The Environment Agency has tried to calm fears that bodies could be disturbed at the Federation of Synagogues’ oldest cemetery because of flood protection work.
Local residents were alarmed to see a recent notice from the agency warning of exhumation and the removal of memorials at Tottenham Park Cemetery, next to the Federation cemetery in Edmonton, north London.
Steven Whipp, the agency’s flood and coastal risk adviser, said: “We are not planning to disturb or remove any graves or remains. The recent notice is a precautionary measure to be able to handle matters sensitively should accidental disturbance occur.”
Federation chief executive Eli Keinwald said: “There is no chance of any graves having to be dug up.”
The Environment Agency is planning to erect a barrier immediately behind the cemeteries to protect against Salmons Brook, which flooded early 200 homes in the area when it overran its banks 13 years ago.
Christine Bunce, ex-chairman of the West Enfield Residents Assocation, wrote to the Agency to say she had been “shocked” to read the notice.
Mr Keinwald explained: “There are a few metres of unused land between the wall of the cemetery and the riverbank, which is ours. They are going to build a flood alleviation barrier on that strip of land.”
Pile foundations for the barrier may reach inside the perimeters of the cemetery but would be much lower than burial level and so should not disturb graves close to the wall.
Federation Beth Din head Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein was keeping an eye on the situation !to make sure there is no interference with any graves”, Mr Keinwald said. The Environment Agency, he added, “are liaising with us to make sure everything they do is in accordance with our wishes.”
Dedicated in 1890, Edmonton contains the graves of the Federation founder Samuel Montagu, and also of Rabbi Eliezer Gordon, head of the prestigious Telz Yeshivah in Lithuania. When Rabbi Gordon died during a trip to London in 1910, an estimated 30,000 mourners attended the funeral.
The cemetery is still in use and the Federation has recently lowered the cost of reserving a plot there. Mr Keinwald said the Federation was also considering opening a burial ground in north-west London, where most of its members now live, as an alternative to its cemetery in Rainham, Essex.