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Jewish cemetery to dedicate historic marker

April 30, 2002|BY STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - After four years of research and repair, a historical marker will be placed at the Old Jewish Cemetery of Chambersburg next month.

"It's on display in my living room right now," said James Wolfson, who led the effort to restore the pre-Civil War cemetery and apply for the historical marker from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

The cemetery, consecrated in 1844, is the last resting place for a society of Orthodox Jews who emigrated from Germany during the 19th century.

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It is only the third cemetery in Pennsylvania to get a state marker and the first Jewish cemetery. It is also only the third Jewish Cemetery in the United States to have any state historical marker, according to Wolfson.

The public dedication of the marker will be at Sunday May 12, at 12:30 p.m., at the cemetery at 361 E. Washington St.

Wolfson said members of the Sons of Israel Cemetery Association will install the marker next week.

The 3-foot-wide sign reads: "Consecrated in 1844, this cemetery provided a place for Jews to be properly buried under the requirements of Judaic law. Founded by Chevrah Kaddishah (Holy Burial Society), it is the first Jewish cemetery west of Philadelphia formed during a period of great westward migration in the mid-19th century. Jewish residents of the area are buried here, as is Isaac Burgauer, the only southern Jewish casualty of the Battle of Gettysburg interred in a northern Jewish cemetery."

The marker will be placed in the tree lawn in front of the cemetery.

The installation of the marker doesn't signal the end of work for the cemetery association.

"We can't read all of the headstones. We're still working on that," Wolfson said.

He said the association will next turn to obituaries to try and find out more about those buried in the cemetery.

The project has not only proven its historical value, it has been good for the community, Wolfson said.

"We've taken a place that was a mess and made it nice. I think it's good for the neighborhood and hopefully setting an example for the Chambersburg community," he said.

Wolfson's interest in the cemetery began about five years ago when he moved to Chambersburg and joined the Congregation Sons of Israel.

No one knew much about the cemetery, which had been damaged by time, erosion and vandalism.

Wolfson researched the site through old newspapers and local records. He said he learned the most from a diary written by a member of the burial society that established the cemetery.

There are about 75 people buried in the 42-by-264-foot cemetery, which was restored by an Iowa company in 2000.

More information on the cemetery is available at www.ojcc.org.

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