Cemetery set to grow on new land

BY VICTORIA SIEGEL, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

The oldest Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, New Mt. Sinai, is “growing.” This spring, the cemetery opened an additional five acres of newly developed land.

“We have run out of room and needed to develop some of our land. The cemetery had accumulated over 50 acres since 1850. For the past 15 years we’ve been grading, planting trees, and putting in road and water lines in order to get the five acres ready for use,” Daniel Brodsky, executive director of New Mt. Sinai, said.

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The cemetery is currently home to 12,000 graves but there is enough land, based on current burial rates, for the next 300-400 years. “The present sections, 30 acres, have only a limited number of spaces available for additional burials,” Sanford Silverstein, a board member said, “many of which do not fit the needs and desires of those seeking burial space.” Since those needs are for family-sized plots, it was time to open more land. Brodsky said that the current space has just about run out of room for single gravesites. “The new section will contain one area for lots and one for single graves,” Maurice Weingart, president of the cemetery’s board, said.

Mt. Sinai, as it’s commonly known, is not only the oldest Jewish cemetery in the area, it’s also the only Jewish cemetery in the Midwest that’s on the National Register of Historic Places. “We have a large contingent of famous St. Louisans buried here,” Brodsky said. “For example, we have members of the May family, from the May Company; all three families of the Stix, Baer, & Fuller stores; and members of the Edison Brothers family.”

Silverstein added that in addition to philanthropists, civic leaders, rabbis, authors, and business leaders, Mt. Sinai is even the final resting place of military personnel dating back to the Mexican War. According to Brodsky the cemetery started out in the early 1800s downtown, run by Temple Imanuel and B’nai B’rith Society (not associated with the current B’nai B’rith organization). It was originally named Camp Springs Cemetery and when the two shuls merged to become B’nai El they decided to buy acreage outside of the city. By the 1850s

they were still buying up farmland around the original acreage and in 1872 were able to move the bodies that were interred at Camp Springs to Mt. Sinai. In total, the cemetery accumulated over 50 acres.

Eventually, B’nai El Congregation took over running Mt. Sinai. Then in the 1860s Congregation Shaare Emeth was added, and in the 1880s Temple Israel.

Of those original 50 plus acres, some were developed for the cemetery, some were sold off in the 1990s, some are leased to St. George’s Church, and some (10-15 acres) are still undeveloped, planned for future use by Mt. Sinai.

The cemetery takes burials from throughout the Jewish community including spouses who are not Jewish but were married to a Jew. “We even include same sex couples as long as one partner is Jewish,” Brodsky said. “We’re very inclusive and allow cremated remains to be buried or placed in the mausoleum.” Weingart added that Mt. Sinai is the only Jewish cemetery in the area that has a mausoleum. “It features stained glass windows by renowned artist Sol Nodel,” Silverstein said.

The gates are open 24 hours a day; a sign asks visitors not to come in on Sabbath. (The offices are closed and no services are conducted during Sabbath.) Brodsky is proud that the cemetery is in a safe, clean part of town where people aren’t afraid to visit any day of the week, any time of the day.

Silverstein would like to dispel the notion that Mt. Sinai is far away. “We’re only 20 minutes from I-170 and Hwy. 40, which is just a short drive from most areas of the Jewish population.”

Brodsky agrees that the cemetery is not as far away as most people think. And, he said its appearance is very attractive. “It’s a very open, park-like space,” he said. “When you look around, you don’t see headstone after headstone. You see lots of trees and lots of beautiful flowers and bushes.” Weingart says that the cemetery is “absolutely gorgeous.”