Burial row shul tries to go it alone

Frustrated by its long-running dispute over burial fees with Birmingham Hebrew Congregation, the city's Central Synagogue is to undertake a feasibility study into establishing its own cemetery.

The Hebrew Congregation (Singers Hill) administers the Witton and Brandwood End cemeteries and Central leaders have been infuriated by steep rises in burial fees and maintenance charges for its members.

For three years, Central refused to pay an almost doubled annual maintenance charge for the grounds from Singers Hill, insisting there was "no justification" for the £5,000 billed. The individual burial charge was doubled from £1,500 to £3,000 in 2006 and raised again last year to £3,500. Singers Hill later informed Central that it proposed to discontinue the maintenance charge but would raise the burial fee for Central members to £5,500.

Central president Geoffrey Clements said the shul was "looking at alternative options. Our members are finding it hard to swallow the escalating costs. Our executive and council met to review this dispute and in light of the lack of any dialogue with the BHC executive decided to establish a committee to look at the feasibility of establishing alternative burial arrangements."

Exploratory discussions with Birmingham City Council have thrown up possible sites but Mr Clements admitted: "We have no idea what funding is needed." The Central executive hopes to present the results of the study to members in March.

One Central congregant caught up in the dispute is 79-year-old widow Shirley Thrilling, who has now paid the new £5,500 fee for the burial of her husband Ivan at Witton, having initially refused to go beyond the previous £3,500 charge. Singers Hill had warned her that if she did not pay in full, she would not be allowed to erect a headstone.

"I decided I would have to pay," she said. "I feel very bitter."

She added that a new cemetery would not help her as she had paid for a plot next to her husband.

Singers Hill chair Keith Rowe would say only that the BHC executive did "not involve themselves with the internal workings of other synagogues and this is not a matter on which we wish to offer any comment".

    Last updated: 12:12pm, December 9 2010