Race to get woman a Jewish burial

By Marcus Dysch, September 12, 2008

The painstaking detective work of a strictly Orthodox London burial society ensured a woman with no known next-of-kin could be given a Jewish funeral this week.

When 82-year-old Sylvia Kamen was found dead in her flat on September 2, Hackney police began the lengthy process of trying to find family members to organise her burial.

In the event that none could be found, a coroner would have held the body for 28 days before asking Hackney Council to plan a parish funeral at a local church.

But after a tip-off from a caretaker at her Stamford Hill flat, the Adath Yisroel Burial Society began gathering information in an attempt to prove to Poplar Coroners' Court that Ms Kamen was Jewish.

"Notices were put up in all the local shuls asking for information. Lots of people called us," said an Adath Yisroel spokesman.

"Someone from Berry's in Stamford Hill rang to say she was very particular about buying kosher food. There was another call from a Jewish bookshop saying they knew her. We think she was a religious lady. She was a former member of the Grove Lane shul before she left the country."

Ms Kamen moved to the United States in February 1949, but American organisations contacted by the burial society were unable to trace a next-of-kin. Her British passport - renewed last year - was found in her flat.

Having convinced police and the coroner of Ms Kamen's Jewish credentials - and thus need for a funeral at the earliest opportunity - Adath Yisroel took responsibility for her body on Wednesday morning and buried her at its cemetery in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, later the same day.

Michael Mannes, Adath Yisroel administrator, said: "Thank God, this happens very infrequently. The Jewish community is very close-knit and everyone mucks in when necessary. This was a Herculean task and it took a lot of time.

"It is a more favourable outcome than a parish funeral and we are very thankful to the community for all the help."

Last updated: 11:38am, September 15 2008