Ceme­tery site gets a makeover

The Jewish Chronicle - - Community - BY JES­SICA ELGOT

A MA­JOR facelift for an 18th cen­tury Jewish ceme­tery at the heart of a mod­ern London univer­sity cam­pus has been a labour of love.

The Span­ish and Por­tuguese Novo ceme­tery was sold to Queen Mary Univer­sity in Mile End 30 years ago on a 999-year lease and col­lege build­ings were con­structed on three-quar­ters of the land.

This en­tailed ex­hum­ing the bod­ies and re­bury­ing them in Edg­ware. Boxer Daniel Men­doza was buried in the orig­i­nal ceme­tery, as were many mem­bers of the Sas­soon fam­ily.

The re­main­ing part of the ceme­tery was sur­rounded by the cam­pus and hid­den by a large hedge. But the univer­sity and the ceme­tery un­der­took a ma­jor re­design, the col­lege’s in­ten­tion be­ing to widen a path across the ceme­tery for stu­dents and to cre­ate a small space for “con­tem­pla­tion”.

Rabbi Ei­ran Davies said he had tried to en­sure that Jewish law was not vi­o­lated dur­ing the work.

“The ceme­tery was ne­glected,” he ex­plained. “It was used by drug ad­dicts and pros­ti­tutes be­fore the univer­sity bought it. Mis­takes were made af­ter the sale, but we are try­ing to rec­tify what we can.”

A smooth white wall lined with sil­ver birch trees now en­cir­cles the site and there are in­for­ma­tion signs for passers-by. “We have made sure ab­so­lutely no soil was dis­placed from the site dur­ing the works — it has all been rein­terred,” Rabbi Davies stressed.

“I went through all the soil that was moved by hand to make sure no bones were lost.

“We have had such a re­ac­tion from the stu­dents. A sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion are first gen­er­a­tion im­mi­grants. They need to learn about this his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive of im­mi­gra­tion and inte- gra­tion.” When Princess Anne vis­ited the cam­pus re­cently to open the neigh­bour­ing Arts Two build­ing, she was in­tro­duced to Rabbi Davies and Sephardi leader Rabbi Abra­ham Levy, who spoke to her about the ren­o­vated ceme­tery.

The ceme­tery facelift is part of a scheme to cre­ate an area for con­tem­pla­tion

Princess Anne meets Rabbi Ei­ran Davies, watched by Rabbi Abra­ham Levy

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