Burial boards 'must unite' over cemetery upkeep

By Jonathan Kalmus, December 24, 2012
Fallen gravestones in the children's burial ground at Blackley cemetery

Fallen gravestones in the children's burial ground at Blackley cemetery

A Jewish children’s cemetery has barely a stone left standing and new gravestones are broken, blackened and sit over collapsed graves. In another Manchester Jewish burial ground a wall has toppled. The bleak picture is not the result of antisemitic vandalism but the lack of funded maintenance by the Jewish community, say trustees of a new Manchester cemetery charity.

The North Manchester Jewish Cemeteries Trust, a coalition of synagogue burial boards, says emergency repairs are needed to almost all 10 Jewish grounds and a unified strategy is required. Blackley, Agecroft and Urmston Jewish cemeteries each need £50,000 to rectify dangerously crumbling paths and outbuildings.

“There has never been a uniform system for funding maintenance. It has been fragmented depending on each shul. Many shuls do not ring-fence income for burials and nothing is set aside for cemetery maintenance,” said the trust’s treasurer Stephen Niman, who claims that some burial boards face bankruptcy.

Three weeks ago Liverpool’s Childwall Hebrew Congregation wound up its burial board because of a lack of funds. Childwall members Steve and Sylvia Roberts, both 60 and now living in Manchester, have been told their £1,000 fees will be refunded.

“But we will have to stump up £5,000 for both of us to join a Manchester scheme,” said Mr Roberts.

In February, the trust will hold a public meeting on the issue. It will hear from London’s United Synagogue burials director Melvyn Hartog to garner support for mimicking its system of maintenance payments which elicits a £500,000 annual budget to upkeep London’s active Jewish cemeteries.

But only half of around 12 Manchester synagogue burial boards have agreed to participate in the trust’s plans, which also aim to raise funds by adding up to £300 to a family’s stone-setting costs, introduce a uniform levy to synagogue burial board fees and save maintenance costs by employing a single team of workers for all cemeteries.

Construction company TLC, run by Harry Johnston, has agreed to carry out work for the trust at no profit. His company overhauled Manchester’s Rainsough Jewish cemetery which needed over £1 million of investment, given by private donors.

“The ohel at Blackley needs demolishing. The building has concrete fatigue and chunks are falling down,” said Mr Johnston, who added that his company had saved the Manchester community £200,000 on work to date.

But Martin Kloos, president of Meade Hill Road Synagogue, in Crumpsall, which owns the Philips Park Cemetery, is not going to join the trust because of what it feels is a lack of detail to its plans.

“It’s a good idea but they are not doing anything we can’t do ourselves. Last week we agreed that work to Philips Park’s paths will only cost several thousand pounds and will be paid for by several shuls which use our grounds for burials. We’ve already spent a £10,000 bequest last year renovating our ohel which was dangerous.”

But the trust’s Brian White said: “If everyone looks at this issue as a unified community the answers are obvious, but if everyone asks what is in this for their shul that is the wrong approach.”

Last updated: 10:45am, December 24 2012