Land for new Jewish cemetery consecrated in Livermore

Ron Kahn has lofty visions for Magen David Memorial Gardens, the Jewish cemetery he plans to open next year in Livermore. They include airline passengers looking down and seeing a cemetery shaped like a Star of David.

“There hasn’t been a new [Jewish] cemetery in Alameda County in 100 years,” said Kahn, an East Bay real estate developer and CEO of Magen David, which will be multidenominational. “The Tri-Valley is a growing area, and it needs the presence of a significant Jewish cemetery.”

The 2.5-acre cemetery grounds — on what is now pastureland north of Interstate 580 — were consecrated during a ceremony last month led by Rabbis Raleigh Resnick of Chabad of the Tri-Valley, Dovid Grossbaum, Magen David’s on-site rabbi and head of its chevra kadisha (burial society), and Yosef Levin of Chabad of the Greater South Bay. About 20 community members also attended.

Chabad Rabbis Raleigh Resnick (left), Yosef Levin (mostly hidden) and Dovid Grossbaum lead a Sept. 18 consecration ceremony. photo/magen david memorial gardens

During the ritual, the group circled the perimeter seven times, offering up prayers and blessings.

“Jews always want to be buried in Israel,” Resnick explained. “What we do with a consecration is create a little of that holy space — a mini-Israel — the energy of the kiddusha [holiness] of Israel.”

The Israel theme will resonate throughout Magen David. Not only will its layout be shaped like a Star of David, but its entrance will resemble the Western Wall and will be made out of Jerusalem stone. Lining the cemetery perimeter will be olive trees and grapevines; in the center, there will be a fountain with a Star of David design.

The facility will also have Jewish art, a large reception area and a mikvah (ritual bath), as well as a section for Kohanim to gather. Separated from the cemetery by a hedge wall, the section will allows Kohanim (Jews descended from the priestly caste) to view the site and participate in services. According to Jewish religious tradition, Kohanim may not come in contact with the dead.

 As traditional as that sounds, Magen David will not be an Orthodox-only cemetery. There will be Orthodox and Conservative sections that adhere to strict halachah (Jewish law), and a Reform section, which will permit interment of non-Jewish spouses.

In addition, Kahn’s plan is to make Magen David environmentally friendly, using solar energy, all-electric vehicles and a state-of-the-art septic system. Water used at the facility will be recycled or reused, Kahn said.

“The biggest expense to any cemetery is water,” he noted. “We have our own well that has enough water to keep everything green for more than 100 years.”

A for-profit entity, Magen David is the brainchild of urban planner T.W. Starkweather, who approached Kahn for help with a Jewish section of a full-service cemetery, Monte Vista Memorial Gardens, he is planning to build on land off Las Colinas Road, roughly six miles east     of the Livermore Premium Outlets.

“[Starkweather] owned 104 acres there,” said Kahn, a Walnut Creek resident and real estate developer. “He saw this was an ideal place [that] would have tremendous benefits to the community.”

At the moment, the site is an empty field, but not for long. Crews have begun building a road to the cemetery off Interstate 580, and the plan is to open the entire cemetery in phases beginning next year.

Magen David is set to be part of phase one. Utilities are being installed and construction is set to begin soon on a 20,000-square-foot collection of structures such as offices, a chapel and mausoleums.

“I’m impressed by the efforts of both Jewish and non-Jewish architects and builders to create the right atmosphere,” Resnick said.

And with potentially 7,000 plots in the planned 2.5 acres — with an option to expand by 2 acres — Magen David may emerge as the largest Jewish cemetery in the East Bay. Other East Bay Jewish cemeteries include Home of Peace and Home of Eternity in Oakland and Gan Shalom in Briones, and sections of the Roselawn Cemetery in Livermore and Rolling Hills Memorial Park in Richmond.

Kahn told InsideBayArea.com the first presales of plots will likely happen by next spring, with burials performed on the grounds by the end of 2015.

All of the above is good news, according to Resnick.

The Tri-Valley area, which encompasses the cities of Pleasanton, San Ramon and Livermore, is home to 10,000 Jews, according to InsideBayArea.com.

“[Magen David] will put [the Tri-Valley area] more on the map in the Jewish community,” Resnick said. “I’ve been here nine years, and no question it’s growing.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.