Sacred Ground: The history of Rochester's Jewish Cemeteries

March 28, 2017 06:36 AM

Pat Taney was asked about the history of two Jewish cemeteries, located on the Greece-Rochester border for his Good Question segment.

Those cemeteries made national headlines recently after vandals struck, causing damage.

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Rose Marie Lombard asked Pat why the cemeteries are located in a part of Rochester that has never really had a large Jewish population.

Pat went to Helen Gulack for the answer. She's with the Britton Road Association, which maintains the cemeteries on Britton Road and Stonewood Road.

"These cemeteries date back to the mid to late 1800's," Gulack said.

That's a time when Rochester was growing, fueled by a wave of immigrants coming from Europe, many of them were Jewish.

"At first, in the early 1800's, most Jews were buried over at Mt Hope. Eventually the Jewish population began to rapidly grow.  Congregations that began in people's living rooms expanded, and they decided that they wanted their completely separate own burial grounds." Gulack said.

Next they had to find land that was relatively inexpensive. Which brought them to the area on the Rochester-Greece border. It was rural farmland, purchased in the mid 1800's.

"Today Greece, NY seems so far from when you look and say how many Jews live in Pittsford, Brighton and Fairport, but in those days  they were concentrated around Joseph Avenue." Gulack told us.

Joseph Avenue is not around the corner from the cemeteries but closer than where many Jews live today.

"This was the City of Rochester in the early days, this was before the riots of the 60's when there were upwards of 20 congregations of varying sizes in the city." Gulack said.

Much like Mount Hope cemetery, the movers and shakers of Rochester's past are also buried in these cemeteries too.

"Rochester was a big place for needle trades and a huge percentage, of them, were started by Jews. Those families are here."

The Britton Road Association spends much of its time and resources maintaining the cemeteries but Gulack would like to find more time to research the stories of the lives buried beneath the ground.

"I know we have a lot of history here. I know we do, we just need a little time to look into it and publicize it a little bit more and make it accessible. They are holy, they are spiritual and they are our heritage. It's important to remember that not only when something happens, like vandalism, but all of the time," Gulack said.

For more information on the Britton Road Association, visit their website here.


Pat Taney

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