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    Marcus Roberts, www.jtrails.org.uk

    The cemetery lies in a rectangular plot which comes right up to the back of Chatham synagogue. This is one of the remarkable features of the synagogue - it is a unique feature and one which is in breach of Jewish religious law which insists on a minimal separation (around a hundred paces) between the synagogue, or Jewish dwellings and cemeteries.

    The synagogue stands in relation to its burial ground much as a parish church to its graveyard. It seems that the best explanation for this irregular arrangement is that the earlier synagogue buildings and burial ground had a greater separation on the same site, but the expansion of the buildings and burial area closed any separation that existed earlier on. There is additional but inconclusive evidence that there may have been an earlier cemetery nearby, another tombstone, of c.1747, to a married woman (Perela?) was found some half a mile away on the site of an old cinema. This is now preserved in Rochester Museum. Even allowing for all this the arrangement is a vivid illustration of the greater levity in Jewish observance that was common in the provinces.

    The other notable feature of the cemetery is a narrow raised brick terrace, about 7 feet wide, adjoining the back wall of the cemetery extending some two thirds the way across the back wall. This seems to be a classic example of the so-called "upper ground" (as opposed to the "lower ground") that existed in a number of Anglo-Jewish cemeteries. J. Mills wrote of this arrangement in 1853 "...In this raised ground are interred all the privileged members, together with those who may have purchased the right: but the congregation are generally buried in the lower part."

    Mills explained elsewhere that if the right to be buried in the raised ground was brought, burial could only be permitted, "provided the character borne by the deceased be satisfactory to the parnassim... in short a character test was applied. On checking the names of those buried in the terraced area, I found that many were of the leading members of the community or their relatives. While it is often said that there is considerable equality in the Jewish way of death it is again evident that this was not universally true in the Victorian era and the Victorian preoccupation with social class and respectability has etched itself into the fabric of the Jewish cemeteries.

    There are a number of memorials and tombstones of interest. Most notable is that of Simon Lazarus Magnus himself, for whom the synagogue itself is a memorial. The memorial dominates the foreground of the cemetery and is veiled urn on an ornate stepped pedestal. A frieze depicts lightening striking and riving a tree in half. The symbolism is conventional Victorian iconography, used extensively in Christian cemeteries, for mourning and loss as well as a life cut short by tragedy.

    The memorial is fully inscribed in both Hebrew and English. The lengthy English inscription bears witness to his excellence as a son and brother, his attachment to Judaism, and to helping Jewish progress as well as being "an enlightened and patriotic citizen".

    It also bears witness to his intuition, knowledge, perceptiveness and vision, that inspired confidence and esteem. The latter part of the inscription details his career and the impression he had made on his volunteer regiment who accompanied him to his graveside.

    There are a number of gravestones of interest in the cemetery, among the 200 or so to be found there. Starting at the back, on the terrace are two tombstones (Row A, 11, 13 (against brick buttress)) to Ellah Barnard, and Lewis Isaacs both drowned in the Medway in 1844 - probably in the same incident? In the next row is a tomb (B, 2) of Elizabeth Lyon, "of Albany U.S.". Further along is the grave (B, 18) of Michael Levy who died in 1802(?) aged 103. Here again is another example of the great crop of Jewish centenarians in Kent, also if the date is correct he would have been born in 1699, only around 40 years after the restoration of the Jews to England, and would have lived in three centuries.

    Simon Magnus' memorial is the left-hand of a pair of prominent white obelisks (C,11, 12) and records his death in 1875 and the right-hand of the pair is to his wife, who died comparatively young, aged 48. These paired memorials are obviously part of the overall design of the synagogue and cemetery, as they fall directly in line and behind the memorial to his Simon Lazarus Magnus - denoting the link and the relationship of parents and son.

    In the next row (D, 2) is the grave-memorial to Daniel Barnard with an interesting inscription as to his life, works and pivotal role in the local fire brigade.

    Moving forward there is a gravestone 1857 to (F, 15) Samuel Russel, a 59 year old of Sheerness, "...who departed this life through and unfortunate accident received on board H.M.S. Colossus." He was most likely pursuing business aboard the naval vessel when tragedy struck.

    Nathaniel Isaacs' grave, who committed forgery and later suicide, is in Row G close to the right-hand wall.


    History - Chatham Jewish Cemetery

    With kind permission of Marcus Roberts Jtrails.org.uk


    Owner/Source Marcus Roberts, www.jtrails.org.uk
    Linked toChatham Jewish Cemetery

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