Crawford County, Pennsylvania
Meadville Jewish Cemetery
Pamela Batzel, "Jewish cemetery tells immigration story," Meadville Tribune, 28 December 1998, page 1:
Testimony to the waves of Jewish emigration, from Europe
to Meadville, exists in a small local cemetery.
Like all Jewish cemeteries, it's a veritable history book
for Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn of Temple Beth Israel in
A study of Jewish history, it's a place to analyze birth
and death dates and last names to determine origins.
"When I went to see the cemetery I just observed the
cemetery and drew some conclusions," said Cukierkorn.
Two waves of Jewish immigrants settled down in the
Meadville area, he said.
While the area's historical population is small,
Cukierkorn said it impressed him nonetheless.
Generally, Jews were drawn to large urban centers, but
some dispersed to smaller places short on merchants.
"They were really looking for trading possibilities," he
In the mid 1950s [sic; 1850s], some 60 years after Meadville's
founding, Jewish people moved into the area from France,
"You can see by the names that they were German Jews,"
said Cukierkorn, who will teach a Jewish civilization class
at Allegheny College this spring.
The second wave of Jews also had German names, he said.
About 17 families came during the 20th century war years
and founded the Jewish Community Center, he said.
The former group had essentially disappeared by the time
of the second wave of immigration, either by assimilation,
death or relocation, he said.
Meadville's cemetery, on Jefferson Street, is to be
included in a CD-ROM catalogue of Jewish cemeteries around
the world, compiled by Arlene Sacks of northern Virginia,
"I have helped her identify every Jewish burial in
Honduras," he said and pointed Sacks in the direction of
more local cemeteries, like Meadville's.
Ideally, the disc will provide maps and dates for
genealogical research, he said.
While moving to the "boondocks" was financially prudent,
the isolation meant social costs. "Jewish life is a communal
life," Cukierkorn said. "Judaism is not only a religion,
it's also a culture, ethnicity."
Marty Goldberg, campus adviser for Hillel - an
international organization for Jewish students at colleges
around the world - said Meadville has about 40 Jewish
"It's tough in rural America," he said.
In Honduras, where Cukierkorn's wife is from, there are
just 40 to 50 Jewish families in the whole country. His
grandparents moved to Brazil to make their way.
Still, locally there is a viable community, buttressed by
the college population of educators and students.
Goldberg said contingents of the Jewish community got
together twice this month to commemorate Hanukkah, a holiday
celebrating the Jews' victory over the Persians invading
Jerusalem a short time after the era of Christ.
Hanukkah's eight day celebration began Dec. 14 - it
follows a solar calendar with 13 months, Goldberg said.
The 45 people gathered to play traditional games, eat
traditional foods and socialize at the community center.
Later, another group collected at the college, by student
"It's an affirmation of faith .... of identity," he said.
As the decades roll by, Jewish people find themselves
intermarrying with gentiles.
Mayor Richard Friedberg, who manages the local cemetery
of some 60 graves, said it's been a year since anyone has
been buried there. People often opt for burial in another
town or in other local cemeteries.
Assimilation, intermarriage, Cukierkorn said, quoting
another rabbi, "are the thorn and the rose of integration in
American society." Assimilation means acceptance and a
simultaneous loss of culture.
Cemeteries again illustrate changing times. Long ago all
the tombstones told the deceased's tale in Hebrew. Later,
Hebrew and English were mixed, before Hebrew was discarded
altogether, Cukierkorn said.
Now, with the swing of the pendulum, some Jewish are
starting to incorporate Hebrew again as a way to hold onto
the roots of their traditions.