Hebrew Ground, Oak Ridge Cemetery

Stephen Stone blows the shofar at the dedication of Hebrew Ground Sept. 17, 2023. (SCHS)

“Hebrew Ground” at Oak Ridge Cemetery is the resting place of 342 early Jewish settlers to Springfield and Central Illinois. It is marked by a plaque, dedicated in September 2023, that sits in front of the graves of Springfield’s first rabbi and his wife.

About 20 Jewish families formed what was then known as the Springfield Hebrew Congregation in 1858. They first met in family homes and later in various rented spaces around the city. Julius Hammerslough, a clothing merchant and friend of Abraham Lincoln, was the congregation’s first president, and Samuel Rosenwald, father of noted philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, was the incoming president when Hebrew Ground was purchased.

The congregation made its first cemetery purchase, part of Block 5 at Oak Ridge, in 1866 (Hebrew Ground was expanded twice more later). Springfield’s first rabbi, Rabbi Bernhard Deutsch (1813-1889), arrived in Springfield that same year with his wife Rebekah (1810?-1878), daughter Paulina and son Albert after emigrating to the United States from Bohemia.

Rabbi Deutsch served the congregation until 1878. The congregation built its first temple on Fifth Street between Mason and Reynolds streets in 1876, when it also became a Reform Jewish congregation and adopted the name Temple B’rith Sholom. The temple now is at 1004 S. Fourth St.

Rebekah Deutsch died in 1878. She is buried in Hebrew Ground. Rabbi Deutsch died in 1889 in Carthage, Mo., hometown of his son Albert; his body was returned to Springfield for interment next to his wife. (Paulina Deutsch, born in Austria in 1849, married Herman Redlich in 1872. She died of tuberculosis in 1883; her grave also is in Hebrew Ground. Albert Deutsch (1850-1915), is buried in Kansas City, Mo.)

As part of the preparations for the dedication of Hebrew Ground, organizers made rubbings of the tombstones of the Deutsches. Due to the age of the stones, the inscription on Rabbi Deutsch’s stone remained unreadable. However, the inscription for Rebekah Deutsch was legible. Translated from the Hebrew by Temple Israel’s rabbi emeritus, Rabbi Barry Marks, it says:

Respected and dear women.
Mrs. Rebekah Deutsch,
Wife of the honored Rabbi Ber Deutsch
Died with a good name.
Erev Shabbat 17th of Second Adar 5638
May her soul be bound up in the bond of life

Those participating in the 2023 dedication ceremony included Temple B’rith Sholom president Sam Gorden, temple cemetery chair Max Parienti and Temple B’rith Sholom’s rabbi emeritus, Rabbi Michael Datz. Also speaking were congregation members Alan Cherrick and Jamie Myers, an “old settler” descendant.

In addition to Temple B’rith Sholom, the Sangamon County Historical Society and the Oak Ridge Cemetery Foundation participated in the plaque project.

More information

SangamonLink previously published brief histories of Temple B’rith Sholom and Temple Israel.

Hat tip: Thanks to Alan Cherrick for his generous research help.

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This entry was posted in Churches, Early residents, Ethnic groups, Jewish, Markers, Oak Ridge signs, Prominent figures. Bookmark the permalink.

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