Fury­over­con­struc­tion on site of ceme­tery

The Jewish Chronicle - - Community - BY JES­SICA ELGOT

STRICTLY OR­THO­DOX lead­ers have pledged to or­gan­ise mass protests against plans by Queen Mary, Univer­sity of Lon­don, to build on the site of a Jewish ceme­tery in Mile End Road, east Lon­don.

The Com­mit­tee for the Preser­va­tion of Jewish Ceme­ter­ies in Europe is lead­ing the cam­paign against the de­vel­op­ment of the Novo Sephardic ceme­tery, which now be­longs to the univer­sity. Plan­ning per­mis­sion has been ap­proved and con­struc­tion has started.

Thirty years ago, the land was sold to the col­lege by the Span­ish and Por­tuguese Jews’ Con­gre­ga­tion on a 999year lease. The sale in­volved ex­hum­ing thou­sands of graves and mov­ing the re­mains to a site in Brent­wood, Es­sex, prompt­ing fierce protests from strictly Or­tho­dox com­mu­nity. A quar­ter of the graves were left undis­turbed in the col­lege grounds.

The lat­est de­vel­op­ment is to al­low the widen­ing of the path from Mile End Road to the cam­pus and cre­at­ing a “space for si­lent con­tem­pla­tion” by the law and hu­man­i­ties build­ings. The preser­va­tion group be­lieves the work will af­fect burial sites. The Sephardi or­gan­i­sa­tion dis­agrees and its Rabbi Ei­ran Davies is su­per­vis­ing the scheme.

QMUL di­rec­tor of es­tates Si­mon Neal said: “The ceme­tery has been quite ne­glected — it was ef­fec­tively a piece of waste­land.” He main­tained the plans would im­prove the site, and the con­tem­pla­tion area would in­clude in­for­ma­tion about the ceme­tery and the East End Jewish com­mu­nity.

“We know mis­takes were made in the ‘70s and both us and the SPJC are try­ing to put them right. We have worked very closely with them.”

How­ever, the preser­va­tion group’s ex­ec­u­tivedi­rec­tor,Rab­biAbra­hamGins­burg, said com­mu­nity con­cerns had been not been an­swered and claimed Queen Mary prin­ci­pal Si­mon Gaskell had re­fused to meet rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

“It is dis­grace­ful that the ceme­tery was ever sold for fi­nan­cial gain in the first place. We have ev­i­dence that there are more than 100 chil­dren’s graves on the site.

“We know we do not have much power to change the plans. But it is a to­tal vi­o­la­tion of Jewish law. We can­not just turn a blind eye. I have dealt with cases of Jewish ceme­ter­ies in East­ern Europe and have had more prob­lems get­ting to speak to the own­ers here in Lon­don than I do over there. It’s to­tally un­ac­cept­able and dis­re­spect­ful.”

Mass protests would be or­gan­ised when the aca­demic year starts. “There are many Jewish stu­dents at the univer­sity. We must get them on board.”

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