Mikveh Israel’s burial ground – Philadelphia, 1740

Although Mikveh Israel, Philadelphia’s first synagogue, was not founded until 1782, the land for its cemetery has an earlier history. A burial plot was first bought by Nathan Levy in 1738 when he suddenly needed a burial place for one of his children, and land was made available to him by Thomas Penn, the son of William Penn. In 1740, he bought more land on Spruce Street, and in that year, as ordered by Thomas Penn, the graveyard became a communal Jewish cemetery. However, Mikveh Israel did not take on its upkeep until 1791. It was used until the time of the Civil War, and its growth reflects the development of Philadelphia Jewry. Legend tells that when the British occupied Philadelphia in 1777, they executed deserters against the wall of the Spruce Street cemetery, and there were other reports of desecration as well. In 1956, the cemetery was designated a National Historic Shrine, and shortly thereafter, it became a part of Independence National Historic Park.

Image of the inside of Mikveh Israel, including central bima, ark, and separated, gender-based seating on different levels.

Mikveh Israel, first synagogue in Philadelphia. American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio.

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