Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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22 Av 5759 - August 4, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Compromise in Montefiore Tomb Controversy

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

A compromise might be possible in a battle over the tomb of one of Anglo Jewry's most famous figures, Sir Moses Montefiore.

After months of wrangling over plans to build houses near the Ramsgate resting-place of the Victorian philanthropist, the local authority has brought together the various interest groups in an effort to hammer out a solution.

Local residents, chareidi activists and Jewish heritage buffs had raised the alarm over the site, some fearing that the bodies of Sir Moses and his wife, Judith, could even be removed from the seaside town. Sir Moses had the mausoleum, modeled on kever Rochel, built on the grounds of his estate, along with a now rarely used synagogue.

The controversy centers on two acres of wild ground bordering the tomb and synagogue, where the Montefiore Endowment -- the charitable trust responsible for its upkeep -- has sought planning permission for a housing development. The trust says housing would improve the character of the area, which is run- down and a haven for drug addicts and vandals.

Amid a rising tide of local protest, the local district council in March refused to renew the planning consent granted five years ago.

Chareidi objectors stepped up their campaign, planning a demonstration in the form of a memorial service at the Ramsgate Synagogue last week -- the 114th anniversary of Sir Moses's death.

Although the trustee holds $3 million, its chairman, George da Costa, a member of the tiny Ramsgate Jewish community, warned: "We cannot dig into the capital, and the interest is not enormous. We also support two rabbinical colleges in London."

Others would resolve the whole problem by selling off the whole site and moving the bodies to Israel.

Ten years ago, another trustee, Dayan Pinchas Toledano, head of the Sephardi Beth Din, claimed he received a favorable response from leading rabbis in Israel when he broached the idea of reburying the Montefiores there.

A spokesman for the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Graves in Europe said: "Sir Moses made seven visits to Israel and he could easily have make arrangements to be buried there, but he left specific instructions for what he wanted and ample money to pay for it. He bought shiploads of earth from Israel for his grave."

Thanet council has now convened a working group involving local councilors, environmentalists, representatives of the trust and Jewish cemetery activists.

One proposal on the cards that might satisfy everyone is for a scaled-down housing development along with a small memorial park.

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