A place of their own: Making a Jewish cemetery in Lima

Greg Hoersten

April 9, 2014

LIMA — When Lima's Herman Wiesenthal died in September 1893, he could not be laid to rest in his hometown. Wiesenthal was a member of Lima's Jewish community, and in 1893 there was no cemetery for Jews in Lima.

When Wiesenthal died, Rabbi Milton L. Shulman wrote, “there was no local Jewish organization. As a result, Rev. J.W. Davies of the Congregational Church officiated at the funeral together with Rabbi David L. Lefkowitz of Dayton. Burial took place in Dayton with Rabbi Lefkowitz officiating.” Rabbi Shulman served Lima's Temple Beth Israel in the early 1950s and wrote a history of Lima's early Jewish community.

Having a burial ground was important to the Jewish community. The web site explains that “a Jew should be buried only among fellow Jews, in a Jewish cemetery … On settling in a new country the community purchased land for a synagogue, a school and also a cemetery.”

Shulman traced Lima's Jewish community back to 1853 when a lone Jew arrived in what was then a town of about 1,000. Even at its height, Lima's Jewish community would be a small island in a sea of Gentiles.

“The Jewish community did not really come into existence until after the Civil War,” Shulman wrote. “The initial group consisted of German Jews, most of whom had come originally from the German Palatinate on the west side of the Rhine River.”

In “The 1976 History of Allen County, Ohio,” Zerline Blattner wrote that “It was not until Dec. 13, 1903, at a meeting of the 12 families of the city, that any kind of organization was actually begun and the Beth Israel Congregation was born.”

Meanwhile, in the late 1800s, Jews from Eastern Europe began to settle in the area. Unlike the earlier German immigrants, who were Reform Jews, the new group held to Orthodox views. Generally, Reform Jews are seen as more liberal and less observant of traditional interpretations of Jewish law than Orthodox Jews.

“The formation of the incipient Orthodox community pushed the Reform Community, which was of German extraction, to organize,” Rabbi Shulman wrote in his history. “They first formed a Jewish Cemetery organization on Aug. 17, 1902. This was the direct consequence of the death of two members of the Jewish community who had to be buried away from the local group because of the lack of a local Jewish cemetery.” No longer would the remains of Lima Jews have to be put on a train to Dayton.

“The local Jewish people, who recently formed an organization for the purpose of securing the managing of a Jewish burying ground adjoining Woodlawn Cemetery, were granted a charter of incorporation by the secretary of state at Columbus today,” the Times-Democrat reported Aug. 20, 1902. Signing the incorporation papers were Gus C. Weil, N.I. Michael, Leon Lowenstein, Morris Cohn and A. Weixelbaum.

So, as the Lima Times-Democrat noted Feb. 6, 1903, when “last evening about 7 o'clock the hand of death terminated the illness of Solomon Hershberg, who had been critically ill for about a week at the home of his mother, Mrs. Frieda Hershberg at 610 W. Spring St.,” he was buried in “the Jewish burying ground in Woodlawn Cemetery.”

Likewise, when Cohn, who also managed the California Wine Co., in Lima, died after an operation at a Detroit hospital, his remains were “consigned to a final resting place in the Jewish section of Woodlawn Cemetery,” the Times-Democrat wrote Oct. 18, 1905.

Lima's Orthodox Jewish community organized in 1913 as the Shaare Zedek (Gates of Justice) congregation.

On April 22, 1914, “the Shaare Zedek congregation, composed of orthodox Jewish people of Lima … yesterday bought off Harry Grossman eight city lots in the City View Terrace, located on Spencerville Road, just west of Gethsemani which adjoins Woodlawn on the west,” the Allen County Republican Gazette wrote. Grossman was a founding member of the Shaare Zedek congregation.

A 1909 newspaper ad touted the convenience of the City View lots, which were priced from $29 to $99: “Located just beyond Woodlawn and adjoining the city line (interurban). Cars every 12 minutes; Running time 10 minutes from Public Square; Fare 5 cents.”

The cemetery was expanded several years later. “Land to be used for burial purposes was purchased yesterday by Shaare Zedek congregation,” the Republican Gazette reported Jan. 18, 1917. “It is understood that lots will be sold to Orthodox Jews of the Shaare Zedek congregation and also to Reformed Jews belonging to Beth Israel congregation.”

Grossman was buried in Shaare Zedek when he died of complications of diabetes at his home at 130 S. Collett St. in late January 1934. Grossman, according to The Lima News, was a retired furrier who was born in Russia but had lived in Lima for 25 years.

Although sharing a burial ground, Lima's two Jewish congregations worshipped at different sites. Beth Israel, after holding services in a rented hall and other locations – the congregation's first president, N.L. Michael, likened them to the “wandering Jews, wandering from one hall to the other …” – dedicated its temple in February 1914. The temple was located on West Market Street between Collett and Charles streets.

The Shaare Zedek congregation dedicated its synagogue in the 100 block of South McDonel Street in 1936.

As Lima's Jewish community dwindled – some sources put it at approximately 35 families today – the two congregations combined in 1966 to form Temple Beth Israel-Shaare Zedek. The current temple, constructed beginning in 1948, is at Lakewood and Glenwood avenues.

Shaare Zedek Cemetery is tucked into the west side of Gethsemani Cemetery, a small island of Jews in a sea of Gentiles.