If you want to search through all names select the text box and press the down arrow. Click on any star for more information & a larger version of the photo.
As you move the cursor over each row, you will find the names and photos for each headstone as it lays in the row.
In 1884, four of Durham's earliest Jewish settlers got together and bought 500 square feet of land from Durham's Maplewood Cemetery. The four men -- Jacob Levy, Samuel Lehman, Myer Summerfield and August Mohsberg -- must have foreseen that, sooner or later, their small community would need to bury its dead in accordance with Jewish tradition. In doing so, these Jews, all German born, acted on Jewish law, which dictates that prompt burial is among the faith's highest obligations.
They may not have known that the first death would be from among their own. Seven year-old Ida Levy, the daughter of Jacob Levy, died in 1888, four years after the group bought the land.
Creating a cemetery -- followed by a burial society, or Chevra Kadisha -- was the Durham Jewish community's first collective act. In subsequent years, more than 230 people were buried in the old section of the cemetery along Morehead Avenue.
The majority of these Jews were from Eastern European shtetels. They were, for the most part, traders and storekeepers, who came to town on the heels of its newest industry -- tobacco. Durham's dozen tobacco factories produced an urban clientele these Jews worked hard to serve. Though some of the earliest Jews, such as Moses Gladstein and Joseph Smolensky, worked in the factories, the majority were grocers, butchers, shoemakers, and furriers. Durham Jews dominated the retail clothing businesses in particular, and their shops dotted the downtown's white and black communities advertising the latest New York fashions. In this, Jews resumed their European roles as economic middlemen, said Jewish historian Leonard Rogoff.
Three or four years after the cemetery was created, Jews formed the Durham Hebrew Congregation. The group met in rented halls and paid for an itinerant rabbi.
In 1896, the congregation dedicated its first Torah. Six years later, the Durham Hebrew Congregation was formally incorporated in North Carolina. It would eventually evolve into Beth El Synagogue. On this page, you will find information and/or stories about Durham's earliest settlers.
This project was conceived by Beth El members Roger Perilstein and Marc Cohen who, upon visiting the cemetery several years ago, wondered if there was a better way to remember the dead. Marc took the initial photos and Roger researched the project and interviewed many older members of the Beth El community both those who still live here and those who moved away. Yonat Shimron edited the entries, with help from members of the Synagogue Life Committee. We would like to extend our thanks to Leonard Rogoff whose book, Homelands: Southern Jewish Identity in Durham and Chapel Hill North Carolina informed much of our work. We also want to thank Krisha Miller, Sean Brain and Scott Snyder for their many, many hours of work designing and setting up the web site.
If you are a relative or a friend visiting the site and either have corrections or more information about someone buried here, please contact the Beth El main office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-682-1238.
This website is dedicated to the memory of the men, women and children buried in the Durham Hebrew Cemetery. Moses tells the Israelites their covenant with God is "...not with you alone, but ...with those who are not with us here this day."
These dead remain as much a part of the current Beth El Synagogue community as those living today. They not only bought the land for the cemetery, they raised the money to build our synagogue, located at 1004 Watts St. Over the years, they read Torah, baked challah, tutored bar-mitzvah teens and celebrated the holidays. Their footsteps echo through the sanctuary and their yahrtzeit memorial bulbs give us light.