According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, a genizah is a place for storing books or ritual objects that have become unusable. Genizot have been around for thousands of years. Often, they were simply rooms attached to synagogues.There's even a picture of the one at KI Blue Ridge Cemetery.
In the Kansas City area, however, the two genizot are located in cemeteries - Kehilath Israel Blue Ridge Cemetery, at 1901 Blue Ridge Blvd. in Independence, Mo., and at Mount Carmel Cemetery, 5529 Ditzler St. in Kansas City, Mo.
Jim Jones, the caretaker at Mount Carmel, said that when Congregation Beth Shalom cleaned out the basement at the Wornall Road location in 2005, hundreds of prayer books were disposed of by putting them in the genizah.
"Anything that's tattered and old that the synagogue has, that's what I dispose of," Jones said.
Mount Carmel's genizah, dedicated in 1957, looks like a granite tombstone, except that it contains a chute that conveys items into a chamber below. Jones keeps the lid locked most of the time.
Despite the sentimental value some people attach to ritual garments, yarmulkes and tallitot are not considered shemot.
"We have had people say, 'Please bury my tallis, it's old.' But we still remove one of the fringes because you don't want to bury a functioning tallis," said Rabbi Herbert Mandl of Kehilath Israel Synagogue. "Ninety-nine percent (of what goes into the genizah) is books - anything with God's name in it: a Chumash, a prayer book, a Bible - not a novel or anything. Things like a lulav or an etrog are just thrown out. There's a thing in the Talmud that says specifically they are articles of use, and they can just be discarded."
The genizah at KI Blue Ridge Cemetery was built in 1971, Rabbi Mandl said, when the chapel was built. "It's a beautiful structure," he said. "I don't think anyone has anything quite like it in town."
Also, the article notes that there's now a mail-in Geniza service with a website at www.shaimos.org. Yet another wonder of modern technology.
As most readers will know, a vast number of extremely important ancient and medieval Jewish manuscripts were recovered a little over a century ago from the "Cairo Geniza," a large geniza in the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo that was in use for a thousand years or so.