Cemetery’s 200th Anniversary Marks Birth of Cincinnati’s Jewish Community

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The birth of the Jewish community of Cincinnati began with a death.

“It’s part of the tradition of Judaism,” says David Harris, executive director of Jewish Cemeteries in Greater Cincinnati. “The first thing you do when establishing a new community is to establish a cemetery, before you build a building for a congregation or a children’s school. It shows the primacy of the command to honor the dead. That if you can’t do that, you don’t have the makings of the community.

It was 1821 and you could count the number of Jews in Cincinnati on two hands.

Benjamin Lieb – or maybe Laib or Lape, no one is quite sure – was one of them. But he had lived his life as a Baptist, his wife’s religion. She had preceded him in death, and as he neared the end of his life, he gathered the other members of the small Jewish community to tell them that he wanted to be buried as a Jew.

The problem was that there was no Jewish cemetery.

So the other six Jewish men in town went to the richest landowner in the area, Nicolas longworth, and bought a 25-by-50 piece of land on Chestnut Street near what we now know as Central Avenue.

It’s this tiny cemetery that started the Jewish community in Cincinnati, now celebrates its bicentenary.

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“We started celebrating this to note that the cemetery was the oldest Jewish cemetery west of Alleghenies,” said Ed Marks, founding president of JCGC. “Then we realized that it was the oldest Jewish institution west of Alleghenies. “

Cincinnati’s first synagogue – KK Bene Israel, now Rockdale Temple – wasn’t founded for three years.

Marks first fell on the cemetery on his way home from a party in 1994. “There is something touching about this place,” he said. “It’s a nice little corner of the world.

Many graves are unmarked, including Lieb’s. But it’s estimated that around 100 burials took place on Chestnut Street between 1821 and 1849.

The Jewish community which started with six families and a cemetery has grown to over 30,000 members and 26 cemeteries in Hamilton and Butler counties.

“It’s an incredible story. This is largely the result of the determination of the Jewish community. But we have to think of it as something that didn’t happen in a vacuum, ”Harris said. “Cincinnati had a philosophy for the Jewish community to thrive and grow here. “

And contribute. The country’s first Jewish hospital was founded here. Six mayors of Cincinnati were Jewish. It is the cradle of the Reform Jewish movement.

Frank’s RedHot, Kahn’s meats, Fleischmann yeast, and Manischewitz matzo all have their roots in the Jewish community of Cincinnati.

“These were amazing examples of industry,” Harris said. “We are not only proud of ourselves, but we think they are examples of how immigrant communities, minority communities, have contributed to the city.”

And that’s how the party begins. The dedication of Chestnut Street Cemetery is Sunday, with plans to build a plaza where members of all faiths can learn about the history of the land and the early settlers of the West End.

In death, a new life begins for the birthplace of the Cincinnati Jewish community.

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