I haven’t made my usual cemetery visit to upstate in several years due to Covid. Now there is no longer an excuse not to pay my respects to my folks, as my mother educated me to do as a youngster by having me drive her to the cemetery once I earned my driver’s license at age 17, to visit her mother, Lena Ressel, at the cemetery on Britton Road. A few weeks ago, I had some time in my schedule, so I decided to make the trip to Rochester.
On the morning planned for the cemetery visit, the weather was appropriate –rain. I parked outside the grounds and searched along the residential street for some stones to place on the headstone, as an act of remembrance and as evidence to all those who succeeded me that I was a good son. Once inside the cemetery grounds, I was surprised how long it took my to find my parents. The grass surrounding the graves was wet and my shoes were soggy before I saw “Ackerman” in the middle row of plots. After paying respect to my mother and father, I looked for relatives of my father, in an area of the cemetery called Kupel Volochisk, after the village in eastern Ukraine from which the people, long since laid to rest there, once emigrated during their lifetimes. My father’s parents perished in the Holocaust so there was no individual headstone for Hershel and Ida Ackerman. When I visited in 2019 with my daughter Brooke and granddaughter Lilly, we found a monument in the center the Kupel Volochisk section, honoring those from the village who died in the Holocaust. I added a stone to the several atop the monument. Not much had changed since my youth, except there were more graves crammed in the old cemetery of past congregants of the Koppel Shul on Joseph Avenue.
Afterward, the next stopover of course, was Don and Bob’s, the original hamburger stand on Lake Ontario, where I had spent a good number of evenings dining out in my youth. I found my way from Britton Road over the Stillson Bridge to Beach Road and Don’s stand. I had prepared myself with an antacid, so I was ready to indulge. I savored the one-pound ground round with everything. Reading the New York Times at the counter, I recalled memories of the 1950s in the northern part of Rochester and felt a little sad. The neighborhood was once a thriving mecca for families with fish and kosher meat stands, bakeries and the like. Now the area is in decline, with project houses and abandoned buildings. Little remains except for a few churches and my old synagogue in form only. The life of the city as the occupants of the Kupel cemetery knew it, like them, is gone. Only monuments remain for those who are still here to visit and remember our loved ones who have passed on.