Beth Abraham Cemetery is a large Jewish burial ground in the Carrick neighborhood of Pittsburgh. It is part of a larger complex of neighboring Jewish cemeteries including the Shaare Torah, Shaare Zedeck, and Marks Family cemeteries.
Beth Abraham started as a congregation. Sometime in the mid-1880s, a group of recent Jewish immigrants from parts of the Russian Empire began meeting for prayer services in a rented room on Hazel Street in the lower Hill District. It was known informally as “Mazursky’s Congregation,” after its leader, Aaron Mazursky.Feldman, Jacob, “The Jewish Experience in Western Pennsylvania,” p. 76 (catalog record). The group chartered Beth Abraham Congregation in 1889 with Jacob Fedman, Morris Gelberg, Aaron Mazursky, Louis Mazursky, and Moses Sobcauff as charter members. Base Avroham charter, Allegheny County Charter Books, Vol. 12, p. 461-463 (online).Known colloquially as “Anshe Russia,” Beth Abraham was the first congregation in Western Pennsylvania to explicitly represent Russian Jews.
The local Russian Jewish population eventually split into factions, reflecting regional distinctions carried over from Europe.Feldman, p. 146-147. Agudas Achim Congregation broke away from Beth Abraham in 1890, and a group from present-day Ukraine founded Beth Zedeck Congregation around 1899.Agudas Achim Congregation charter, Allegheny County Charter Books, Vol. 18, p. 127. Beth Zedeck Congregation charter, Allegheny County Charter Books, Vol. 26, p. 234.Over the following decade, the local Russian Jewish population subdivided even further into numerous independent congregations and landsmenshaftn (fraternal organizations) representing specific provinces and sometimes even single towns in the Russian Empire.
Instead of purchasing synagogue property, Beth Abraham rented meeting space from Shaaray Tefilah Congregation and used its available funds to acquire cemetery property south of the city. Within a few years of purchasing its first parcel, Beth Abraham gradually ceased to exist as a congregation and transitioned into a cemetery association exclusively. Although no official arrangement existed, Beth Abraham unofficially became the preferred burial ground for members of Shaaray Tefilah Congregation and the Shpikover Hilfs Verien, and possibly for members of Beth Mogen David Congregation.Beth Abraham Congregation Records [MSS 333] (catalog record). Shaaray Tefilah Congregation Records [MSS 361] (catalog record). Shpikover Hilfs Verein Silver Anniversary Dinner program, 1947 (catalog record).
Sometime between 1891 and 1902, Beth Abraham acquired a two-acre parcel of land from the recently estabished Shaare Torah Cemetery in what was then Baldwin Township. The L-shaped tract ran along the outer perimeter of the Shaare Torah property with frontage on Stewart Lane downhill to the east and also downhill to the south.Baldwin Township map, Sheet A32, c. 1918 Allegheny County Records Office (online). At the time, the land already contained at least 20 interments, the earliest dating to 1891. Available death records suggest that many of these people originally came from the Russian Empire, and therefore they might have been members of Beth Abraham who were buried on an individual basis prior to the official creation of the cemetery.
In late June 1904, the officers of Beth Abraham unilaterally submitted a plan to county authorities for dividing its L-shaped property into a cemetery. The plan called for a circular drive leading up from Stewart Lane to the east and a small house that likely would have been used as an “ohel” for conducting Jewish burial rituals. The plan laid out 123 multi-grave plots separated by walkways and a small section assigned for “single graves.”Beth Abraham Cemetery Plan of Lots, June 1904, Allegheny County Records Office (online). A few weeks later, on July 5, the same officers proposed an amendment to the Beth Abraham charter that would allow the congregation to establish a cemetery.Base Avroham charter amendment, Allegheny County Charter Books, Vol. 35, p. 509-510 (online). The move was controversial, and a large percentage of the membership filed objections.“Purchase of Cemetery Disturbs a Congregation,” Pittsburgh Press, July 15, 1904 (online-Newspapers.com). The court dismissed those objections on August 9, 1904, allowing the cemetery to proceed.
Beth Abraham expanded its cemetery holdings in July 1918 when it acquired 4.514 acres of two-way dip hillside immediately north of its existing property.Allegheny County Deed Books, Vol. 1931, p. 601. The congregation left this tract undeveloped for 16 years while it sold plots throughout most of its original L-shaped property, currently known as Section 1 through Section 4. The original development included a children’s section at the bottom of Section 4, just beyond the gate of the Shaare Zedeck Cemetery.
With its additional lands, Beth Abraham increasingly became a community-wide burial ground, rather than one affiliated with any particular congregations or ethnicity. The association eventually opened membership to anyone Jewish over the age of 21. Each member was entitled to a grave for “himself, his wife and any unmarried children under twenty one (21) years of age.” Those who had already joined the organization at an earlier date were given priority graves in “Sections 1, 2, 3 and 10.” (With the exception of Section 3, which has an old stone marker, it is unclear whether the original section designations match the current section designations.) The bylaws list a $100 initiation fee with $2 annual dues. The association also charged $50 funeral expanses, which included traditional Jewish burial rituals overseen by the “chevra kadisha,” or burial society.Beth Abraham Cemetery bylaws, 1941 (online).
Beth Abraham developed the 1918 addition through two expansions. The first occurred in several phases starting in the mid-1930s. In August 1934, the congregation dedicated an elliptical section running across the center of its property. A plan for the section called for establishing approximately 112 plots separated by a grid of concrete walkways. The steepness of the hillside required the section to be divided into two parts separated by a retaining wall with a stairwell and walkways cut through it. The walls of stairwell were decorated with a Star of David and a Menorah. The new section included iron railings and gate. The gate was initially decorated with two dedicatory plaques listing the officers and directors of the congregation at the time of the dedication.
In August 1937, Beth Abraham dedicated a chapel opposite the gate of this new section. The chapel was designed by architect Alexander Sharove and built by general contractor Harry Lebovitz. The project utilized numerous local Jewish contractors and suppliers, including Morris Broido of Center Lumber Company (lumber), Emil L. Habers and Harry Wolkin of Standard Mantel & Tile Company (tile work), William Liff (brick work), David Molever (painting), Daniels Electric Company (electrical fixtures) and Borris Mandel (plumbing). Several of the non-Jewish contractors and suppliers had existing relationships with the Jewish community. The roofer Frank Limbach had worked on the new Montefiore Hospital in 1928. Brick supplier D. J. Kennedy Company regularly advertised in the Jewish Criterion. To commemorate the dedication of the chapel, Beth Abraham added two iron plaques to the new section gate, each listing the officers and directors of the association. The chapel was demolished in 2019.“Beth Abraham Cemetery Chapel Dedication Sunday,” Jewish Criterion, Aug. 20, 1937 (online). “Congregation Beth Abraham Cemetery Chapel Dedication…” Jewish Criterion, Aug. 27, 1937 (online). “Cemetery Chapel Dedicated with Ancient Hebrew Ceremony,” Pittsburgh Press, Aug. 23, 1937 (online-Newspapers.com).
Although surviving records are unclear, the 1930s expansion also appears to have included a new entrance into the cemetery from the south with a large iron gate and a paved road through the cemetery. This is now considered the main entrance into the cemetery. The original entrance from the east was likely discontinued and the ohel demolished at this time. The land occupied by the ohel and some of the drive was cleared and used as additional burial ground, which is now known as “Section 1” of the cemetery.
Beth Abraham expanded again after World War II by developing the hillside property north of its 1930s addition. Throughout the late 1940s, these lands were “drained, graded, filled and generally improved and developed so that the capacity of the cemetery was more than doubled.” The congregation announced an expansion in 1951 and dedicated the new section in August 1953. The expansion created 213 plots in two large sections. These new sections had much wider spacing between graves than older sections and were purposefully designed without concrete walkways. The addition was marked with a stone gate topped with ironwork ornamentation in the form of a menorah and a Star of David and the name “Beth Abraham” in English and in Hebrew. The gate is currently decorated with five plaques. The first four were installed prior to the 1953 dedication. One honors the board of directors at the time and the other memorializes past-president Abraham Sternberg, who died during the expansion. Two tablets were also installed inside the gate with the plaques made available to families. A fifth plaque was added sometime in the mid-1960s, to honor a different slate of officers and directors.“Beth Abraham Enlarges Cemetery Grounds,” Jewish Criterion, Sept. 14, 1951 (online). “Beth Abraham Memorial Park” advertisement, Jewish Chronicle, Aug. 23, 1963 (online).
The 1951 expansion originally included a small road to improve access to the upper hillside. Beth Abraham acquired three small adjacent plots of land to the west of these sections in April and June 1956 and September 1957, allowing it to connect this dead-end road back to the Ivyglen Way, creating a new entrance in the cemetery.138-L-40 (online— Allegheny County Real Estate Portal). 138-L-6 (online— Allegheny County Real Estate Portal). 138-G-140 (online— Allegheny County Real Estate Portal).
Beth Abraham acquired a final plot of land adjacent to this section in 1964.138-L-30 (online— Allegheny County Real Estate Portal). Allegheny County Deed Books, Vol. 4129, p. 498.The land is currently undeveloped. The congregation conducted upgrades to the cemetery in the late 1960s and made occasional small improvements to the property over the subsequent decades. Sometime before 2006, a small Holocaust memorial was installed outside the stone gate entrance to the 1950s.Beth Abraham Holocaust memorial unveiling photograph (online). The Jewish Cemetery and Burial Association assumed ownership and operations of the Beth Abraham Cemetery in 2010. (online-Jewish Cemetery & Burial Association website).
|↑1||Feldman, Jacob, “The Jewish Experience in Western Pennsylvania,” p. 76 (catalog record).|
|↑2||Base Avroham charter, Allegheny County Charter Books, Vol. 12, p. 461-463 (online).|
|↑3||Feldman, p. 146-147.|
|↑4||Agudas Achim Congregation charter, Allegheny County Charter Books, Vol. 18, p. 127.|
|↑5||Beth Zedeck Congregation charter, Allegheny County Charter Books, Vol. 26, p. 234.|
|↑6||Beth Abraham Congregation Records [MSS 333] (catalog record).|
|↑7||Shaaray Tefilah Congregation Records [MSS 361] (catalog record).|
|↑8||Shpikover Hilfs Verein Silver Anniversary Dinner program, 1947 (catalog record).|
|↑9||Baldwin Township map, Sheet A32, c. 1918 Allegheny County Records Office (online).|
|↑10||Beth Abraham Cemetery Plan of Lots, June 1904, Allegheny County Records Office (online).|
|↑11||Base Avroham charter amendment, Allegheny County Charter Books, Vol. 35, p. 509-510 (online).|
|↑12||“Purchase of Cemetery Disturbs a Congregation,” Pittsburgh Press, July 15, 1904 (online-Newspapers.com).|
|↑13||Allegheny County Deed Books, Vol. 1931, p. 601.|
|↑14||Beth Abraham Cemetery bylaws, 1941 (online).|
|↑15||“Beth Abraham Cemetery Chapel Dedication Sunday,” Jewish Criterion, Aug. 20, 1937 (online).|
|↑16||“Congregation Beth Abraham Cemetery Chapel Dedication…” Jewish Criterion, Aug. 27, 1937 (online).|
|↑17||“Cemetery Chapel Dedicated with Ancient Hebrew Ceremony,” Pittsburgh Press, Aug. 23, 1937 (online-Newspapers.com).|
|↑18||“Beth Abraham Enlarges Cemetery Grounds,” Jewish Criterion, Sept. 14, 1951 (online).|
|↑19||“Beth Abraham Memorial Park” advertisement, Jewish Chronicle, Aug. 23, 1963 (online).|
|↑20||138-L-40 (online— Allegheny County Real Estate Portal).|
|↑21||138-L-6 (online— Allegheny County Real Estate Portal).|
|↑22||138-G-140 (online— Allegheny County Real Estate Portal).|
|↑23||138-L-30 (online— Allegheny County Real Estate Portal).|
|↑24||Allegheny County Deed Books, Vol. 4129, p. 498.|
|↑25||Beth Abraham Holocaust memorial unveiling photograph (online).|