Volume #1, Issue #2, October,
THE OLDEST JEWISH CEMETERY IN
by Mrs. David "Bea" Schwartz
OLDEST HEADSTONE, TEMPLE ISRAEL
CEMETERY, STOCKTON, 1851
Photo courtesy of Norton B.
A SLEEPY CALIFORNIA SETTLEMENT of a few families called
Tuleburg, rapidly became a bustling crossroads for adventurous men headed for
the mines. Its growth started with the gold rush of 1849. In March, 1850, the
local news-paper reported that "Stockton (as it was renamed) is now the great
center of business and depot for the 'southern mines." 1 With the
miners came merchants bringing their goods and establishing their stores in
tents and temporary wooden buildings. 2 Quite a number of both the
merchants and miners were Jewish. For a time things were moving too fast for any
Jewish organizational life to evolve.
But sometime prior to the High Holy Days of the fall of
1851, the Jewish men of Stockton gathered together to establish a Hebrew
benevolent society. They chose the name "Rhyim Ahoovim," meaning brotherly love,
for their association. The first officers were: I. Zachariah, president; A.
Greenbaum, vice-president; A. Craner, treasurer; and S. Hoffmann, secretary.
On October 4, 1851, Solomon Friedlander, a young merchant
and a native of Prussia, 4 passed away. 5 The members of
"Rhyim Ahoovim" met together to acquire a cemetery so that their departed
brother could be interred in hallowed ground. A committee was appointed to call
on Captain Charles M. Weber, the founder of Stockton. He generously gave the
society an entire block to use for a Jewish cemetery. 6 Here,
Friedlander was interred, his burial marking the dedication of the place to be
used by the Jewish people of Stockton for a sacred burial ground, from that time
to the present. 7
To secure the new Jewish cemetery a fence was built around
the perimeter of the land. To beautify the grounds, the traditional cypress
trees were set out in the eastern half of the area. Some families had plots set
aside for their own use. A few had hand-wrought ornamental iron fences
constructed to designate family plots or graves. In November, 1851, a newspaper
item stated that the "Jews had "stolen a march on the Christians," by providing
a cemetery enclosed with a strong solid fence. 8
It was not until September 13, 1854, that Captain Weber
formally deeded the cemetery block to I. Zachariah, H. Mitchell, M. Jacobs, and
H. Goldman, trustees of the "Society of Brotherly Love. 9 Weber
retained reversionary rights, whereby if the site was at any time in the future
abandoned as a cemetery, its title would revert to himself or to his heirs.
In 1859 a newspaper article on the subject of "Cemetery
Improvements" pointed out that "A beautiful fence, similar to that around the
burial lot of the Odd Fellows is being constructed around the Hebrew burying
ground, which is situated in a pleasant place, near the Odd Fellows Cemetery."
10 A later notice states that "The fence around these grounds has
been completed, and the place now is an almost exact counterpart, in appearance,
of the Odd Fellows burial ground. 11
During the years that followed, a tank house and wind-mill
were erected, for the purpose of providing water for the ornamental shrubs and
trees. About 1860, orange trees were planted on all four sides of the block just
inside the fence. A caretaker was appointed to keep up the grounds, his payment
coming from remuneration gained from digging the graves. A record book for
registering burials was begun.12 On July 24, 1863, since the "Rhyim
Ahoovim" cemetery was now firmly established, Captain Weber withdrew his
reversionary rights. This was accompanied by payment of the regular one dollar
fee to the county.13
An old seal in the archives of Temple Israel indicates the
likelihood that Stockton had a synagogue in 1852, although it was not until 1855
that "Rhyim Ahoovim" became Congregation Temple Israel. In 1896, Temple Israel
became a Reform congregation. 14 This resulted in the formation of an
orthodox congregation in 1900, known as "Ahavas Achim."
In 1904 another orthodox synagogue was established known as
"Adas Yeshurun." 15 Both of these congregations established
cemeteries at French Camp some five miles south of Stockton. Prior to this, all
of the Jewish community of Stockton had used the burial grounds established in
1851, which was now known as the Temple Israel Cemetery.
Thus from about the turn of the century, due to the
decreased use of the cemetery and the very minimum of care given to it, it began
to deteriorate seriously. The shrubs needed trimming, the orange trees grew into
thick hedges, and the windmill needed repairs. In an isolated corner, tramps
often spent the night waiting for a passing freight train the following morning.
While vandalism was not so rampant in those days, it did leave some scars.
Floods often raced through the cemetery. Over the years the grounds continued to
run down and while the care of the cemetery was frequently discussed, it never
progressed beyond the talking stage.
In 1907, Leo Glick, a native of Stockton whose family had
been pioneer members of Temple Israel and whose father had served the
congregation as president, made a complete record of the graves and plots. 16 When the notebook which contained these records was found many years
later, it proved to be of great value in the rehabilitation work.
When the writer's mother, Mrs. Max (Ida) Lichtenfeld,
passed away in December, 1937, it was suggested that her garden tools be given
to the cemetery. This was the real beginning of the cemetery rehabilitation
program. At this same time, the writer was appointed a member of the cemetery
committee of the temple. A limited amount of cleanup was done prior to 1949.
That year, the author of these lines became president of the Temple Israel
Sisterhood and Rabbi Joseph Gitin 17 appealed to her to work to
improve the condition of the cemetery. He suggested that several of the temple
members be approached for financial help. One member offered to donate a sizable
sum for the restoration work, if matching funds could be obtained from others.
These were not forthcoming.
In the fall of 1956, the potential donor reminded the
author of his offer and indicated his willingness to bear the expense himself.
This gentleman, a member of a pioneer California Jewish family, desired to honor
the memory of the Jewish settlers of early Stockton, who had been so important
in the history of the city. 18 We visited the cemetery together and
laid plans for its complete restoration.
Work began almost immediately with overgrown hedges and
bushes being removed and trees trimmed. This beginning revealed that the
cemetery was potentially a beautiful park. The board of trustees of the temple
became alarmed at this point, since they thought that the land might not belong
to the congregation legally. The writer began a search of the title to the
cemetery which brought to light the original deed and the reversionary
withdrawal. This, of course, proved that Temple Israel was the legal owner of
The restoration work continued with the removal of the old
tank house and its replacement by a new water pressure tank, and a new well. An
automatic sprinkler system was installed. New foundations were made for many of
the headstones and inscriptions were reworked on a number of those whose soft
marble had weathered badly through the years. Twenty-three of the markers were
over one hundred years old. Many bore interesting epitaphs in Hebrew, such as
the one, which translated, reads in part
The beloved woman
Woman of valor.
Mother of her family
Devoted to Deity
Supporter of the poor
Who dwelt in the house of the Lord.
She died in her sleep the first day
Of Shebat and was buried the second
Day of Shebat.
Two beautiful wrought iron gates supported by red brick
pillars were erected in the middle of the block on the north and south sides of
the cemetery. Each pillar carries a marble insert reading "Temple Israel
Cemetery 1851." The entire area was planted to lawn, and cypress trees were set
out at thirty-foot intervals on the eastern and western sides of the block.
Arrangement: were made to complete the paving of the partially unpaved streets
surrounding the cemetery.
In the spring of 1961, Glenn A. Kennedy, secretary of the
Stockton Rural Cemetery, surveyed and plot-mapped the entire cemetery grounds,
setting up complete cross-referenced records. 19
Early in 1961, Hal Altman of Sacramento, who was studying
the old Jewish cemeteries of the gold rush country, arranged for a visit of
officials from the California State Park Commission. Following this we prepared
the documents and gathered the information necessary to apply for a State
historical landmark. This was approved and the handsome bronze plaque used by
the state for historical landmarks was affixed to a large granite slab placed
upright next to the north gate.
On December 10, 1961, the one-hundred-ten-year-old cemetery
was reconsecrated and rededicated at a most impressive ceremony.20
Lieutenant Governor Glenn Anderson was the main speaker. A large group of
dignitaries representing the State of California, San Joaquin County, the City
of Stockton, and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and a large crowd
of temple members and friends were present. Judge Maxwell Willens was the master
of ceremonies. Rabbi Joseph B. Glaser spoke as the representative of the Union
of American Hebrew Congregations. Rabbi Bernard Rosenberg of Temple Israel
presided at the solemn reconsecration. He was assisted by Cantor Eli Cohen of
Sacramento who chanted the "El Moleh Rachamim." The bronze plaque provided by
the State of California was unveiled. It reads:
TEMPLE ISRAEL CEMETERY
This hallowed ground was
donated by Captain
Charles M. Weber in 1851 for use as a cemetery
by the Jewish community of Stockton. It is the
oldest Jewish cemetery in continuous use in
California and west of the Rocky Mountains.
Historical Landmark No. 765
Plaque placed by the
California State Park Commission
in cooperation with the Temple Israel and
the Union of American Hebrew Congregations,
December 10, 1961
During the following year a concrete sidewalk was laid
around the entire block and a permanent chain-link fence was installed. Shortly
thereafter an urn garden was added, the first interments in this section being
the remains of Mr. and Mrs. Max Lichtenfeld, the parents of the writer. In 1967
an ,endowment fund for the perpetual care of the cemetery was created. Other
physical improvements have been made to the grounds and more are in the planning
stage at the present time, all of which will enhance the beauty of this garden
As one stands at the gate and contemplates the scene, he
sees this sacred ground set apart for all time. The cypress and other trees seem
to be standing with outstretched arms, protecting those who have been laid in
the green sod at their feet. The fine old monuments are in a setting that
compliments their age-mellowed dignity. All help to complete the story that
began one hundred eighteen years ago. Amidst all of this one feels the unwritten
Forget that I died; remember
that I lived.
TEMPLE ISRAEL CEMETERY
The rededication ceremony for
Temple Israel Cemetery in Stockton in
1961 was an historic occasion. The principal participants in the
rededication were, from left to right: (standing) Judge Maxwell Willens,
master of ceremonies; Sam Correa, president of Temple Israel; Mrs.
Edward Blank, president of Temple Israel Sisterhood; Mrs. William
Asher, co-chairman of rededication; Mrs. David Schwartz, chairman of
rededication; Evan Anderson, son of the speaker of the day; Lieutenant
Governor Glenn Anderson, speaker of the day; and Rabbi Bernard
Rosenberg, spiritual leader of Temple Israel; (kneeling) Rabbi Joseph
B. Glaser, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and Hal Altman,
1. Stockton Times, March 16, 1850.
2. George H. Tinkham, A HISTORY OF STOCKTON (San Francisco,
3. Alexander Iser, THE CALIFORNIA HEBREW AND ENGLISH
ALMANAC FOR THE YEAR 5612, Corresponding with the Years 1851-2 (San Francisco,
1851). This small printed pamphlet was apparently the first publication to
mention the "Rhyim Ahoovim" society of Stockton. It was undoubtedly issued
before Rosh Hashanah 5612, the first day of which fell on September 27, 1851.
4. Census of 1850, San Joaquin County, published by the San
Joaquin Genealogical Society, Stockton, 1962.
5. San Joaquin Republican, Stockton, October 18, 1851. This
account notes that Friedlander was formerly of St. Louis and that he died in
Stockton. However, the New York Herald, November 30, 1851, quoted in "Excerpts
from Scrap Books" of the Reverend Mr. Jacques J. Lyons, Publications of the
American Jewish Historical Society, Volume XXVII, 1920, p. 509, re-ported that
Solomon Friedlander, formerly of St. Louis, died at Sonora, California, on
October 4, 1851.
6. A three-hundred-foot square block, bounded by Union,
Poplar, Pilgrim and Acacia streets, on the edge of the growing city.
7. The dates in Hebrew and English inscribed on the white
marble of the Friedlander monument are quite confused. Though contemporary
news-paper accounts (see note 5) report his death on October 4, 1851, the
English inscription reads "Died October 16, 1851." The Hebrew inscription
indicates his death as occurring on the 3d of Tishri 5612, which corresponds to
September 29, 1851.
8. San Joaquin Republican, Stockton, November 19, 1851.
9. San Joaquin County Records, Books of Deeds, Vol„ V, p.
10. Daily San Joaquin Republican, Stockton, October 18,
1859. Captain Weber had deeded the block to the west and across Union Street, to
the Odd Fellows Lodges in May, 1854.
11. Ibid., December 9, 1859.
12. This record book has been lost.
13. San Joaquin County Records, Deeds, Book A, Volume 13,
14. The Stockton Evening Mail, October 26, 1896, p. 1. It
was not until April 24, 1906, that Temple Israel affiliated with the Union of
American Hebrew Congregations. See Rabbi Joseph Gitin, "A Brief Resume of the
History of Temple Israel," ms., p. 3.
15. Glenn A. Kennedy, IT HAPPENED IN STOCKTON --- 1900-1925
16. Interview with Mrs. Carl Steinhart, sister of Leo
Glick, October 18, 1968.
17. Now at Temple Emanu-El, San Jose, California.
18. This benefactor desires to remain anonymous.
19. Stockton Rural Cemetery, established in 1861, the
second oldest cemetery in Stockton, has handled all interments for the Temple
Israel Cemetery for over half-a-century.
20. Stockton Record, December 5 and 8, 1961.