On a warm, sunny day in May, the Caring for God’s Acre (CfGA) team visited Crumpsall Jewish cemetery to film the Director of Jewish Heritage, Dr Sharman Kadish talking about Jewish cemeteries for the film ‘The Beautiful Burial Ground’.
In Hebrew, a burial ground is traditionally called Bet Haim or Bet Olam, meaning ‘house of life’ or ‘house of eternity’. Jewish burial grounds are regarded as sacred places and it is forbidden to disturb the physical remains, even for archaeological investigation.
In Manchester the Jewish community dates back to the 1740’s but it was between 1881 and 1914 that a wave of Jewish immigrants arrived in Britain from Eastern Europe, escaping persecution and economic distress. The cemetery at Crumpsall became the last resting place for the immigrant generation of Manchester’s Ashkenazim – Jewish people from Germany and eastern Europe. This is a typical Ashkenazi cemetery having upright tombstones. Sephardi cemeteries have stone slabs which are laid flat over the graves. The shape of the graves stones follows English norms except for the absence of crosses. Inscriptions, in a mixture of Hebrew and English, provide simple information about the deceased. Patterns and pictures are scarce and there is no figurative art in the form of reliefs or statuary.
In Crumpsall cemetery there is a fine grey granite obelisk topped by a draped urn commemorating Michael Marks the founder of Marks and Spencer who died in 1907.
The burial ground here is dominated by the ohel, Hebrew for ‘tent’ or funerary chapel which provides a shelter for mourners during the funeral service.
Jewish people do not lay flowers on graves but rather pebbles to mark their visit. There is not a tradition of treating a cemetery as a ‘garden of rest’ or nature reserve and it is against Jewish law to allow animals to graze in burial grounds.