Beit Ha-Chaim (Cemetery) of Congregation B’nai Israel

The Jewish cemetery has been the burial ground of Monroe’s Jewish population for almost one hundred sixty years.  On September 28, 1861, the present cemetery property was purchased from the Vicksburg, Shreveport, and Texas Railroad for the sum of $231.25 in cash.  The deed stated that the “Hebrew burying ground” was to be located alongside the “Christians’ burying ground”.  Many people who visit the Old City Cemetery, never cross the street to view the Jewish cemetery.  Old City may be the burial ground for some of the founding families of Monroe, but the Jewish Cemetery has some movers and shakers as well! 
            Saul Adler was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1897.  In 1928 Saul came to Monroe and opened a successful garage shop.  Saul was a fan of baseball, so he decided to promote interest in the sport in this area.  He helped organize several pro baseball teams in Monroe.  People needed a place to watch the teams play, so he built the American Legion Memorial Stadium in Bernstein Park in the 1940’s.  St. Frederick High School later bought it and they moved it to the school grounds for use as their football stadium.  Saul was a charter member of Monroe’s Little League Baseball and was president from 1958 until his death from cancer in 1967.  Because he was so active in the support of sports in this area, the Saul Adler recreation center was named in his honor.
            The cemetery is also the resting place of one of Monroe’s mayors, Arnold Bernstein.  Mayor Bernstein was born in Grant Parish in 1874.  In 1896 he moved to Monroe where he became an insurance salesman and later an alderman.  In 1919 he was elected Mayor of Monroe.  Under his administration, the Monroe school system expanded from one to six schools (including Neville High School) and the Monroe Zoo was established.  He bought land for a public park that many people called “Bernstein’s Folly”.  It was in a low area of the city and populated with nothing but oak trees.  Years later, the “folly” would be the home of the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo.   During the 1927 election, he ran unopposed, which had never been accomplished before in Monroe.  Under his administration, Monroe experienced its greatest industrial and commercial growth up to that time.  On December 21, 1937, Mayor Bernstein died in office at the age of 63 of a heart attack.  He had served as Monroe’s mayor for nineteen years.
            Louis M. Lock was a Russian Jew born in the city of Odessa, Russia.  Louis came to America and moved to Monroe about the year 1910.  He was a plumber by trade and ran the Home Heating and Plumbing Company.  Louis turned his attention to drilling for oil.  He decided to drill in Ouachita Parish.  Legend says the Lock threw a half dollar in the air, and the spot that it landed on was where he drilled.  At a depth of 2,275 feet, he hit gas.  The force of the gas gushing out of the drill almost blew the top of the rig off!  Lock was so excited that early the next morning, he ran down the streets of Monroe firing a pistol and shouting, “We’ve got it!”.  Lock had discovered the Monroe Gas Fields, which would become known as the largest natural gas field in the country.  Lock would succumb to pneumonia in Fort Worth, TX at the age of 43.  His body was brought back to Monroe and buried in the Jewish Cemetery.  The meeting room at the Main branch of the Ouachita Parish Public Library bears his name.           

Leon Gross Sugar came from a prominent business family in Monroe.  His father Sam and uncles Barney and Isidore started one of the largest wholesale grocers in the area known as the Sugar Bros. Co. Ltd.  They also built and operated the Sugar Brothers Theater and Opera House on Walnut Street, which would be compared to the Strand Theater in New Orleans.  Leon would not be destined to take over the family business however.  After serving his country in World War I, he began work at the Sugar Brothers Company.  He took an interest in pharmacy, and his family provided a small part of the warehouse for his side business.  Within a short time, his business surpassed his father’s.  In 1923, Leon established Monroe Wholesale Drug on North Second Street.  Leon was a generous man in the community; donating goods and supplies from his business during times of crisis.  As a pharmacist, he took an early interest in the establishment of a pharmacy school at the college.  Due to his efforts, in 1956 the college created a school of pharmacy.  Leon was one of the first to offer scholarships.  Leon passed away in 1968, but his legacy to ULM’s school of Pharmacy lives on.  In 1972, the faculty petitioned the State to name their new pharmacy building in honor of Leon Sugar.  Today that building hosts some of the top pharmacy students in the field. 

One thought on “Beit Ha-Chaim (Cemetery) of Congregation B’nai Israel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s