Field Trip: Research On Site At Jewish Cemeteries With The Shapell Roster Research Team

January 31, 2022
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Google map detail of the location of the Washington Hebrew Congregation Cemetery.

Visiting Jewish cemeteries is a fruitful, and more adventurous way the research team can identify new Jewish soldiers to add to the Shapell Roster. Many military men have their service proudly displayed on their tombstones, making new additions a walk in the park for our researchers. But even markers without such obvious information can yield new discoveries. By recording the information from the tombstones of men who were the right age to have served in the Civil War, our researchers can delve into their histories later, and perhaps add new soldiers to the Roster. Usually, when the team has a new potential addition, they are looking for evidence that a soldier was Jewish; with these candidates it is the opposite, they are searching for proof a Jewish citizen served in the military.

When the research team decided to plan a field trip to the Jewish cemeteries in Washington, DC, they intended to take photographs of many tombstones in the hope of finding new soldiers; what they hadn’t planned on was seeing so many tombstones of soldiers they were already so intimately familiar with!

Planning a trip to Jewish cemeteries in Washington, DC is not a simple task. On a map, it looks like there is one giant cemetery, called Washington Hebrew Congregation Cemetery, bordered by Alabama Avenue SE, 15th Place SE, Congress Heights Metro Station and the infamous St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.

Luckily for the research team, the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies provides a different perspective.
Washington Hebrew Congregation Cemetery is the largest of the four contiguous cemeteries collectively known as the National Capitol Hebrew Cemetery: Washington Hebrew Congregation, Adas Israel (also includes Agudas Achim Congregation), Ohev Sholom, and Elisavetgrad – the latter representing the congregations of Beth Sholom, DC Hebrew Beneficial Association and District of Columbia Lodge (merged and now closed), Kesher Israel Congregation, The Georgetown Synagogue, Southeast Hebrew Congregation and Tifereth Israel Congregation, aka 14th St. Shul. The easiest way into the complex is through Washington Hebrew Congregation Cemetery – which features a welcome center and parking spaces to the left and the oldest part of the cemetery to the right when entering from Alabama Avenue, SE.
Ferdinand J. Linz was a soldier the research team knew was buried in Washington Hebrew, but did not know where exactly. Not only did they find it, they did so within 15 minutes of arriving! An auspicious beginning to a great adventure!

From left to right: Kim Packett, Caitlin Winkler and Alexandra Apito.

Walking up the hill to the newer section of the Washington Hebrew Congregation cemetery, another soldier’s name was recognized, Adajah Behrend.

On November 18, 1861, Adajah Behrend, not quite 21, enlisted in the US Army as a Hospital Steward with his father’s permission. On December 4th, 1862, his father, Bernard Behrend, wrote a letter to The Occident, a Jewish monthly periodical, addressed to Abraham Lincoln. He asked Lincoln to issue an order so that “all those in the army who celebrate another day as the Sunday may be allowed to celebrate that day which they think is the right day according to their own conscience” and then added that “I taught [my son] also to observe the Sabbath on Saturday, when it would not hinder him from fulfilling his duty in the army.”

Adajah Behrend was the first soldier Roster Director Adrienne DeArmas “met” a decade ago when she began working on the Shapell Roster. He and his family were quite prominent in Washington, DC. Adrienne thinks that Behrend spoiled her; not every soldier leaves such a rich and plentiful historical record.

The next tombstone that the research team found was that of Simon Wolf – the author of The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen.

Counter-clockwise from top left: Alexandra Apito, Caitlin Winkler, Adrienne DeArmas, Kim Packett, Adam Geibel.

The next tombstone we found was that of Simon Wolf – the author of The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen.

Please forgive the slightly irreverent group “selfie” with Wolf’s tombstone, but the team has an ongoing relationship with the late lawyer, both adoring and frustrating. On the one hand, the roster he published in 1895 of Jewish soldiers and sailors who served in the Civil War is nothing short of amazing. He did not have the internet, or the military service records at the National Archives. He was well connected in Washington, and many of the soldiers he sought to include in his roster were still living, so that must have helped. On the other hand, it’s hard to determine how he found Jewish soldiers – he left no record of his methodology, no notes or references to his work in his personal papers. While hundreds of the names he included have proven to be correct, hundreds more seem to have zero Jewish ties in the historical record. The research team suspects that Wolf engaged in the then-common and accepted practice of name profiling as many of the soldiers on his roster have been identified as not Jewish. 


The next exciting surprise was finding Cherrie Moise Levy’s tombstone!

In a letter to Secretary of War Stanton dated November 4, 1862, Abraham Lincoln specifically mentions a “C.M. Levy” in the context of commissioning him as a Quartermaster because he believed he had “not yet appointed a Hebrew.” Our team spent hours trying to figure out what the names were behind the “C.M.” abbreviation.  A search for “C.M. Levy” in Malcolm Stern’s First American Jewish Families: 600 Genealogies, 1654-1988, produced more of the same: nothing. Next, they tried searching Levy’s famous father-in-law, Rabbi Morris J. Raphall, whose daughter married… a Cherie Moise Levy! The good news was, having two actual names instead of initials opened the door to hundreds of historical documents, including military records, a court martial file or two, and a fair amount of newspaper articles… the bad news was that good old fashioned human error recorded C.M. Levy as Cherie, Cherrie, and worse, Cheme! Caitlin and Adrienne argued back and forth on what his actual name was, and how it was spelled. As of today, based on his tombstone, C.M. Levy is officially Cherrie Moise Levy. 

Next, the researcher team found Leopold Karpeles, the only Medal of Honor recipient in any section of the National Capitol Hebrew Cemetery. The sun was a bit too bright to get a better image, but he has a memorial on the website

At the back end of the cemetery, a gate separates Washington Hebrew Congregation and Ohev Sholom, which is also identified by a beautifully engraved arch.

Another gate and a plaque separate Ohev Sholom and Elisavetgrad.

Elisavetgrad is a long and narrow cemetery compared to the others, and unfortunately, most of the burials were outside of the age range they sought. The team’s final stop was Adas Israel, which is only accessible from Alabama Avenue if the gates are open or from Washington Hebrew Congregation through a gate on the right before the exit. 

The research team gathered more names to research, from tombstones in various styles and degrees of age: