Chatham Square Cemetery – New York

IMG_1720

The most deeply meaningful service that I’ve conducted as a rabbi at Shearith Israel is the annual memorial service at the congregation’s colonial-era cemetery.  I had the pleasure of conducting it in May, 2010 and again in 2013. Today the cemetery is located in Chinatown, though when it was first established, the plot was just in the middle of some farmland! The oldest gravestone dates to the late 17th century, however it is possible that America’s first Jews actually purchased this particular piece of land back in 1656 when, according to records, they bought ‘a little hook of land.’ Some of the stones even contain Portuguese!

IMG_1723

The cemetery was in use until the early 19th century (though some of its plots were reinterred at the congregation’s 21st st. cemetery in anticipation of the Bowery, which cut through its land).  Buried there, are about twenty men who in some capacity participated in the American Revolution. Therefore, every year on the Sunday preceding Memorial Day Weekend, the congregation conducts a memorial service in their honor, planting American flags at their stones and reciting the hashcaba memorial prayer. The service is accompanied by a US Color Guard and it is a truly stirring event.

IMG_1722

I had the privilege of announcing the name of each of the Patriots, and also told a bit more about some of them, while my Hebrew School students and teachers planted the flags. Among the honored were people with names like Seixes, Mendes, Nathan, Gomez, and Hart.

IMG_1707

These Jewish men risked their lives to help establish the United States of America as well as Jewish life in America. They didn’t see a conflict between these two identities, but saw both roles as natural expressions of a shared value system. They could be observant Jews and loyal Americans with neither identity being sacrificed for the other. It was humbling to be in their presence.

IMG_1705

Further Reading

Portraits Etched in Stone by Dr. David De Sola Pool

Advertisements

6 responses to “Chatham Square Cemetery – New York

  1. This is very interesting. If you will be doing this Service again this year, would you notify us all in advance.

    Shmuel.

    Sent from iPad 2, New York, USA

    >

  2. Pingback: Colonial Jewish New York | Shalom Says Hello·

  3. Pingback: Thanksgiving – A Spanish Portuguese Jewish Holiday | Shalom Says Hello·

  4. Pingback: 11 Street Cemetery – New York | Shalom Says Hello·

  5. Pingback: July 4th – British Jews and the American Revolution | Shalom Says Hello·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s