Cemetery’s 200th anniversary marks birth of Cincinnati Jewish community

OCTOBER 1, 2014: Chestnut Street Cemetery, also known as Old Jewish Cemetery, the oldest Jewish cemetery west of the Allegheny Mountains, in the Betts-Longworth Historic District in the West End, at Chestnut Street and Central Avenue. It was open from 1821 to 1849. The cemetery is owned by Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Cincinnati.

The birth of Cincinnati’s Jewish community started with a death.

“It’s part of the tradition of Judaism,” explains David Harris, executive director of Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Cincinnati. “The first thing you do when you establish a new community is to establish a cemetery, before you put up a building for a congregation or a school for kids. It shows the primacy of the commandment to honor the dead. That if you can’t do that, you don’t have the makings of the community.”

It was 1821 and you could count the number of Jews in Cincinnati on two hands.

Benjamin Lieb – or maybe Laib or Lape, no one’s quite sure – was one of them. But he had lived his life as a Baptist, his wife’s religion. She had preceded him in death, and as he neared the end of his life, he called together the other members of the small Jewish community to tell them he wanted to be buried as a Jew.

Problem was: There was no Jewish cemetery.

So the six other Jewish men in town went to the area’s richest landowner, Nicholas Longworth, and bought a 25-by-50 plot of land on Chestnut Street near what we now know as Central Avenue.

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