Monday, September 5, 2011

USA: Shearith Israel Cemeteries in Manhattan




New York City, NY. remains of the first Jewish cemetery of Congregation Shearith Israel. Photos: Samuel D. Gruber

USA: Shearith Israel Cemeteries in Manhattan

Every few years there is an article on the cemeteries or former synagogues of New York's Congregation Shearith Isreal, the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States. Its a great demonstration of how long Jews have been in NYC (since the 1640s!), but also how populations have moved "uptown" geographically and socially. This is a good thing, since in New York - or at least Manhattan - there are there is always a new audience that needs to know these things.

The latest article in the tradition is by Adam Chandler from Tablet Magazine. Its a pretty good piece, with a few correctives added by readers at the end. The last paragraph, however, seems to indicate that the 1860 synagogue on 19th Street, sold in January 1895, still survives in some much modified form. The building that may survive would have been O'Neill's Dry Goods Store behind the cemetery, not the synagogue itself. I'm pretty sure the synagogue was a long block away on West 19th St. near 5th Avenue, not between 20th and 21st Street near Sixth, where the cemetery is.

Here is the 19th Street synagogue, one the few Roman Baroque style synagogues in America, and one of the earliest (the first?) with a dome.

New York, NY. Former Congregation Shearith Israel at 19th St.. Photo: Kings Handbook of New York (2nd edition, 1893). The building was sold in 1894.

Also, a little more information on the damage caused by nearby construction work in 2006 would be worth knowing. At the time there was legal wrangling over who was responsible, and who had to pay for repairs. Since then, I don't recall reading about repairs done at all - though I hope they were!


Buried
by Adam Chandler
(Tablet Magazine, August 26, 2011)

There’s a small Jewish cemetery tucked away on an unlikely block in Manhattan, behind some condominiums on West 21st Street. It’s just a few minutes from Tablet Magazine’s new office on Tin Pan Alley, and I recently stumbled upon it. As it turns out, it has two siblings further downtown, and, taken together, the trio offer a window into the history of both the city and its Jewish community.

The three historic Manhattan cemeteries belong to Congregation Shearith Israel, a Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in Manhattan and the oldest Jewish congregation in North America, established in 1654. They are perhaps the most durable legacy of New York City’s long-ago Jewish past. The Shearith Israel congregation was founded by 23 Jewish refugees, descendents of Spanish Jews, exiled during the Inquisition, who fled from Recife, Brazil, after it was taken from the Dutch by the Portuguese. They were fleeing anti-Semitism but were greeted coldly by Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch director-general of the colony of New Netherland. From 1654 until 1825, Shearith Israel was the only Jewish congregation in New York City. In its long history, membership of the congregation has included Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo, three founders of the New York Stock Exchange, and the poet Emma Lazarus, whose famous words from “The New Colossus” are affixed to the Statue of Liberty. Shearith Israel—the name translated is “Remnant of Israel”—owns a Torah that dates to the American Revolution.

Read the entire article here.

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