Jewphemeral New York

In 1654, twenty-three Sephardic Jews kicked out of Brazil arrived in Manhattan. They founded a synagogue, Congregation Shearith Israel, and in 1682 set aside land on St. James Street near Chatham Square for a cemetery. It’s still there, the oldest Jewish burial ground in the country. 

In 1805 the congregation—which at that point all the Jews in New York belonged to—moved northward and opened a second cemetery, a tiny triangle of land on West 11th Street of Sixth Avenue. It too is still there. Most of the headstones are too worn to be decipherable. 


As the city expanded, the congregation founded a third cemetery, on West 21st between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, in use until 1851. It’s in slightly better shape the the previous two; some of the lettering (in English and Hebrew) on the tombstones is readable. This one marks the final resting place of a boy named Joseph, son of Lewis and Sophia Cohen.

Shearith Israel now has a synagogue on Central Park West, built in 1897. Their website has more information on the history on the congregation. 


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One Response to “Jewphemeral New York”

  1. Trish Ippolito Says:

    I love this site!! I am a native New Yorker – I grew up in the Bronx, then moved to Manhattan 25 yrs ago and I learn something new about my beloved city every time I read your blog. It’s great!! And I already know a bunch of stuff about NYC. Keep up the great work!! PLEASE!
    A suggestion – if you haven’t already done so, go take a tour of Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. Miles Davis, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, some Vanderbilts, Whitneys and many more famous, and infamous, people and families are interred there. Woodlawn gives tours and they have programs and lectures. I have always wanted to do one of the tours, but never did, and I grew up about a mile from there. Last stop on the #4 train. Can’t wait to read about it.

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