Lafayette Cemetery, formerly known as “The Champlain Street Cemetery of Temple Beth El” is the oldest Jewish congregational cemetery in the State of Michigan.
Temple Beth El, originally called the Bet El Society, was the first Jewish congregation organized in Michigan. It was established in Detroit on September 22, 1850 by 12 Orthodox, German – Jewish families. The congregation purchased a half acre of land for use as a burial ground shortly thereafter on January 1, 1851. From its inception, Lafayette Cemetery was open for use by all members of Detroit’s Jewish community - whether or not they were members of the congregation. The cemetery was originally named after the street by which it was bordered. When Champlain Street became Lafayette Street, the congregation changed the name of the small cemetery as well.
The first internment was in the fall of 1851. Rabbi Samuel Marcus, Beth El’s first spiritual leader, succumbed to cholera and was buried there in 1854 along with many key members of the early congregation. As the Beth El grew and prospered, the temple’s members needed a larger burial ground that would accommodate both family plots and the construction of mausoleums. By 1873, burials at Lafayette had begun to diminish and the cemetery saw intermittent use as the decades went by. The last burial in Lafayette occurred in 2011.