‘Save our cemetery’

Architect and amateur historian Susie Clapham, alongside fellow activists at the Jewish East End Celebration Society, is trying to raise the estimated tens of thousands of pounds required to restore graves at Bankroft Road cemetery, located in Mile End.

She has also submitted plans to the Board of Deputies (BoD) – which has owned the cemetery since its closure in 1928 – for a memorial to some of the UK’s first Ashkenazi immigrants. Among those buried there are 19th century authoress Charlotte Montefiore, the sister of Sir Moses.

She said: “This campaign has become a quest to put right eighty years of neglect. The first time I walked past the railings there were shattered remains, stones and names strewn. Individuals lay forgotten.

“It does not seem right that today, in the dark shadow of so much desecration and total destruction of cemeteries in eastern Europe, and after the utter annihilation of our ancestors’ graves, this little place should be allowed to fall into such desolate abandon.”

The cemetery, which was founded in 1811, contains 500 graves – most of which are cracked and lying on derelict land following a German air raid in 1944. Since the Second World War, the site has been maintained by the United Synagogue who deal with the subsidence and weeds.

She added: “The BoD has given approval for funds to be raised to erect a pavilion on the site of the old lodge for education purposes.

“This will mark Bankroft Road being back in its rightful place as an important part of Jewish history and culture – and a yahrzeit to all 500 souls who lie silently buried in its overgrown grounds.”

Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, said: “Susie’s request to help is a positive and welcome development and one that is being actively explored.”

He added: “There would certainly need to be a fundraising campaign as tens of thousands of pounds could be required and our modest resources are devoted to the preservation of dozens to the preservation of dozens of cemeteries around the country.”

“I think that rabbinic supervision would be needed if remains were affected in any way, but of course families would need to be consulted about work on their relatives’ plots.”

Local Labour MP Rushanara Ali has said she fully Supports plans to renovate the site.

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Gilad: Three Years

In Israel, the 22-year-old’s father addressed hundreds of supporters who rallied outside the Ministry of Defence. “We are standing here tonight to be a mouth for Gilad… who cannot speak and, of course, cannot shout from the hole in the ground where he has been for the past three years,” said Noam Shalit.
“He is asking only one thing from you, the decision makers – his freedom.”

In London, meanwhile, a number of youth movements held a ceremony for Gilad and six other IDF officers, who have been declared Missing In Action, at the London Jewish Cultural Centre. Participants were encouraged to sign a petition urging the British government and the United Nations to take action on the soldiers’ behalf.

The anniversary also saw a delegation from AJEX – including ZF President Eric Moonman, Lee Scott MP and Malay and Borneo veteran Stanley Langsman – present a letter to executives from the IRC, as part of a campaign demanding Shalit be granted prisoner-of-war status while he’s in captivity.

And lending his voice to the chorus of those clamouring for the officer’s “immediate, unconditional and safe release”, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said: “We share the Shalit family’s dismay at Hamas’s refusal to allow the ICRC access to Gilad.”

But he added: “I do not forget the humanitarian plight of ordinary Gazans. I repeat the UK‘s calls on Israel to reduce further the current restrictions on the Gaza crossings, to allow in aid, reconstruction materials, and trade goods, and to permit the legitimate flow of people through the crossings. It is imperative to start a new cycle of hope in Gaza, so that all turn their back on violence and focus on building a safe and secure future.”

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MDA Joins Red Cross

Just days after Magen David Adom and the Palestinian Red Crescent were admitted to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement at a meeting in Geneva, Eli Bin, head of MDA in Israel, requested that Yunis el-Khatib, who heads the Palestinian Authority‘s emergency service, ensure the health and safety of captured Israeli soldier Corporal Gilead Shalit.

The vote to accept the two new members came after the adoption of the Red Crystal as a third emblem for the movement. The new symbol is specifically designed not to offend religious sensibilities. MDA said it would continue to use the Star of David in Israel but would use the red crystal when carrying out humanitarian work overseas.

MDA first applied back in the 1930s, and even after 1948, as a national organisation, the IRC’s refusal to accept the Star of David as a symbol alongside the cross and the crescent meant that Israel remained out in the cold.

International Magen David Adom Committee Chairman Nicholas Posnansky, who represented MDA UK at the conference, said: “I am delighted that MDA is now part of the Red Cross family and the recognition given to Israel’s emergency medical service. Though MDA has not previously been a member of the Movement, it has for many years participated in international Red Cross humanitarian work throughout the world.”

In recent years the Israeli organisation has been increasingly involved in international relief efforts, including New Orleans and the Tsunami.

Cooperation with the Palestinian Red Crescent has also been growing. As part of the agreement brokered to facilitate admission of the two organisations, Israel undertook to provide ambulances to the Palestinian Red Crescent and to pre-approve paramedical teams to prevent unnecessary delays at checkpoints.

Dr Yifrach, chairman of MDA’s executive committee, noted “We will not put up with a woman having to deliver a baby at a checkpoint or with an injured person being left to die there.”

The Palestinian Red Crescent’s response to MDA’s current appeal to take responsibility in Gaza could go a long way to cementing the ties which these commitments have forged.

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