Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Apartheit: A Jewish Cemetery in Nevada

In a small canyon near the Virginia City, Nevada, there is a small Jewish cemetery that we visited during our vacation this past January. Not only was it was interesting to learn some of the history of "how the West was won", but I also learned first-hand how racism, in particular anti-semitism, was part of that history. Nothing on the scale of what happened in other parts of the world, but still, America has had its share of prejudice toward non-European whites. This is no secret, and we know about the atrocities committed against Native Americans who had lived in America long before it was settled by "whites". Less known, perhaps, is that among and between these settlers, some were treated as less equal than others -- even though America's constitution states clearly that "All men are created equal".

How did our family end up in that Nevada canyon? I had searched the web for a "Bed and Breakfast" somewhere in the vicinity of Reno (my criterion was that it be far away from the casinos and provide us with access to the outdoors). I found Seven-Mile Ranch: the price was reasonable and we had room in the bunkhouse for all 5 of us. After flying into Reno from Alaska, we met our Eldest Daughter who flew in from Montana, and then our family were off to a mini family reunion before heading into the Sierras to Lake Tahoe. In Tahoe, we would then visit our dear friends, whom I will call the "former Alaskans". I will blog more about the whole trip soon -- it took a month to get around to downloading the pictures from the trip -- so what's another couple of days...

Back to Seven-Mile Canyon, our first stop on our mid-winter vacation. We had left Anchorage at -20 degrees Fahrenheit, and here we were basking at the ranch in 60 degree sunshine. Aaaaaah!
After lazy breakfasting & communing with the horses & chickens, we took a little walk around to the nearby cemetery. Not much is left of the gravestones; most are broken.

A little historic background: Gold and silver were found in abundance at the Comstock Lode in 1859, making Virginia City the most important settlement between Denver and San Francisco by the time Nevada became a state in 1864. But in Virginia City, as in many other Western towns, Jews and other ethnic groups were not really accepted. A slum of sorts had sprung up in nearby Seven-Mile Canyon, and that's where the Jews started their own cemetery when they experienced their first deaths, starting in 1863. Nobody was buried in the cemetery after 1900 -- by then, presumably, the townspeople had accepted Jews to be buried in the proper town cemetery.

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