The Jewish Community of Belfast and their places of burial
by Pamela Linden
“Unto them will I give …a name and a place…I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off”, ISAIAH chapter 56, verse 5.
The history of Northern Ireland’s Jewish community is in part a history without headstones. Whilst the modern north Belfast Carnmoney cemetery has maintained a peaceful and well kept sanctuary of tended graves, just a short journey west lies the wasteland that is the Jewish quarter of Belfast City Cemetery. Only a few dozen desecrated and vandalized headstones remain to mark over 100 graves. In this site lie the first German Jewish immigrants to the north of the island: linen merchants and company directors. There is a spectacular tall marble pillar dedicated to the memory of Otto Jaffe, made Belfast’s first Lord Mayor in 1899 when the city gained its new status as a borough council. Yet this memorial to Belfast’s most famous Jewish son stands graffitied, vandalised in a carpet of glass and litter. The headstones here are broken, their Hebrew and English letters chipped off, the weeds growing between the ruins. Indeed the number of remaining headstones (no more than 30 at the most) is only a small proportion of the number of souls laid to rest in this site. The history of these people, their families and communities must be told without headstones. Whether these stones have been vandalised, removed or buried for protection we are still unsure. Much work needs to be done to improve the administration and upkeep of this cemetery to make it safe to visit.
The upkeep of such a small graveyard, in which the family members who once tended the graves have since died or moved away, may not seem any great issue to many in the community, yet with the rise of so called post-revisionist historians who continue to renounce the factual evidence of the holocaust, and the ever growing number of by-elections secured by neo-fascist representatives, it is more imperative than ever to record the factual history of our minorities. Although there are few local historians who purposely aim to write Jewish or any other minorities out of our history, there are equally few who are making any concerted attempt to write them in. This study is an attempt to record the history of Northern Ireland’s Jewish community from c.1845-1950 through the headstones of Carnmoney and Belfast City Cemetery, and in doing so to give that community a Yad Vashem: a name and a place.