Twenty First Street Cemetery
In August of 1829, Shearith Israel’s third cemetery was consecrated. It was located on Twenty First Street just west of Sixth Avenue. There is an interesting anecdote related to the first interment in the 21st Street cemetery which highlights the religious piety of some of our members.
According to rules of ritual purity, Cohanim are prohibited from coming into contact with the deceased (except for their immediate family.) This means that ordinarily Cohanim cannot participate in any of the mitzvoth related to burial. One particularly commendable priest, Mr. Lewis I. Cohen, realized that the consecration of a new and unused cemetery afforded him an opportunity to participate in a mitzvah usually off limits to Cohanim. So it was Mr. Cohen who volunteered to dig the first grave for the first burial of the new cemetery in November 1829.
Some of the notable persons laid to rest in the 21st Street cemetery were Moses Levy Maduro Peixoto and Isaac Seixas, ministers of our congregation, and Harmon Hendricks, founder of one of America’s first great industrial companies and whose descendants are still members of our congregation today. Perhaps the most influential person to be buried in the 21st Street cemetery was the great Jewish diplomat and proto-Zionist, Mordecai Manual Noah.
In 1851, the city prohibited burial in Manhattan below 86th Street. Rather than continue to look north (as Trinity Church did), the Congregation searched outside of Manhattan for its next burial ground. Together with Bnai Jeshurun and Shaarei Tefila, the congregation purchased a large plot of land in Ridgewood, Queens.