The woman who died without mourners


Liberal rabbis have launched a campaign to recruit a minyan for the stone-setting of a woman who died with no next of kin.

Rita Fishman was buried three years ago with no mourners present at her funeral.

Little is known about the 74-year-old who passed away in an East End care home. Social workers had contacted Liberal Judaism to ask them to perform the funeral for Mrs Fishman.

The service was conducted by retired rabbi Alan Mann.

This week, he said: "Rita had been in an old age home in Tower Hamlets for about three years. When social services first found out about her she was already suffering from dementia so they knew she was Jewish, but that was about it. During her time at the home she never had a visitor and nobody made any inquiries."

When Rabbi Mann turned up for the funeral at Edgwarebury cemetery in Edgware, the only other people in attendance were the undertakers.

After the service, the sight of Mrs Fishman's lonely grave would not leave Rabbi Mann.

He made inquiries within the community and an anonymous donor volunteered to pay for a headstone. A stone-setting will now be held next month and Rabbi Mann hopes that volunteers will pay their respects.

Mrs Fishman's estate was administrated by Fraser and Fraser, a leading firm of genealogists and international probate researchers who located 13 beneficiaries and uncovered more information about her.

She was born Rita Nelson in St Albans in 1938, daughter to George William Nelson and Mary Elizabeth Nelson, nee Hager. Her first marriage was to William Gaunt in Durham in 1958, followed by a second marriage to a Jewish gold merchant, Edward Fishman, in Stepney in 1966. There were no children from either marriage.

With the help of Fraser and Fraser, the JC managed to track down Mary Elizabeth Lumley, Mrs Fishman's sister.

According to Mrs Lumley, Mrs Fishman, who she said converted to Judaism when she married Mr Fishman, lost contact with her family years ago.

She broke down in tears when told of Rabbi Mann's efforts and said: "It's a really lovely thought, we are so grateful.

"We didn't find out that Rita had died until nearly a year after the funeral."

Mrs Lumley visited the grave last year and inquired about a stone, but the cost was too high for her and her siblings "who are all old age pensioners now", she said.

According to Liberal Judaism, Mrs Fishman's case is "not a one-off" and they are intermittently contacted by local authorities in such instances.

There are currently more than 12,000 people on the government's list of unclaimed estates. Among them are five people who are defined as Jewish, though that number is likely to be far higher.

The stone-setting will be held at 2.30pm on Sunday July 31 at Edgwarebury.

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