About 100 yards from the Mexican border, in the town of Douglas, Arizona is a forgotten Jewish cemetery.
Weeds and litter line the dirt road leading up to a little-known spot on the Eastern corner of the small southwestern community. A barbwire fence and the remains of two altars greet you at what was once a nicely kept burial spot for at least 30 Jews who lived in Cochise County.
A plaque welcomes visitors at the site of what is known as the Douglas-Bisbee Jewish Cemetery. Mounted on a small pillar in 1993, the plaque describes a re-dedication in the memory of the “Jewish Pioneers of Cochise County”.
It is believed that this is the oldest cemetery in Arizona and one of two abandoned Jewish cemeteries in the state. Reconsecrated in 1993, today it looks like it has been forgotten for decades.
Tombstones are toppled and shattered. Names are difficult to read. There isn’t a flower in sight.
Most of the buried were born in the late 19th century and died between 1930 and 1960. Family names such as Berkowitz, Cohen, Greenburg and Shapiro are etched into headstones next to Hebrew letters.
Unfortunately, for these former Cochise County residents, vandalism has visited their resting area on several occasions. A quick search of historical documents online details several instances of damage, one as recent as 2012 in what was described as an anti-Semitic act.
The Jews of the late 19th century played prominent roles in Cochise County, Arizona. There is record of Jewish residents serving as deputy sheriffs, bankers and mining executives.
In Hebrew, a cemetery is considered a “house of eternity” and the land is holy. For Jews, establishing a cemetery is a first priority when moving to a new community.
The small Jewish community of the early Douglas days deserves better than an abandoned cemetery lost to history. The burial area was established in 1904 and Douglas was incorporated in 1905. The Jews were there to help form the beginning of a new American community.
We should be there to remember them in a town that is still going strong more than a century later.