Mikveh Israel Cemetery is the oldest Jewish institution in Philadelphia and one of the oldest in the United States. Its history as a burial ground dates from a grant of land by Thomas Penn, the Proprietor of Pennsylvania, in 1740. Many pioneers of Jewish settlement in America and Jewish patriots of the American Revolution are buried here.
Nathan Levy, an early Jewish Philadelphian, began the cemetery as a family plot. A merchant, Levy helped open the "western" trade through Lancaster to western Pennsylvania. On his ship, the Myrtilla, the Liberty Bell came to Philadelphia from England. Upon his death, he was buried here, and his family later transferred the cemetery to Congregation Mikveh Israel.
Beginning in 1740, worship services were held at Nathan Levy's home. In 1771 this congregation took the name Mikveh Israel and struggled to build a small synagogue on Cherry Street to accommodate the City's growing Jewish community. Their numbers were swelled by many Jews who left British-occupied New York, Savannah, and Charleston. Among the founders of Mikveh Israel were Michael and Bernard Gratz, Philadelphia merchants. They both signed the American protest to the Stamp Act of 1765, were early Revolutionary sympathizers, and were important suppliers of the Continental Army. Both Michael and Bernard Gratz are interred here as Aaron Levy, who also supplied American forces in the Susquehanna River Valley.
Here in an unidentified grave lie the remains of Haym Salomon. As an associate of Robert Morris, Salomon used his skills in languages and finance to maintain the credit of the revolutionary government. As a tribute to this man and his Congregation, who did so much to ensure the victory for the American colonies, Congress in 1956 declared the cemetery a national shrine.
Rebecca Gratz is also buried here. She is best known as the model for the character Rebecca in Sir Walter Scott's novel Ivanhoe. The cemetery no longer serves the Congregation as a burial ground.