Typically, one of the first priorities for a Jewish community is establishing a cemetery. Kansas City was no different. The Kansas City Hebrew Benevolent Society paid $500 for ground at 18th and Lydia on May 14, 1866 for the city’s first Jewish cemetery. The Society’s leaders were among the same group that formed Congregation B’nai Jehudah on October 2, 1870. The first burial was in September 1866, after 22-year-old Helena Baum of Pleasant Hill was killed in a railroad accident.
Soon after the Congregation’s founding, the Benevolent Society dissolved and ceded the cemetery to B’nai Jehudah. The congregational leaders realized that the cemetery soon would be inadequate in size and already was being crowded by the city’s rapid growth. A move was necessary.
In November 1872, B’nai Jehudah bought a two-acre tract in Elmwood Cemetery, two miles east of the city. The price of $2,000 was satisfied by a cash payment of $200 and the trade-in of the original cemetery property.
The 37 remains interned at 18th and Lydia were exhumed by the labor of men with shovels. These caskets and headstones were loaded onto horse-drawn wagons and transferred to Elmwood, 2.7 miles to the east at 4900 E. Truman Road, then known as 15th Street.
The new congregational cemetery was consecrated Sunday, November 24, 1872. During the next ten years, B’nai Jehudah’s cemetery at Elmwood provided all interments for Kansas City’s Jewish dead. Gravesites at Elmwood were made available to all Jews without distinction to affiliation or non-affiliation.
B’nai Jehudah’s section at Elmwood continued as the congregation’s cemetery until October 9, 1921, when Rose Hill Cemetery was dedicated at 69th and Troost. Many of our current members’ ancestors are interned at Elmwood and the Congregation continues to help maintain it.
(Adapted from Roots In A Moving Stream by Frank Adler z”l and Elmwood Cemetery-Stories of Kansas City by Bruce Matthews )
October 16, 2020