Why study these headstones (or any headstones at all!)
A cemetery is a unique insight into the make-up of any local community. It is the record of the individuals and families, who lived, worked, married into and changed the community to which they belonged. But the burial ground of a largely immigrant community is even more significant in that it reveals those individual who often chose to stay and establish roots in a foreign land, and in doing so face the every day battles of prejudice, poverty or exclusion that so many Shepardic Jews faced. Each of the headstones we study today is the record of the life of an individual whose birth, experiences, works and losses make up the history of the Jewish community in Northern Ireland, which is part of the wider history of this country as a whole. Some were political leaders, some magnanimous philanthropists, some industrial giants and commercial geniuses. Others were craftsmen, factory workers, tailors, housewives and paupers. Some arrived rich, others made their considerable wealth in Belfast’s trade and commercial boom, but many others lived and died existing on the little they had. What fascinated me most whilst studying these headstones was the diversity of such a small community, numbering only 1500 at its height in the 1940s. Yet from this small Jewish community came MPs, a Lord Mayor, JPs, civic councillors, managing directors, rabbis, doctors, tailors, travellers, merchants and cat traders. The history from Jewish headstones is a window into a fascinating culture steeped in traditions carried across continents and generations and the history of a people adapting to a world undergoing technological and industrial revolutions, trade booms and depressions and the horrors of world war.