By Colin Spanjar
One of the projects that occupies much of my time at work is that of the “forgotten cemeteries”. People assume that we have always lived in London, Essex, Hertfordshire and Manchester etc but in fact vibrant communities have existed throughout the last 300 years from Penzance in the south to Sunderland in the north. Wherever Jews have lived we have left huge amounts of heritage in the shape of old shuls and forgotten cemeteries. These cemeteries are now just a distant remnant to long-departed communities, rarely visited and in some cases left to disintegrate.
Yet if you were to visit the Jews Burial Ground in the centre of Penzance you would find some of the best preserved headstones dating back to the mid-17th century. In Wolverhampton, great industrialists are buried, and in Bath, Sunderland and Swansea to name but a few our history is there for all to see, if only you look.
Last week I had the pleasure of going back to Penzance to be part of the re-dedication ceremony – the culmination of six years’ hard work which involved obtaining grants from both the National Lottery and Cornwall Heritage Trust, donations from individuals and from the Board of Deputies itself. More than 60 people attended the ceremony, which I suspect is the first time in many years that the cemetery had had that number of people within its perimeter. The result is that the cemetery’s Grade 2 listed walls and the entrance area have been fully restored to their former glory thus returning the cemetery back to a tranquil, peaceful place hidden among the narrow streets that surround it.
As Jews we are duty bound to ensure that the dead are treated in the same way as the living, with respect and dignity. Yet somehow we have forgotten these places and have allowed them to fall into disrepair. The Board of Deputies ensures that wherever possible we will take title over the cemetery, thus ensuring that developers cannot destroy our heritage and that we can help local groups to restore the grounds to their former glory by means of heritage and lottery grants. But we need help, from people in nearby communities to check that the cemeteries in their areas have not been vandalised and to raise funds to maintain and keep them in good order.
If you can help in any small way please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Colin Spanjar is the Board of Deputies’ Community Services Manager