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Historical marker finds home at Jewish cemetery

May 13, 2002|BY STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - It took four years and three applications, but James Wolfson said the effort was worth it Sunday at the unveiling of the state historical marker for the Old Jewish Cemetery.

"We should all be greatly honored. The Old Jewish Cemetery is only the third cemetery in the Commonwealth to get a state historical marker and only the third Jewish cemetery in the country," said Wolfson, who led the effort to restore the cemetery and obtain the marker.

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."

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The bright blue sign with gold lettering is in front of the cemetery at 361 E. Washington St.

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

"We are fortunate to have a significant landmark such as this in Chambersburg. It is important to have its story told to all who walk by," said Robert Sullivan, reading a letter from state Rep. Jeff Coy, D-Franklin.

The marker in front of the Old Jewish Cemetery joins more than 1,900 throughout the state, said Robert Weible, chief of the Division of History at the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, which awards the markers.

Nominations have to come from the public, and independent historians review them to see if they meet the commission's guidelines. Only about one-third are approved each year, he said.

"Applications must show the subject means something to people all over the state. This subject hasn't received a lot of attention in Pennsylvania," Weible said.

The installation of the marker doesn't signal the end of work for the Sons of Israel Cemetery Association.

The association will continue to work on finding out about the lives of the approximately 75 people buried in the 42-by-264-foot cemetery.

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.

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

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