On Sunday, June 8, 2008 at the annual Membership Appreciation Luncheon of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington (JGSGW), outgoing President Marlene Katz Bishow announced that the society has been given a unique gift and a rare opportunity. The family of the late Kenneth Poch has given the society his extensive research on the Jewish soldier buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Inspired by the 1992 book by Mel Young Where They Lie: Someone Should Say Kaddish Ken took it upon himself to visit the graves, say Kaddish (the Jewish prayer for the dead) and place a small smooth stone on the headstone as a sign that someone had visited the grave. These visits caused him to inquire as to how many Jewish soldiers were actually buried at the famous national cemetery. As of January, 2008, there are more than 33,000 total graves at Arlington, but it was not until after World War I that it was permitted to include a religious symbol on the headstones. The headstones of many Jewish soldiers bear a Star of David, but not all.
His life brought to an early end by Lou Gherig's disease, Kenneth Poch spent his last 10 years as the self-appointed historian of the Jewish soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The research donated to JGSGW includes the meticulously organized photos, letters, surveys and other items gathered by Ken. After Ken’s death, his family hastily gathered together his personal belongings, including the binders and boxes with his research and since his death in late December, 2003, these items have been lovingly stored at his sister’s home in Gaithersburg. Ernie Fine, a member of JGSGW knew Ken and had discussed his Arlington project with him, arranged for the transfer of the materials.
Last December, the society launched their second Cemetery Research Project. The plan is to index all grave sites of Jews buried in the greater Washington, DC area.
In the first Cemetery Project, from 1988-1992, the society indexed and researched two of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the nation’s capital: Macpelah, the old cemetery of Washington Hebrew Congregation and the old cemetery of Adas Israel Congregation on Alabama Avenue in the southeastern section of the city.
This research has been formatted in computer spreadsheets and submitted to the Jewish Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR). As part of the new project, JGSGW volunteers will visit the cemeteries and photograph the tombstones, gleaning from them and other sources, the information contained in the inscription, including the Hebrew name of the deceased and his or her father’s name, if included.
Plans are being formalized as to how the research materials will be presented, but the target date for completion of the project is July, 2011, when this group will host the 31st Conference of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies.
Immediate Past President,
Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington
Coordinator,North America International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies Cemetery Project