Arizona Centennial: Cemeteries reveal history of years gone by

It’s not morbid, it’s history. For a state that’s nearly 100 years old, Arizona has no shortage of fascinating stories, many of which can be found in our historic Jewish cemeteries.

A marker at the edge of Tombstone’s famous Boot Hill cemetery points the way to a ‘Jewish Cemetery and Memorial,” but most tourists don’t know that no one is actually buried there. It was dedicated in the late 19th century, but “we have no record” of any Jewish citizens buried there, says Eileen Warshaw of the Jewish History Museum. The memorial there now was dedicated in 1984 as a symbol of friendship between Jewish and Native American communities. (Jennifer Goldberg/Jewish News of Greater Phoenix)

Evergreen Cemetery in Tucson contains the grave sites of the men and women that figure prominently in the city’s early Jewish history, including the grave of Harry Arizona Drachman (1867-1951), first Caucasian male born in the Arizona Territory.

“He was honored so much by that fact, he changed his middle name to Arizona,” says Barry Friedman, board president of the Jewish History Museum.

Along the border, the land for the Nogales city cemetery was donated in the 1890s by a Jewish immigrant, Leopold Ephraim. Paul Bracker, a member of Nogales’ Jewish community whose family has lived in the border town since the 1920s, says his late father, Charles, was the one to suggest a Jewish cemetery there. “That was one of my father’s things: You have to give back to your community,” he says.

Buildings rise and fall, but Arizona’s Jewish cemeteries help keep alive the memory of those who have gone before us.

“It’s amazing how many people are there that you can find,” says Eileen Warshaw, executive director of the Jewish History Museum.

Reprinted with permission of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.