Oldest Jewish Congregation in America Unveils Preservation of 1829 Cemetery, Design by Christine G.H. Franck

Shearith Israel, the Oldest Jewish Congregation in North America, Unveils First Phase of the Preservation of Its 1829 Cemetery On West 21st Street

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New York City’s Congregation Shearith Israel — founded in 1654 by 23 Jews of Spanish and Portuguese ancestry and the oldest congregation in North America – today unveiled the first phase of the preservation of its West 21st Street Cemetery — in use from 1829-1851 — at a public viewing for area residents and invited guests.

In a brief ceremony, Rabbi Hayyim Angel offered prayers and spoke about “the religious obligation of cemetery-upkeep as part of our debt and respect of our past roots.”

The initial phase of the preservation was made possible by El Ad Group, a global real estate company with commercial and residential properties in New York City.

Lloyd Zuckerberg, chair of the Historic Cemeteries Committee of the congregation, and board member of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, is overseeing the preservation, which was designed by Christine G.H. Franck, who gave guests a brief tour of the cemetery and answered questions.

The West 21st Street cemetery, also known as the Third Cemetery, is approximately 80 by 120 feet and holds more than 250 burials, including 67 pre-dating 1787 which were moved from the Chatham Square cemetery.  The Chatham Square Cemetery on St. James Place, in use from 1682 to 1831, is the second oldest existing cemetery in Manhattan.  The 11th Street Cemetery is between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, in use from 1805 to 1830.  The congregation’s present cemetery is in Glendale, Queens.  Congregation Shearith Israel’s synagogue – a New York City landmark designed by Arnold Brunner — is located at West 70th Street and Central Park West.

The first phase of work at West 21st street has included conservation and cleaning of tombstones, a ground penetrating radar study locating unmarked graves, new historically sensitive landscaping, and new pathways allowing access into the cemetery while protecting the fragile tombstones.  Future phases of work include conservation of historic metalwork by the renowned Les Métalliers Champenois (LMC Corp.), conservators of the Statue of Liberty’s torch, new street trees, and preservation of the brick enclosing wall.

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