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California’s Highway 49

Sidney Drabkin

Posted on November 27, 2019 00:56

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A Jew, a Catholic, a Methodist and a Baptist are placing a plaque in a cemetery wall . . . no, it's not a joke. Just a neighborly gesture.

While visiting Sonora, California, we went to an historical cemetery next to the county’s sheriffs office. Everyone in the area knows it as the Sonora Jewish Cemetery, one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in California’s Gold Rush Area.

We were told that if you were ambitious you could take Jackson Street, the street on the right of Sonora Park, and walk from the middle of Sonora to the cemetery. And there it was, the site which had been established in the 1850s for the Jewish people living in the Columbia and Sonora area, (with a small building in the back where bodies were prepared for burial). 

Several names were used to identify the cemetery: the Hebrew Benevolent Society, which ran it; Sonora Jewish Cemetery; and Pioneer Jewish Cemetery. To get the key for the cemetery, which is locked to keep out vandals and people who steal gravestones, you must go to the sheriff’s office or the county museum. 

We met a person who lived in Sonora until 1966, when he moved to San Francisco to attend college. As a child he knew about the cemetery from his parents, but there never was a name on it. Since he grew up in the area, he used to have Passover and Thanksgiving a few houses down on Oak Street. While waiting for his father and uncles to arrive, he and his cousins would sit on the wall of the cemetery and tell ghost stories, until someone threw a rock or made some other noise which scared them. Thinking of ghouls and goblins they would run to the place where they were having Passover or Thanksgiving. 

In 1973, he met with the Native Sons Of California and talked them into placing a plaque at the entrance of cemetery, telling its history. A plaque was created and shipped to Sonora, with the instruction that a mason should put the plaque in the wall facing the street. 

The plaque arrived during the middle of the week and the dedication was scheduled for Sunday, but no mason was to be found. The person to whom the plaque was shipped said he would do it on Thursday; he was met by a neighbor who came to help; before long two more men arrived. Together, this group of neighbors made the placing of the plaque into an interfaith occasion: one was Jewish, one was Catholic, one was Methodist, and one was Baptist. 

Jewish families from several synagogues in the San Francisco Area came to the dedication and reception, which was held at the Sonora Inn. 

There are many small towns along Highway 49, the California Gold Rush Highway, with interesting historical sites to see. Take a drive. There's a story behind practically every stone.

Sidney Drabkin

Posted on November 27, 2019 00:56

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