The Association for the Preservation of Abandoned Jewish Cemeteries (APAJC) grew out of the mid-1990s discovery of the B'nai Israel Cemetery, later known as the Hebrew Mutual Burial Association. This southwest Philly site had been neglected for more than three decades and was an abandoned properties.
The Synagogue-Federation Council and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia organized volunteer efforts to clean up the site, but little progress was made. Community and council members formed a group to protect this and other abandoned Jewish cemeteries from vandalism.
The APAJC was created as an independent non-profit corporation in May 1999. In December 1999, it petitioned Orphan's Court of Philadelphia for title to the cemetery and received it later the same month.
The volunteers continue to clean-up the site and APAJC fund-raises and raises community awareness. When the project is complete, the group will work on two additional cemeteries.
The Hebrew Mutual Cemetery was founded in 1857 by a group of Dutch Jews. They also started B'nai Israel Congregation, or the Hollander Synagogue. The cemetery was a miniature replica of Amsterdam's Muyderberg Cemetery. It contains approximately 440 burial sites, primarily Ashkenazi Jews of Dutch origin. Among them are veterans of both Civil and Spanish-American Wars, as well as several people of historical importance. The cemetery is the only one in the Philadelphia area built by Dutch settlers of any faith.When Napolean liberated Holland's Jews in the late 18th century, the same freedom threatened the religious autonomy the Jews had enjoyed under Dutch rule, causing economic and religious problems. The Dutch Ashkenazi Jews began to emigrate to the US in the early 19th century.
Philadelphia's early Jewish community was comprised of Dutch, German and Russian Jews and synagogues were organized on the origins of the immigrants.
In 1855 (other sources say 1852), the city's Dutch Jews established B'nai Israel Congregation in South Philadelphia; it was the fifth congregation. By 1905, none of the Dutch synagogues survived; some cemetery and benevolent associations continued to be active.
A timeline shows that the Hebrew Mutual Benefit and Benevolent Society of Brotherly Love was formed in 1856 to provide congregants' aid for the sick, for families of deceased members and synagogue expenses. The cemetery was purchased in 1857, but Hebrew Mutual took it over.
After many German Jews arrived in the late-1870s, the Dutch were a minority and the congregation declined. It opened a Hebrew school in 1878, but disbanded a year later and members joined other synagogues.
As the years passed, people moved or died, including the descendants of those buried in the cemetery and society members. The society, which had maintained the site for more than 90 years, could no longer care for it; it was abandoned in the late 1960s.
Read more on the history here.