Our Hebrew Cemeteries 1886

A Morning Stroll Among the Cypress Hills
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After an open horse car ride to Ridgewood a steam car takes one in a few minutes to the Evergreens and Cypress Hills. They cannot compare with Greenwood, yes they have many points of interest, and at this season of the year especially are visited by many residents of Brooklyn and New York, whose dead repose there. We spent a morning recently among these quiet glades, chiefly among the little private cemeteries of the Jews.

Some of this race are buried in the larger cemeteries, having intermarried with Gentiles and merged their generic and religious traditions in the universal commonwealth of humanity. But as a rule the Jews are as desirous as the Roman Catholics to sleep in ground consecrated to their own religious faith, and they are far more anxious than any other denomination to preserve in death the relations of consanguinity and family relationship.

 Some of the wealthier synagogues have cemeteries of burial grounds for their members, just as in England each parish church has its own churchyard in which the parishioners have their vaults and graves, unless as in the overcrowded London churchyards the law has closed them for sanitary reasons. Among the Jewish cemeteries around the Cypress Hills are the Union Field, the new Union Field, the Machpelah, the Maimonides, the Mount Hope, that of the Temple Beth-El, of the Nineteenth street, New York; Sheriah Israel, of the Thirty-fourth street Synagogue, of New York; the Temple Emmanuel and some others, all of them, as we were told by gardeners and caretakers, being private cemeteries. Our ignorance of Hebrew made some of the names and many of the inscriptions unintelligible to us, and we remembered Addison's praise of the sublimity of the Hebrew Bible, only to regret that to us it was a sealed book when not "done into English."

No man, according to our old friend Henry George and it seems as if Heber Newton and Father Edward McGlynn were of the same opinion has any right to call a foot of ground his own. Those who are like Abraham, the father of the faithful, when he had not a "bemapodos," as St. Stephen tells us in the sermon which has come down to us in Greek, "no, not so much as to set his foot on," need not feel personally aggrieved at this theory, but there is certainly a sense of self respect and independence in paying for one's grave and providing a vault for one's family. Abraham, the father and founder of the Hebrew race, was the first to do this, for he bought the Cave of Machpelah, of which the cemetery so named reminded us, for "four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant of the sons of Hoth," and they gave him the freehold title to it with all the trees that waved above it and all the flowers that blossomed on its soil. In these cemeteries, as in that, many Sarahs and Rebekahs, many Isaacs and Jacobs, are laid decently away.

"From that first Jewish cemetery and from the beginning of the checkered history of this most wonderful race the Jews have always paid the greatest reverence to the dead. Theirs is the idea of pall bearers and mourners and just men carrying just men to their burial with the burning of many tapers and the melody of many minstrels and the effusion of many tears. Joseph when he lay dying in Egypt "gave commandment concerning his bones," which Moses carried with them in the exodus. There was respectability as well as pathos also in the old prophet's request: "When I am dead then bury me in the sepulcher wherein the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones." The Jews were the first pilgrim fathers, and in their anxiety to be buried in the grave of their kindred there was a consciousness of this pilgrimage, a sense of national unity, a natural piety, and, as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament scriptures argues, an evidence of faith in a Promised Land, a declaration that they sought a country and "looked for a city that hath foundations."

Bishop Warburton in his "Divine Legation of Moses" tries, indeed, to prove that the primitive Jews had no belief in a future state, and that the supreme greatness of Moses as a leader and legislator was that he induced the people to follow him for forty years through such terrible hardships and gave then so stringent a moral and social code without any reference to the hopes and fears of another life. However that might be in their early Arab days when Abraham, seeing the fires of human sacrifice to the false gods of paganism ascending from every hill, thought that the sacrifice of his own child might be acceptable to the one true God until the voice of revelation enlightening the moral sense restrained him, the prophets and psalmists of Israel, all the sacred writers except the more scribes of national and State affairs sound unmistakably the notes of faith in a hereafter. And though the faith of Jews, like that of Christians, is now in harmonious and divided, the epitaphs on many of these tombs swell the grand chorus of immortal hope. The expression of this faith and hope in heaven and in reunion are often the same upon these Hebrew tombstones near the Cypress Hills as those that Christians use. In the cemetery of the New York Thirty-fourth street Synagogue is an effigy of a little child in marble, Jacob, "the beloved child of L. and Lameth Morris," who died January 8, 1868 with the perfect little head on the carved pillow and the little hands folded together, and without an injury to any part from the storms to which for eighteen years it has been exposed. Beneath it is a simple verse enough:

A lovely child thou wert,
A little flower of earth,
Alas! angels jealous of our love
Carried thee to heaven above.

But it recalled to our memory the cradle tomb in Westminster Abbey. This little Jacob in the Jewish cemetery lived but two months and eighteen days, and the little daughter of King James the First, who kept saying "I go, I go! Away I go!: while dying, was two and a half years old. Lady Augusta Stanley, wife of the late dean, had the beautiful lines of Susan Coolidge placed upon the cradle tomb. One or two of the verses would be appropriate also for this Hebrew babe:

A little rudely sculptured bed,
With shadowy folds of marble lace
And quilt of marble primly spread
And folded round a baby's face.

And traced upon the following stone
A dent is seen, as if to bless
That quiet sleep some grieving one
Had leaned and left a soft impress.

Soft furtive hands caress the stone,
And hearts, O'erleaping place and age,
Melt into memories, and own
A thrill of common parentage.

Men die, but sorrow never dies;
The crowding years divide in vain,
And the wide world is knit with ties
of Common brotherhood in pain.

Of common share in grief and loss,
And heritage is the immortal bloom
of Love, which, flowering round its cross,
Made beautiful a baby's tomb.

The Sherish Israel, a gardener told us, is the private cemetery of the Portuguese Synagogue in Nineteenth Street, New York. A year must elapse, he added, before a monument is allowed to be erected to a Jew. It was to the Portuguese Synagogue in London, we remembered that Isaac D'Israeli, as he invariably wrote the name, which his statesman son, Benjamin, afterward Earl of Benconsfield, wrote as one word, Disraeli, belonged before he became a Christian, owing to what he considered the extortionate charges imposed upon him by his coreligionists. Hence it was that he had his little Benjamin who was about ten or twelve years old, baptized in the parish church of St. Andrew's, Holborn. Some of the Portuguese synagogues are very wealthy and that of Sherish Israel has many opulent members. Before referring to them the reference to the name of De Israeli, D'Israeli, Disraeli, suggests a word about the constantly recurring Bible names in these Jewish cemeteries and the way in which they serve both as first, or what we call Christian names, and family or surnames. The late Judah P. Benjamin is an instance. His name might as easily have been Benjamin P. Judah, so far as the origin of the Benjamin and the Judah, two of the twelve tribes of Israel, was concerned. On these Jewish graves we find Isaac Jacobs and Jacob Isaacs in the same way. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Benjamin, Simeon, Levi or Levy, Aaron or Aarons, Moses, Nathan, Samuel or Samuels are sufficient instances. Isaac D'Israeli meant only Isaac of Israel, like Isaac of York, and represented the personal identity of some first Isaac the Jew of his neighborhood. So among Christians, the late Protestant Swiss historian, Dr. Merle Daubigne, was only Merle, the Blackbird, D'Aubigne, of Aubigay.

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Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Our Hebrew Cemeteries 1886
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Eagle June 20, 1886
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