Sir Moses Montefiore Cemetery was founded in 1886 by orthodox Jewish immigrants from Russia, a group whose arrival marked the third major phase in Jewish community building in the United States. These eastern Europeans tended not to assimilate into the congregations established earlier such as Richmond’s German-oriented Beth Ahabah or the older, Sephardic-oriented Beth Shalome, both of which identified with the city’s Hebrew Cemetery. So when the new Sir Moses Montefiore congregation settled into its own quarters in the east end of town, it purchased a plot of land for its cemetery on what became Jennie Scher Road (named after a philanthropic member) on the east side of Gillie Creek.
In 1928, forty years after its opening, the congregation’s cemetery board and chevra kadisha raised a large gateway across its entrance. Around that time, a small storage building/activity hall was built onsite.
Today the cemetery holds over one thousand burials, arranged in tight rows terraced up the hillside. Some of the graves feature porcelain photographic plates, showing portraits of the deceased.
Two other cemeteries reflecting similar immigration patterns adjoin this cemetery. Workmen’s Circle Cemetery (also known as “Workman’s Circle”) was established on the northern property line in 1924. It holds several hundred burials and remains active.
Beth Torah cemetery was founded on the southern property line in 1951 by an orthodox congregation in the city which has since closed. Today, Beth Torah cemetery is associated with Richmond’s Kol Emes Congregation.
Sir Moses Montefiore cemetery still has a fair amount of land remaining for burials. It is currently managed by a board affiliated with Keneseth Beth Israel in Richmond’s west end. Most of its burials continue to follow orthodox traditions, including plain coffins and hand-dug graves.
For more information, see
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)
Chris Dovi, “Life of Devotion,” Style Weekly (August 19, 2009)