Resurrecting Jewish history

Rookwood Cemetery.

SOME of the tombs in the old Jewish section of Rookwood Cemetery lie crumbled on the ground. Others stand crooked, on the verge of keeling over, weighed down by the passage of time and the elements.

But thanks to a large-scale restoration project spearheaded by the Jewish Cemetery Trust (JCT), the gravestones – some dating from the 1860s – are set to be returned to their former splendour.

At present, JCT has committed to restoring 112 heritage tombs. That is in addition to the 52 gravestones it has already refurbished during the past year.

JCT chairman Jack Fisher said it was all part of a five-year plan to refurbish up to 1600 plots within the historic grounds.

“It is integral to maintain and retain the historical significance of the grounds in accordance with Jewish law,” he told The AJN this week. “If you don’t look after our heritage, then our history really suffers.”

As part of the restoration effort, expansive work will be undertaken to repair broken slabs and pieces of tombs. In some instances, monuments will need to be completely dismantled and rebuilt from existing material to preserve historic integrity.

In addition, several graves are unmarked and will need to be re-identified and provided with appropriate naming stones.

But preserving history doesn’t come cheap. The price tag for the overall project is estimated to be about $2 million.

On top of that, JCT is also hoping to raise $250,000 to further upgrade the surrounding grounds. “The trust needs the support of the community to continue this work,” Fisher said. “With the amount of restoration work that we are advised needs to be undertaken in the old grounds, we are stepping up our appeal to the community for the funds required to get the job done.

Rookwood was established in the 1860s to replace the old Devonshire Street Cemetery, now part of Central railway station.

In 1867, the government made the first allocation of almost a hectare  within the new cemetery to the Sydney Jewish community for burials.

Today, the Jewish section of the burial ground occupies about 15 hectares and is managed by JCT.