After 165 Years, Jewish Cemetery Comes to Knox Co.
Published: Friday, May 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
Adolph Wolff, the first known Jewish settler in Knox County, had already immigrated to the U.S. from Germany and worked as a peddler in Mechanicsburg, Ohio before he opened his own clothing store in Mount Vernon in 1847.
His business occupied a prime location in town, on the corner of Main Street and Vine in the royally named Buckingham Building. His work prospered, and the Wolffs became an established presence in town.
Wolff would spend the rest of his life in Mount Vernon. When he passed away, however, his body was taken to Wheeling, W.V. — two hours away from where he operated his store, celebrated his daughter’s wedding and later mourned her death — for internment, because there was no Jewish cemetery in Knox County.
Now, 165 years after the Wolffs initially came to Mount Vernon, the Jewish Cemetery Society of Knox County is establishing the burial space Wolff was denied. Members of the society include Professor of Sociology Howard Sacks, Hillel Director and Chaplain Marc Bragin, local historian Lois Hanson and other residents of Knox County. Susan Ramser, philanthropist and resident of Knox County donated the property. Because the cemetery is a sacred space, Sacks said it will be physically distinct from other structures in the area.
For Sacks and Hanson, the simple lack of a significant Jewish population in the past was the main deterrent in establishing a cemetery.
“When we moved to town in 1973, there just weren’t many Jews in Mount Vernon, so a Jewish cemetery was never going to happen from Mount Vernon Jews because they’ve all gone,” Hanson said. “I think it took until Jewish Kenyon professors kind of said, ‘Well, this is home and we would like to be buried where home is.’ But that’s just my guess.”
The cemetery will include traditional Jewish customs, such as a small water pump for visitors to wash their hands upon exiting. There will also be a marker describing the cemetery, according to Sacks. Finally, the head will face east toward Jerusalem in accordance with Jewish tradition, according to Bragin.
The creation of a Jewish cemetery is significant for Jewish members of the Knox County community who consider Mount Vernon their home.
Observant Jews who were not buried in Mount Vernon were interred in areas in which they had families, such as Columbus, Cincinnati, Philadelphia or, like Wolff, West Virginia. This cemetery would mean that, for the first time, observant Mount Vernon Jews would be able to be buried close to home.
“The concept of Jews being laid to rest near their family members dates all the way back to Genesis,” Bragin said. “It was Abraham who went to get a cave for Sarah’s death and he purchased a burial site.”
There have been earlier attempts to create a Jewish cemetery in Mount Vernon. In 1883, the Mount Vernon Jewish Society tried to secure a plot of land, presumably for a Jewish cemetery. Documentation from a January 1883 city council meeting and from local newspapers attest to the validity of the attempt. From then on, however, the trail mysteriously ends.
“I’ve gone to the cemetery here time and time again, I don’t think it ever happened. That’s a big ‘I don’t know’ why it falls apart,” Hanson said.
This time, however, the plans for the Jewish cemetery were buoyed by the collective efforts of the Society.
“I think [for] Professor Sacks and this group of people, it’s really important for them to leave their mark of Judaism within this area. You have the land to do so, the opportunity and the interest from different folks. All of these things have to come together to do that,” Bragin said.
Currently, the Society is working with the Harrison Township Trustees and the Friends of the Quarry Chapel.
“The Harrison Township cemetery and Quarry Chapel occupy the same location as the proposed Jewish cemetery, so we are working together to develop this property,” Sacks said.
The Jewish Cemetery is scheduled for completion in spring 2013.