the Canadian Jewish Congress, they hired local contractors to build picket fencing and a metal gateway and had it installed with the help of non-Jewish volunteers in Dawson. ... In March of 1918, Myer Packer of Duluth took leave from the U.S. Army Air Corps and returned to Dawson City in the Yukon to see to his father's affairs. His dad, Solomon (born Aaron Yehudah ben Pekker in 1861 near Odessa in the Ukraine), had been the last remaining Jewish merchant from the old Klondike days when as many as 200 Jews had lived in Dawson. ... This past summer [1998], Jews in Minnesota and Alaska promoted a cleanup of the overgrown Jewish cemetery as part of the Klondike Gold Rush Centennial. The theme was taken up by Canadian Jews, and a fine restoration was made. Some eight Jewish merchants are thought to be buried there, but only five mounts, side by side, are known and only the one in the middle is marked, the usual wooden markers placed on the others having rotted away." Source: See the website for various illustrations. / Source. "Long neglected cemetery revived" by Brigitte D. Parker. Yukon News. Friday, March 6, 1998: "Yet, unnoticed and hidden from view by overgrowth are the neglected and forgotten tombs of five Jewish pioneers. In the centre of the wooded lot lies the broken overturned gateway, a rotting white-picket fence and the burial mounds. Only one is marked with a gravestone. During his visit to Dawson City in 1995, Norman Kagan of St. Paul, Minnesota, came across the cemetery and thought it should be cleaned and restored. ... "Here is this cemetery lying there dormant and I feel personally that we have neglected our responsibilities. "It is time already." The [new Jewish Historical] society's 12 members will also become the cemetery's custodians, ensuring its maintenance and upkeep in coming years. Of the 20,000 gold-seekers who came to the Yukon in 1898, nearly 200 Jewish descendants lived in Dawson City.
    The Jewish cemetery was started [1902] after the drowning of a young prospector from New York whose boat and cargo capsized in the rapids of the Fortymile River. As he had neither friends nor family in the area, the Jewish community took charge and petitioned Ottawa for a lot on the cemetery ridge.
    The federal government answered 10 years later. However, the Jewish community did not wait for an answer and buried Isaac Simons a month after his death in 1902. The ceremony was officiated by Robert Bloom, the Yukon's first rabbi. Another internment may have occurred following a fire which destroyed the Donovan Hotel in 1904. The ashes, bones and remains were found in the rented room of Harry Kaplan of San Francisco. It is believed that he may have been buried in the cemetery. The lone gravestone in the cemetery belongs to Solomon (Samuel) Packer who died in 1918 at the age of 57. Born near Odessa, Russia, Packer emigrated in the late 1880s and was a respected Dawson merchant for 20 years. He apparently died of a stroke while bringing in wood for his office stove. On hearing of his father's death, Myer Packer who was living in Duluth, Minnesota, traveled to Dawson to manage his father's estate and have a proper gravestone placed at the tomb site. A YOOP symbol is visible on the marker, recognizing Packer's membership. "It is still there and quite recognizable," says Kagan. A fourth death and burial was reported in the Dawson Daily News. Jacob Rosenfeldt, a clothier in Granville died in 1931. The cleanup is scheduled this summer [1998] between June 20 to July 4....A new archway and picket fence will be erected and a re-dedication is planned for the July 31 weekend.
    The names of the individuals will be inscribed on the two archway pillars. In addition, the centre of the lot will be cleared and four aspen posts will remain in the corner of the lot. This is to recreate a hoopa, says Kagan. "A hoopa is a structure with four posts holding a wooden platform. It is used when a couple gets married and represented the coming together of people under one roof," explains Kagan, a professor at the University of Minnesota. "In the cemetery, the roof will be the sky."
    ...Interestingly, the Fairbanks Or-Hatza-Son (Star of the North) congregation will be sending a six-member delegation. This synagogue is a direct descendant of the Dawson synagogue established by Bloom. [February 2002]

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