The 250-year-old Penzance Jewish Cemetery is in need of £20,000 for a restoration project.
Leslie Lipert, treasurer of Cornwall’s Kehillat Kernow is spearheading a campaign to raise awareness of this “fine example” of a Georgian Jewish cemetery.
Mr Lipert said: “Reports indicate a Jewish presence in Penzance from the 1740s onwards, many families coming here from the Rhineland in Germany or from Holland. While, at its height, the population never exceeded 30 families, they contributed actively to economic, social and religious life. Many were poor but most highly industrious and involved in charitable work in the wider community.
“The miraculous survival of the cemetery is due to the far-sightedness of the Jewish congregation who, in 1844, bought the freehold to the whole of the present site. It had begun its life as an un-enclosed burial ground but they started to completely enclose it and it is these walls which now need restoration work.”
The graves, 50 of which are in almost perfect condition, and the partially preserved tahara house, are the subject of a book to be published next year: The Jews of Cornwall — a History. Its author is local historian Keith Pearce who worked on a previous book, The Lost Jews of Cornwall, with Helen Fry. Mr Pearce, a custodian of the cemetery for the past 17 years, now liaises with the Penzance Town Clerk’s Office who maintain it locally. The English Heritage site is also under supervision of the Penlee House Museum and Gallery.
The lives of many of those buried in this historic cemetery had a major impact on Cornwall’s commercial, religious and economic life over the centuries, whether merchants, peddlers, rabbis, cantors, store owners, scholars, pawnbrokers or coppersmiths.
Mr Lipert can be contacted at the newly formed Friends of Penzance Jewish Cemetery: firstname.lastname@example.org.