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(Publisher’s note: Members of the Opelousas Jewish community, many who came as immigrants to South Louisiana over a century ago, made great contributions to the St. Landry Parish area, to the City of Opelousas, and especially to the Opelousas downtown commercial district. The legacy of those immigrants to the area, and their descendants, is that small Hebrew cemetery located near the east entrance to Opelousas. The following is an article on the history of that cemetery, and important additional information about the Jewish community, sent to St. Landry Now by M. Troy Weinstein, President, Secretary and Treasurer of the Temple Emanuel Board of Directors.)

Featured Photograph: New gate recently installed at the Temple Emanuel Jewish Cemetery near the east entrance to the City of Opelousas. (Photograph courtesy of M. Troy Weinstein.)


Located at 909 East Bellevue Street, at the east entrance to the city, lies a small Hebrew cemetery hardly noticeable from the main streets of Opelousas. Yet, that cemetery has been there for over 153 years on land donated to the Jewish community of Opelousas by the St. Landry Parish Police Jury on December 3, 1868 and accepted by Joseph Bloch, the then Board President of the Jewish Congregation of Opelousas on behalf of the assembly and their successors.

Soon after it was received, the Opelousas Jewish Congregation established a Hebrew cemetery on the land. The cemetery was originally named Gemilut Chasadim, an Americanized English translation of a Hebrew phrase meaning “Acts of Loving Kindness.”  

Back in those days, the Jewish people that lived in this region of Louisiana were newly arrived immigrants and most of them did not speak English very well and in many instances, not at all. Those that could speak English, knew very little. Translating Hebrew to English was an equally challenging undertaking for Louisiana’s parish recorders and clerks. 

Louisiana state history reveals multiple influences from numerous territory landowners and diverse citizenry at the time which incorporated many languages and countless immigrants from all over the world moving into this Southwest Louisiana territory during the mid to late 1800’s.

Louisiana has influences of Spanish, French and English primarily, but derivations of Native American influences, Haitian, Creole, German & Acadian.  In short, Louisiana is a very unique state whose population, culture and state laws reflected not only a combination of countless nations, cultures, languages and dialects, but also countless variations of those nations, cultures, languages and dialects. Louisiana is truly a melting pot within a melting pot.

Parish recorders, clerks and writers of this Hebrew charter Americanized the name lettering, changing a few letters here and there to make the words “look” like they sounded. Due to this substantial grammatical confusion, along with a healthy language barrier, there have been many spelling variations recorded and associated with this ancient Hebrew language and its associated phrase, “Acts of Loving Kindness”.

Due to the unfamiliarity of this ancient language in the New World, the little cemetery property has been misnamed and misspelled by numerous recorders, clerks, journalists and newspapers as Gemilluth Chassodim, Germiles Chasden and Gamiles Chasudim to name a few, but the list goes on and on. It has also been mislabeled as “Jewish Rest” in Myrtle Grove Cemetery, or the “Hebrew Rest” Cemetery.

For clarity, there has been only one Jewish cemetery in the City of Opelousas, and while the cemetery property is a neighbor to the Myrtle Grove Cemetery, it was never a part of it. These lands have always been separated by East Bellevue Street, as well as by parish lands indicated on multiple plats and surveys conducted since 1869 when the first recorded survey of this property was done.  

Although St. Landry Parish is also home to the Hebrew Rest Cemetery in Washington, Louisiana, its physical location is not in the City of Opelousas. While these two groups were very friendly with each other and had a shared faith, their cemetery properties remained independently owned and operated.

The Opelousas Jewish assembly became known as Congregation Emanuel, with most of its members referring to the cemetery simply as the Jewish Cemetery, bypassing the confusion of the name derivation and deviations of Gamiles Chasudim described above.

The Congregation Emanuel Temple Synagogue

In 1928, additional land located on the corner of Franklin and South Main streets was donated to Congregation Emanuel by Jeannette Roos Haas and her daughter Nathalie Haas Hirsch in honor of their deceased husband and father, Dr. John Aaron Haas. The land was used to build a Hebrew Temple, or Synagogue, to have as a proper place of worship for the then thriving Jewish community of Opelousas who, up to that point, had been gathering in private residences, masonic lodges or other community facilities to practice their Jewish faith and heritage.

It is important to note the distinction between a Temple and a Synagogue. A Temple, in general refers to a structure or building designed for worshiping purposes. A Synagogue; however, while also considered a place of worship, is designed specifically for the unique manner of “Hebrew” worship. 

In 1929, Congregation Emanuel appointed a building committee for the new structure and during that construction process, another name was given to the new Synagogue, the “Temple Emanuel”. With the board’s focus and attention on the new Synagogue building, the cemetery property in Opelousas was never officially renamed and therefore continued to be called by its recognized nickname, the “Jewish Cemetery”.

The new Synagogue building was a welcome addition to the Opelousas Jewish community and would proudly serve its Jewish citizens for over sixty years with Hebrew worship periodically increasing and decreasing during that time and with each successive generation. 

A New Form of Hebrew Worship Leads to Temple Emanuel Closing

In the early 1980’s, there were advancements in technology that brought with it a new rapidly developing medium called the internet with access to the World Wide Web or Cyberspace. This new online community offered limitless resources, social media platforms and methods of connectivity that had never been seen before.

Hebrew worship began to take on a whole new meaning and allowed people to unlock new ways to worship their faith through countless websites designed and specifically created for those purposes.  New mediums such as recorded YouTube videos and later live Zoom services, provided by Jewish communities from all over the world, would allow faith and worship practices to be taken far beyond the confines of a single location to worldwide cyber destinations.  Over time, and due to its limited use, it was determined by the Temple Emanuel Board that the Temple Emanuel Synagogue building be sold after servicing the Jewish citizens of Opelousas and the surrounding parishes for nearly 100 years.

The current Board of Directors, M. Troy Weinstein, President, Secretary and Treasurer, Stephanie Schiff Mills, Vice President, and Stacey Schiff Napier, Member, along with the assistance and direction of Leslie J. Schiff, Esq. continue to represent the Jewish community and the Jewish Congregation of Opelousas whose families remain in the area and also whose legacies will forever be enshrined on the monuments at the little Jewish Cemetery on E. Bellevue Street in Opelousas.

St. Landry Parish Jewish Citizens Contributed to Area’s History and Development

Notable Jewish citizens with laudable community, civic and charitable ideologies played a major role in shaping the City of Opelousas, the Parish of St. Landry and the State of Louisiana. These citizens through hard work and civic pride also contributed to shaping the National landscape of the country. This little cemetery in the eastern part of Opelousas represents a microcosm of Jewish immigrants who came to America seeking the Golden Medina or the land flowing with milk and honey. Most of them fled European nations because of anti-Semitic persecutions, wars, discrimination, fear and the economic problems they were facing at that time.

Antisemitism Led to Migration to America and St. Landry Parish

Although Antisemitism has been in the world since medieval times, it was during the time of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 that it became one of the early markers associated with this newer-age.

At that time, escalating Antisemitism began spreading throughout eastern Europe like wildfire, with Russia and Germany spearheading most of the antisemitic propaganda. A “Russification Program” or “Cold Pogrom” was instituted by the Russian government to destroy Jewish life. 

Young Jewish boys were stolen from their families at early ages and forced into this Russification Program designed to brain wash innocent children’s minds and turn them into assets of the Russian military. Most, if not all these young Jewish children, once taken, would never be seen or heard from by their families again. 

Also, during this time, Jewish people were forced to live in shacks with children and elderly relatives and provided with only miniscule amounts of food and water to survive. Many of them died of starvation and disease. Innocent Jewish people were also beaten and murdered randomly by marauding Russian peasants. One of these groups were called the Barefoot Brigades and they were looking to take out their frustrations about the weak Russian economy on innocent Jewish people or families unfortunate enough to be in their paths.

Hatred of the Jewish people reached its pinnacle in 1939 through 1941 with the Holocaust or Nazi genocide. As part of the Nazi regime’s ongoing and unrelenting efforts at humiliating the Jewish people, they imposed laws forcing all Jewish people to wear yellow badges in the form of a Star of David with the name “Jew” written in Hebraic, so that Nazi Germany would be able to easily identify the Jewish people from their own. They were also forced to post this yellow Star of David on their shops and places of business. 

While these methods were designed to segregate and discriminate against the Jewish people, the Nazi’s purpose, as evidenced by history, was to make it easier for the Nazi regime to identify the Jewish population that they were planning to deport to the concentration camps, built by Nazi Germany and designed for the extermination of the Jewish people. The Holocaust was responsible for the deaths of over thirteen million people including six million Jews by the most barbaric and brutal means known to humankind. 

It was because of these 19th and 20th century atrocities to humanity, and those of earlier times, that Jewish families arrived in the southwest region of Louisiana over a period of 100 years. They brought with them a value system unlike any other. Their love of their new country was clearly expressed by their passionate commitments to their God, their families and their communities.  Their profound high moral character and ethical standards were also evidenced in their actions within their communities. There were no accolades needed nor desired, only their individual dreams and wishes to create the best possible lives for themselves and their families in the new world. They strived individually and collectively to reach the highest pinnacle of society. Their contributions should never go unnoticed nor forgotten. Their memory and their place of rest should always remain sacred in our community and beyond.

A New Name and New Gate for the Opelousas Jewish Cemetery

On July 21, 2021, the Temple Emanuel Congregation Board of Directors, unanimously agreed that the Jewish cemetery grounds in Opelousas be officially named the Temple Emanuel Jewish Cemetery. This renaming continues the 153-year tradition and commitment to the “Acts of Loving Kindness” mantra that its originators sought to exemplify and promote in their new community of Opelousas and the Parish of St. Landry.

I am happy to report that on November 19, 2021, the construction of a new cemetery gate entrance with signage bearing its new name was completed.

Temple Emanuel Board of Directors Thanks Community for Support

The Board would like to give a special thanks to Mr. Buddy Helton, owner of Circle H Welding of Opelousas for bringing our vision for the cemetery to life.

The Board would also like to take this opportunity to extend our thanks to those who are supportive and involved in our mission to making continued improvements to the cemetery and to further our goal of highlighting the significance of those special lives, and the legacies of those Jewish pioneers who settled this area of Louisiana.

It is morally important that we continue to maintain and honor these sacred grounds in a manner and character that is befitting to those families and to those people who overcame such intense adversities to become a part of this nation.  Their lives and dedication to their faith, family and communities have blessed and positively impacted the City of Opelousas, the Parish of St. Landry, the State of Louisiana and the United States. 

With your on-going help and support, we can continue our goals of making the kind of improvements to these grounds that are worthy of the innumerable sacrifices and contributions made by a small band of Jewish settlers in Opelousas.

A Non-profit Corporation

The Temple Emanuel is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation.  All donations are tax deductible. 

For donations to the Temple Emanuel Jewish Cemetery, please make checks payable to Temple Emanuel.

Mail to: Temple Emanuel Congregation – Email address:

Mailing address:  c/o M. Troy Weinstein – 315 South Court Street = Opelousas, LA 70570

M. Troy Weinstein