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Jewish Cemeteries of the California Gold Rush

Seven cemeteries in California’s Gold Rush country in the Sierra foothills survive as evidence of vibrant Jewish communities in that area. Almost as soon as gold was discovered in 1848, Jews from all over the world came to California seeking economic, political, and social freedom. They became active members of the communities where they settled, forming businesses and taking part in civic life.

One of the first things they did was to establish Hebrew Benevolent Societies and chevra kadishas to honor and bury their dead in sacred ground according to Jewish tradition.

These traditions continued in San Francisco with the founding of Sinai Memorial Chapel Chevra Kadisha, in 1901.

The cemeteries are overseen by the Commission for the Preservation of Pioneer Jewish Cemeteries and Landmarks in the West, whose work is supported by Sinai Memorial Chapel. More information about the cemeteries, including information on how to visit them, can be found here.

To learn how to visit these cemeteries on a driving tour, visit this page.

Ira Nowinski, an award-winning San Francisco photographer, was commissioned to take photographs of the cemeteries, one of several projects he undertook to document Jewish culture in San Francisco and beyond. He has published several books of his photographs, and his work is in the collections of museums in New York, England, Paris, and throughout the Bay Area.