AN UNDERGROUND CULTURE
Passage through this metropolitan desert territory led to the doorstep of Gail Rubin, a zealous pre-planning promoter and quintessential conduit of consumer information. Having authored the book, A Good Goodbye, she is knowledgeable about diverse aspects of end-of-life management and commemoration. Besides presenting television and radio programs, she serves as a guest speaker at various venues, maintains a blog, conducts death cafes, and offers a variety of learning tools to the public. Her membership in relevant organizations and her celebrant qualification, likewise, reflect an enduring commitment to the cause.
As a tourist in Albuquerque, one might gravitate to a region known as Old Town to experience a ghost tour presented by the Southwest Ghosthunters Association. But with Gail as the tour director, the destination was more “down to earth.” Her active membership in the Jewish (Reform) organization, Congregation Albert, qualifies this pre-planning enthusiast to be the ideal guide for an excursion through their cemetery.
Within the radius of the Fairview Memorial Park and the historic Fairview Cemetery that originated as the first public cemetery in Albuquerque, two and a half acres comprise a northern subdivision owned and operated by the Congregation Albert community.
The prominent headstone of its namesake and original founder of the organization, Albert Grunsfeld, is located in an older part of the property, among others with dates from the 1800s and early 1900s.
But future utilization is conceivable, as well, especially since Gail’s own ultimate resting place is only a stone’s throw away.
The combined burial grounds manifest additional contrasts and trigger comparisons. Uniformity is not the overriding impression here. Rather, along with typical aspects of old and new, there’s also graphic disparity between lush, pastoral, green grassy turf and dry, barren, dusty brown terrain, delineated only by a stone wall that separates the two landscapes. There are paved roads with curbs and there are more primitive, dirt-laden ones. Victorian-style upright memorial stones abound in the older area, but more contemporary flat markers also grace the grounds.
Throughout eras of cultural shifts, revered threads of Jewish traditions have been maintained. As a Congregation Albert Cemetery committee participant, Gail might be found speaking to a group about historical hallmarks of the religion’s burial rituals, including the well-known convention of washing and dressing the dead. But she gets around. So don’t be surprised if sometime you find her on her knees by Albert Grunsfeld’s monument, along with a group of followers, on an occasion dubbed “Cemetery Education Day.” Combined with learning about Jewish funeral practices, families have joined together to share in an activity known as a Genziah ceremony, the burial of sacred objects. Here, in keeping with a custom, they have deposited old and tattered prayer books, prayer shawls, and other relevant items. Thanks to Gail and her congregational cohorts, Albert assuredly would be proud of his descendants’ initiatives to keep Jewish influences alive and well!