The Next Generation

My dad, as long as I can remember, always worked 2 jobs. He worked his day job as Superintendent at Hanover Green Cemetery (later Oak Lawn Cemetery) and then nights & weekends as caretaker of Ohav Zedek Cemetery. He worked both jobs up until he was no longer able to work in December 2016. As of tomorrow, April 1st, 2017, I will be starting my tenure as the new caretaker of Ohav Zedek Cemetery. Before my dad was caretaker of the cemetery, his father was the caretaker. Now that I am taking over, I will be the 3rd generation of Shafers charged with maintaining the grounds of the cemetery.

From an early age, people always asked my dad if I would be following in his footsteps just as he had followed in his. His answer was always that I would be the first quadriplegic caretaker since he would brake both of my legs before letting take over a cemetery rather than doing something else with my life. Like all parents, he wanted something more for his children. Truth be told, I always said I had no interest in taking over any of his cemeteries. But, things started to change about 3 years ago.

I was going through a very rough time in the summer of 2014 while working at Verizon Wireless. I hated my job, and it was causing a lot of harm to my mental health. To combat the stress and anxiety, I started going for a walk every morning before work. I would inevitably find myself walking through the cemeteries thinking about the times I would givemy dad a hand when he needed it. I really missed those times.

Then came last year when I worked with him, and sometimes without him, taking care of Ohav Zedek Cemetery. At the beginning of the season he was in the midst of radiation treatments and he knew chemotherapy was right around the corner. After much pestering, I finally convinced him to let me help him so he wouldn’t be worried about the upkeep and he could focus on his health. He finally agreed and the Shafer boys were working side by side just like we had when I was a young teenager. I didn’t realize how much I missed the work until I started.

Not to sound melodramatic but cemetery work is in my blood. The Shafer family were the stewards of Hanover Green Cemetery for over 100 years and caretakers of Ohav Zedek Cemetery for over 50. I myself, chose a path in retail sales. Now the problem with retail sales is at the end of the day, all of your accomplishments are on paper. Sure, you can look at a display that you made or freight you’ve put away, but in the end, your goal is to make money and that only shows up on paper. When your taking care of grounds, you see the immediate results of your labor. Graves are filled in and seeded, stones have been righted and leveled, fresh concrete has been poured into foundations you’ve dug, and the grass is cut and looking pristine. You go home with your hands dirty, smelling of grass and gasoline — the signs of an honest day’s work. In my old age, seeing immediate and tangible results of your day’s labor is very satisfying. It’s because of those reasons, along with carrying on the Shafer legacy and the extra money (why we all work!) that I decided to put my name in the proverbial hat to take over the cemetery after my father died.

I had a meeting yesterday morning with the Chairman and Administrator of the Congregation Ohav Zedek about taking over the cemetery. The meeting last about an hour, and I was officially offered the job. Needless to say, I accepted the job.

Does this mean I will be leaving my job at Best Buy? No. Even though being caretaker is a year round job, like my father, I will simply be working 2 jobs. Although technically I will now have 3 jobs — Best Buy, Ohav Zedek cemetery, and the best job of all, being a stay at home dad. Here’s to working my ass off a little more each day to give my family the better life they deserve!

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