Oldest Jewish Cemetary
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Volume #1, Issue #2, October, 1969


by Mrs. David "Bea" Schwartz


Photo courtesy of Norton B. Stern

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. 3

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 property.

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:



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.

California Registered
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 of memories.

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 epitaph —

Forget that I died; remember that I lived.


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,
of Sacramento.



1. Stockton Times, March 16, 1850.

2. George H. Tinkham, A HISTORY OF STOCKTON (San Francisco, 1880).

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. 549.

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, p. 613.

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 (Stockton, 1967).

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.