Hebrew Cemetery opened in 1817, on Richmond’s north side at Hospital and 4th Streets, overlooking Bacon’s Quarter Branch. It was created by members of Beth Shalome, who petitioned the city for a new burial spot, as the congregation’s narrow, privately-held Franklin Street Burying Ground (founded in 1791) was becoming crowded. A small ritual house was erected on the spot, and the site was laid out in a grid pattern with graves facing east. With the arrival of more German-speaking Jews in the nineteenth century, the congregation Beth Ahabah formed in 1841 and began operating the site jointly with Beth Shalome.
One of Hebrew Cemetery’s central features is a Confederate Soldiers’ Section, which was established by the ladies of the Hebrew Memorial Association in 1866. In a widely-distributed appeal for donations that year, Mrs. Abraham Levy noted that the ladies intended to care for “the sacred remains of many a loved brother, son and husband, to whose relatives, in the far sunny South, it would be a solace to know that the pious duty of preserving from decay the last resting place of their lost ones, although denied to them to perform, is yet sacredly fulfilled by the members” of her group. With their resulting collections, the group commissioned an ornate iron fence and orchestrated memorial day activities. The thirty original markers in the section have since been replaced by a central stone.
In 1898, a substantial brick chapel was built to replace the cemetery’s earlier ritual house. The cemetery expanded several times from 1871 to 1920, including a separate addition across Hospital Street. By then, control of the site had been transferred to the Beth Ahabah congregation, which continues to care for the site. Hebrew Cemetery now holds over 2,600 burials.
VCU and University of Richmond students at Hebrew Cemetery, with guides
Podcast for Benjamin Wolfe (city councilman, first burial at Hebrew Cemetery), 1767?-1817, by Alexandra Hines and Jonathan Tyktor:
Podcast for William H. Schwarzschild (jeweler), 1879-1952, by Daniel Pepio and Crystal Rager:
Podcast for Edith Lindeman Calisch (theater critic and songwriter), 1898-1984, by Abigail Monroe and Akiva Smith:
For more information, see:
Margaret Peters and John Peters, “NRHP Report for Hebrew Cemetery,” 2006, Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
Myron Berman, Richmond’s Jewry, 1769-1976: Shabbat in Shockoe (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia for the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond, 1979)
Herbert T. Ezekiel and Gaston Lichtenstein, The History of the Jews of Richmond From 1769 to 1917 (Richmond, Va.: Herbert T. Ezekiel, 1917