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The Fascinating History of the First Jewish Cemetery in Los Angeles

Mar 22, 2011 by Lisa Newton

Practically out of sight in a little stretch of road, deep in the recesses of Dodger Stadium, is a mostly unknown and forgotten part of Los Angeles’ storied history; one that includes many untold and forgotten stories that comprise the hidden LA that we frequently are not privy to.

It all started in 1841, when the then Jewish resident, Jacob Frankfort, a German tailor, arrived in Los Angeles. Although Los Angeles eventually wasn’t to become his permanent residence, when the 1850 census was taken, Los Angeles’ population included 15 blacks, 8 Jews and 2 Chinese!

How times have changed.

Subsequently, it didn’t take long before the Jewish population started to build a community for themselves. In fact, recognizing the need to provide religious services, a Jewish cemetery, and Jewish welfare for their tiny community, in 1854, the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles, the first charitable group to be founded in the city, was formed.

The organization’s purpose is stated in the preamble to its Constitution and By-Laws :

Whereas: the Israelites of this city, being desirous of procuring a piece of ground suitable for the purpose of a burying ground for the deceased of their own faith, and also to appropriate a portion of their time and means to the holy cause of benevolence unite themselves for these purposes, under the name and style of "The Hebrew Benevolent Society" of Los Angeles. Source: Early Jewish LA

By 1855, for a cost of $1.00, a 3 acre plot of land located at the corner of Lilac Terrace and Lookout Drive, was acquired to create the first Jewish cemetery. Over the subsequent 40 years,300 plots were filled.

By the turn of the century, the immigrant Jewish population in Los Angeles was increasing significantly, and the cemetery no longer was large enough for this burgeoning community.

Between 1902 and 1910, all the graves at the cemetery were moved to the Home of Peace, located at the corner of Whittier Boulevard and Eastern Avenue.

In researching this hidden gem, there still exists a monument dedicated at the site of the original cemetery. The plaque reads:

FIRST JEWISH SITE IN LOS ANGELES

The Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles (in 1854), the first charitable organization in the city, acquired the site by deed on April 9, 1855 from the City Council for their recognition that it’s a sacred burial ground.

This property represents the first organized community effort by Los Angeles’ first Jewish residents; California Registered Historical Landmark No. 822

The Plaque and its commemoration was placed by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the Jewish Federation-Council of Greater Los Angeles on September 29, 1968.

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Culture, Family, Los Angeles, SoCal
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