THERE is a revival of interest in the finest example of a Georgian Jewish cemetery in England outside London – the Penzance Jewish Cemetery.
Not only does the site, in Leskinnick Road, have intrinsic value as an English Heritage site, but there is also a drive to raise funds for the restoration of its walls as well as the anticipation of a new book to be published by Halsgrove in 2014, The Jews of Cornwall: A History by Keith Pearce.
Penzance Jewish Cemetery contains within its walls 250 years of Cornish Jewish history with its carefully preserved headstones, 50 of which are in almost perfect condition and a partially preserved Bet Tohorah (cleansing house).
The lives of those Jewish families had a major impact on commercial, religious, and economic life of the town.
Leslie Lipert, treasurer of Kehillat Kernow, the Jewish community of Cornwall, says: “The cemetery’s miraculous survival is due to the far-sightedness of the Jewish congregation who in 1844 bought the freehold to the whole of the present site and in 1845 began to completely enclose the cemetery.
“It is these walls which now need restoration work to ensure that this now ‘closed’ burial ground is preserved.
“The families who are buried here reveal a remarkable and interesting history, and many descendants of these families, now scattered throughout the UK and abroad, are becoming interested in their Cornish roots.”
A new group, Friends of Penzance Jewish Cemetery, are anxious to make contact with these descendants.
Records indicate there was a Jewish presence in Penzance from the 1740s onward (possibly earlier), many families coming from the Rhineland in Germany or from Holland.
While at the height of its population in town never reached more than 30 families, they contributed actively to economic, social and religious life.
Many were poor but most were highly industrious, and they were actively involved in charitable work in the wider community.
There were families with the surnames of Woolf, Hart, the Oppenheim, Simmons, Levin and Bischofswerder. Other family names buried here include: Levy, Selig, Jacob, Greenberg (Hillman), Ezekiel, Joseph, Moses, Zalman, Teacher, Barnet, Salzmann, and Levine.
Keith Pearce is custodian of the cemetery and has personally looked after it for the past 17 years. Presently it is locally maintained by the Penzance town clerk’s office and Penlee House Museum and Gallery.
Mr Lipert has been appointed agent by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which owns the cemetery, to raise funds for its restoration through private and civic donations and grants. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org