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Full History of Canal Street Cemetery

Based on history compiled by Jakob Rosenzweig and Rick Streiffer, 2021

For more pictures of the Canal Street Cemetery, please visit the gallery here.

The Gates of Prayer cemetery at 4824 Canal Street has been called many names since it was founded in 1858 [1]. It’s been called many names, in part because it has never been a single cemetery. Instead, it has been owned by and used by five different local congregations/organizations who have buried their members there over its lengthy history. Today, the cemetery is owned by Congregation Gates of Prayer, Chevra Thilim Cemetery Corporation, and Congregation Beth Israel.  

 

front-view-canal-street-tememe-derech-gate

The Main entrance of the Canal Street Cemetery, opens into the section originally acquired by Tememe Derech starting in 1858, and gifted to Gates of Prayer in 1939. The gate reflecting one of the owners of the cemetery, Chevra Thilim, was originally located along the side, entering the Chevra Thilim section along Anthony Street, and was moved to its present location in the mid 20th century.

 

However, although the cemetery is well known as “Gates of Prayer #2,” the Congregation never purchased any part of the cemetery. Instead, the Congregation accepted the section along Canal Street from the Tememe Derech Cemetery Association in 1939, and the section facing South Bernadotte Street from the Chevra Mikveh Israel Association in 1950 as donations from both organizations as they disbanded. In doing so, Congregation Gates of Prayer made commitments to maintain the sections in perpetuity while beginning to have burials of its congregants there.

Today, in 2021, the cemetery at 4824 Canal Street is comprised of twenty different lots. Ten of the lots are owned by Congregation Gates of Prayer:  eight are the old Tememe Derech section facing Canal St, while two lots are the old Chevrah Mikveh Israel section that faces South Bernadotte Street. Of the remaining ten lots not owned by Congregation Gates of Prayer, nine are owned by Chevra Thilim and one by Beth Israel.

To learn about the cemetery’s history, it is necessary to first understand more about the historical owners of each cemetery section.

 

 

section-c-street-tememe-derech

Section C, Tememe Derech section.

 

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Old grave in Section B, Tememe Derech section.

section-b-south-bernadotte-side-street-entrance

The South Bernadotte Street entrance of the Canal Street Cemetery, in the Chevra Mikveh Israel section.

Tememe Derech Section

The first Gates of Prayer acquisition, consisting of eight lots along the Canal Street side of the cemetery, were obtained from Tememe Derech in 1939. According to the Institute for Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) website, in the 1850s, “the earliest arrivals from Poland and Prussia [in New Orleans] established an Orthodox congregation, named Tememe Derech, or ‘The Right Way.’ The congregation soon became known as simply ‘the Polish Congregation.’” Chartered in 1857, Tememe Derech made its initial acquisition of a section of the cemetery in 1858. However, it took several transactions through 1906 to acquire all eight lots that now form the cemetery's front along Canal Street.  The first burial appears to have been Moritz Quittman, a Hungarian man who died on May 21, 1858, at 68.

 

section-e-row-5-eliabeth-cohen-tememe-derech

Found in Section E of the Tememe Derech section, this is the grave of Elizabeth Magnus Cohen, MD, an English born woman who immigrated to the US in 1827, attended Penn Medical College and graduated 5th in her class in 1857. She then came to Louisiana that year with her husband, Dr. Aaron Cohen, becoming the 14th physician and the first woman to practice medicine in the State. She died at age 101 after a life of service.

 

section-d-row-3-elizabeth-cohen-child-henry-clay-cohen

The grave of Henry Clay Cohen, the youngest child of Drs Aaron and Elizabeth Magnus Cohen, who died in 1886.  It is found in Section D, Row 3 of the Tememe Derech portion of the cemetery.

 

Tememe Derech met as a congregation in the Dryades Street section in what today is called “Central City” of New Orleans. According to the ISJL site [2], by the end of the 1800s, there were a number of small Orthodox congregations in that Jewish neighborhood of the city, each tending to have formed based on identity by region-of-origin of its members. Aside from Tememe Derech, which never had more than 50 members, [3] these included the Galitzeaner congregation Chevra Thilim (see above), a Litvak congregation called Chevra Mikveh Israel (see below), and a Lithuanian congregation named Anshe Sfard, which is still in existence and remains in the Central City neighborhood (https://www.anshesfard.org/).

 

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 1892 grave, in section E, Row 9, Tememe Derech area.

 

tememe-derech-section-looking-towards-rear-into-chevra-thilim-and-beth-israel-section

Taken from the Canal Street side, Tememe Derech section, looking through towards the Chevra Thilim and Beth Israel sections of the cemetery.

 

As small congregations with limited resources, they met in private homes or rented spaces and surely struggled at times to obtain the required minyan for worship. In 1904, owing to these challenges, these small congregations, social aid organizations, and an early burial society, including Tememe Derech, opted to merge to create a new Orthodox congregation called Congregation Beth Israel (see above). In anticipation of the merger and disbanding as a synagogue, Tememe Derech continued as a volunteer group that administered their Canal Street cemetery for the next thirty-six years. On August 8, 1939, the cemetery was donated to Congregation Gates of Prayer.

The last burial before Gates of Prayer’s acquisition came on July 1, 1939. The first burial after the acquisition by Gates of Prayer took place on September 16, 1939.

 

yellow-fever-memorial-section-e-row-6

The was erected by the board of the Tememe Derech Cemetery Association in 1932 to memorialize the victims of the 1867 Yellow Fever epidemic.  Many of those who died are buried presumably near by now-covered anonymous graves, evident with a plain numbered marker.

 

yellow-fever-memorial-section-e

A view of numerous anonymous graves believed to be those of the 1868 yellow fever epidemic victims, and marked by a plain numbered stones. To the left of the image, the pink granite memorial monument can be seen, with Canal Street in the rear of the picture.

Chevra Mikveh Israel Section

Gates of Prayer acquired its second section of this cemetery from Chevra Mikveh Israel in 1950. “The Mikveh Israel Association of New Orleans” had formed as a small Litvak congregation in the latter half of the 1800s and in 1865, acquired property adjacent to Tememe Derech facing the side street, South Bernadotte.  The first burial at the South Bernadotte Street plot appears to have been Mrs. Gusta Alexander, who died on September 30, 1867. Little else is known about Chevra Mikveh Israel. However, it seems it existed for the first half of the 20th century as a cemetery association rather than a congregation. Then, as with the transfer of the Tememe Derech section eleven years earlier, Gates of Prayer accepted the donation of the Bernadotte Street cemetery from Chevra Mikveh Israel on May 8, 1950.  The last burial before Gates of Prayer’s acquisition came on February 2, 1949. The first burial after the GOP acquisition came on July 5, 1950. This section of the cemetery still is often referred to as the South Bernadotte Cemetery.

section-a-and-b-bernadotte-side

The South Bernadotte Street side of the Canal Street Cemetery. Originally, these two lots were a separate cemetery owned by a small orthodox congregation, Chevra Mikveh Israel and originally acquired in 1865. On May 8, 1950, Gates of Prayer accepted the donation of the Bernadotte Street cemetery from Chevra Mikveh Israel, which was serendipitously contiguous with its 1939 acquisition from Tememe Derech, and has maintained and operated it since.

 

section-a-and-b-bernadotte-side

Sections A and B of the South Bernadotte Street or Chevra Mikveh Israel section of the cemetery.

 

section-a-bernadotte-side-chevra-mikveh-section

Section A the South Bernadotte Street or Chevra Mikveh Israel section of the cemetery.

Chevra Thilim and Beth Israel Sections

Gates of Prayer owns approximately half of the entire Canal Street Cemetery as a result of the two charitable donations described above, while the remainder traces its ownership to two Orthodox organizations, Chevra Thilim and Beth Israel.

Congregation Chevra Thilim, which translates as “Society of Psalms,” was founded in 1885, and originally held its services in the Jewish area, now Central City, in a building near Poydras and Dryades Streets. The “Hebrew Congregation Ghebra (sic) Thilim” made its initial Canal Street cemetery acquisition of Lots 12, 16-17 in an 1897 sale from John Fallon - the first purchase of what would eventually add up to nine total lots. The Congregation sold these lots to Ghebra Thilim (sic) Cemetery Association in 1906. Some years later, in 1916, Congregations Beth Israel and Chebra Thilim (sic) jointly acquired Lots 13-15. Again some years later, Chevra Thilim acquired the non-rectangular areas adjacent to the Catholic Cemetery in the rear of the cemetery, formerly part of Cleveland Street. The Chevra Thilim lots faced St. Anthony Street (now known as Bottinelli Place) rather than Canal Street. Hence, an entrance gate existed on St Anthony that did not require visitors to pass through the Tememe Derech (now, Gates of Prayer) section. At some point years later, a wrought iron sign was erected over the gates. Many years later in the early 2000s, the sign was relocated across what became the main entrance to all sections of the cemetery on Canal Street.

Chevra Thilim as a congregation evolved over the 20th century, as it relocated to Mid-City in the 1940s. It faced the challenges of changing demographics, of conflict over observance, including "mixed seating" during worship and a 1960s breakoff that resulted in the formation of the nearby Conservative Congregation of New Orleans. In the 1970s, the Conservative Congregation relocated to Metairie and was renamed Congregation Tikvat Shalom as it began to accommodate its growth and demographic shifts. In 1988, Chevra Thillim, which had continued to operate at its Mid-City location on South Claiborne Avenue, voted to become a conservative congregation and associate with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism organization. Then, in 1999, Tikvat Shalom and Chevra Thilim reunited to form a single conservative congregation named Congregation Shir Chadash, which continued using the Metairie campus built by Tikvat Shalom twenty years earlier. Before their dissolution as a congregation, Chevra Thilim had transferred all of their cemeteries to a legal entity charged with owning and operating the Chevra Thilim cemeteries in perpetuity and separately from the cemetery of Congregation Shir Chadash.

Beth Israel first became an owner of a section of the Canal St Cemetery when it acquired Lot 11 in a sale from the Slattery family in 1906. Some years later, in 1916, Congregations Beth Israel and Chebra Thilim (sic) jointly acquired three additional lots in that block. Within days of the purchase, they partitioned the three lots (13–15) into two (A & B). Chebra Thilim (sic) took Lot A (which comprises the rear half or Cleveland Ave. side), and Beth Israel took Lot B (the front half or Canal Street side).  In subsequent years, additional swaps or donations involving these lots have been made between Chevra Thilim and Beth Israel.

When originally formed circa 1904–05 and through 1963, Beth Israel was situated in several locations in Central City. In 1963, it initiated a move from Central City to a new synagogue near the Lake on Canal Blvd., into which they moved in 1971. Unfortunately, that synagogue was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, eventually prompting their relocation to Metairie, adjacent to Congregation Gates of Prayer.

Other Structures on Canal Street

According to a Tememe Derech Cemetery plot map dated Dec. 16, 1975, there was a “temple” located at the Canal Street entrance. That temple, perhaps best thought of as a Medauer House, no longer stands. However, the remains of a concrete foundation can be seen there today. It is unknown when this structure was taken down. There is a plaque inserted into a concrete walkway near the temple site, just inside the cast iron entrance gates, that commemorates, in 1916, a work by “Leon C. Weiss, ARCHITECT.” This could refer to the temple that stood at least until 1975. Also laid into the ground near the site of the former temple are several plaques that mark the transfer of the Tememe Derech section to Congregation Gates of Prayer in 1939, another on the occasion of the 1950 donation from the Chevra Mikveh Israel,  and old memorial plot locator plaques from both the Tememe Derech and Bernadotte sections, all of which conceivably had originally been on the walk of the former temple.

Similarly, according to a Chevra Mikveh Israel plot map dated June 1948, there was space for a “Temple” located at the South Bernadotte Street entrance. It is not known if that structure was ever built. Nothing at the entrance remains today as evidence of the structure’s existence. In fact, graves with headstones are located in part of the area that old cemetery maps indicated as the location of the temple structure. If the temple did exist, it was probably removed between 1948 and 1950 because a Chevra Mikveh Israel map dated May 8, 1950 shows no indication of any type of structure at the South.

Wed, July 6 2022 7 Tammuz 5782