What is today the Boothill Graveyard was opened in 1878 as just the Tombstone Cemetery. It was closed in 1884 because it was full, and a new cemetery was opened. The cemetery was renamed Boothill Graveyard in the 1920’s to appeal to the growing tourism business.
It is not known how many Jews lived in Tombstone in those early days, but there was a Tombstone Hebrew Association so it seems likely that there was a sizable population. In fact, Abraham Hyman Emanuel, a Jewish mine superintendent, was the Tombstone mayor from 1896 to 1900. In those early days, Jewish citizens were not buried in the city cemetery. It’s not clear if that is because there was some sort of city ordinance against permitting Jews to be buried at the cemetery though that doesn’t seem likely given all the other types of people buried there. One local historian told me that the Jews, themselves, did not want to be buried in a Gentile cemetery and preferred to be buried with their own people. Whatever the reason, the Jewish cemetery was located just down the hill off the northeast corner of Boothill.
The Jewish cemetery was not maintained and fell into complete disrepair over the decades. There are no records of who, or even how many, were buried there. In the late 1970’s the cemetery was visited by Judge C. Lawrence Huerta when Tombstone author Al Turner showed the site to him and his Jewish visitors from Maryland, Israel Rubin and his family. At that time, it was defined only by a crumbling adobe brick wall, now only about four-feet high. The approximately 2500-square foot (50 feet by 50 feet) burial ground was generally unnoticed for more than 100 years.
Huerta, a full-blooded Yaqui Indian from Tucson, was spiritually affected when Israel Rubin recited the traditional Kaddish prayer at the abandoned site. He was moved to restore the now-desolate graveyard in memory of those who lay there and all the departed who are now forgotten. “I’m an American Indian who spent many years in Washington, D.C., working on behalf of my people,” he says. “There the Rubin family made me a part of them. The state of the Jewish cemetery at Boothill moved me deeply. A burial place is sacred to my people, and I wanted this place to be treated with the respect it once had. In honoring my Jewish brothers, I feel I am also honoring the lost and forgotten bones of my own people who lay where they fell when the west was being settled.”
In March 1983 the Tombstone City Council approved Huerta’s restoration efforts. The Jewish Friendship Club of Green Valley, Arizona, got involved and they cleaned the site, built a wrought iron fence to protect the remaining wall, and erected a simple monument to commemorate the Jewish pioneers who settled this land.
The monument stands on a platform faced with rock from nearby silver mines. It bears on its east and west sides the Star of David. On the south side is a HoHoKam Indian sun-symbol — the word meaning “those who vanished” in the Papago Indian language. Inside the monument are donated items: soil from Israel, a yarmulke, a menorah, a Kaddish cup, prayer and hymn books, and a Yaqui bowl containing several unspecified native American religious artifacts. It was hoped that those who lie there can “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” The flames of the specially designed “menorah” atop the monument spell “Shalom,” Peace, symbolizing the hope that all who share Mother Earth can dwell together in harmony. Appropriate ceremonies marked the dedication of the monument in February 1984 and today Temple Kol Hamidbar, the only Jewish Temple in Cochise County, has an annual memorial service at the Boothill Jewish Cemetery.
Note: The information presented on this page was taken from a pamphlet distributed at Boothill Graveyard.
The Jewish Memorial is accessed through Boothill Graveyard. The Goodenough Trolley Tour passes Boothill and I tell a bit about the history of Boothill, but not the Jewish Memorial. The Tombstone After Dark Tour also passes this location but I only tell ghost stories here and do not mention the Jewish Memorial.