Spanish Town Jewish Cemetary to be restored
Up to a few weeks ago, the old Jewish cemetery at White Church Street in Spanish Town, St Catherine was covered with dirt and other debris. One section was a garbage dump, where fires were lit. A marble headstone, in excellent condition, was the only one prominently exposed.
Located along Burke Road, beside Johnathan Grant High School, and in front of Spanish Town Primary, it was the second of three Jewish cemeteries established in Spanish Town. The place was then called Salt Pond Road. This particular cemetery dates back to the 1700s, and seems to be the final resting place of people of note.
While it is not known who covered the graves and when they did, an informal community called Dallas is located on the periphery of the cemetery, and tombstones are actually in some people’s yard enclosed by zinc fences. The cemetery is at the entrance to the community, and the residents have been walking and playing on the graves, unaware of the history of the place.
And while they are not, Ainsley Henriques, a leader in the Jewish community, is. He is leading efforts to restore the cemetery. “Residents willingly showed the survey pegs in their backyards marking the cemetery's boundary lines, and the graves which just now happens to be on their side of the zinc fences,” Henriques said.
The men who did the excavation are from the community. On Sunday, the cemetery was rededicated in a brief service, which was attended by some of the residents of Dallas, “They have little idea of what the developments will eventually mean to them and their neighbours, yet they are highly supportive,” Henriques noted.
Among the gathering was Jamaica Broilers chairman, Robert Levy, and his wife, Judith. Just a few days before the dedication service he had learnt that the marble headstone mentioned above belongs to his great-great-grandfather, Emanuel George Levy, born September 2, 1843 and died September 19, 1886. He was acting custos and the first member of the Legislative Council of St Catherine.
Levy, a descendant of Portuguese Jews, said he had never traced his ancestry, but was glad to know that his ancestor’s tomb was found. There are three generations of Levys in his family, and he will pass on the knowledge, and participate in the restoration of the cemetery. Also at the service was a group from the USA, here to catalogue Jewish graves.
“We have almost completed the revised cataloguing of all the Jewish graves in the remaining 12 Jewish cemeteries islandwide. This has been undertaken with volunteers, headed by Rachel Frankel, through the Caribbean Volunteers Expedition programme. The White Church Street Cemetery will be catalogued next year. This will be undertaken on completion of its restoration,” Henriques said.
“The initial results of the restoration have been more awesome than expected. Yet, there is still much to be undertaken and it is anticipated that a significant sum will be needed to carry out this important restoration to completion.”
Henriques also said the initial financing for the project had come from private donors and the first week of work had generated much local and international interests. It was visited by the chairman of the Board of the American Jewish Historical Society, Sidney Lapidus and his family, and Jerry Klinger, president of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.