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A Disgraceful Exhibition at Canterbury Jewish Cemetery 1863

It is strangely reassuring that Jewish communities of the past were quite as capable of falling into acrimonious dispute with one another as they are today.
Canterbury was no exception and in 1863 a perceived slight by the Dover community on the occasion of the opening of their new synagogue led to unsavoury public scenes.

When in 1863, the Dover community had the grand inauguration of their new synagogue, the Canterbury community felt that too few of their number had been invited to the occasion; an event that was graced by the Chief Rabbi Dr Adler and other notables and concluded by a fine lunch for two or three hundred guests.

The opportunity for the Canterbury community to make their feelings known came less than a month later. They were informed that a poor Dover Jew had died in hospital and was to be brought to Canterbury for burial.

The Canterbury community met and resolved to make an additional charge of five pounds and five shillings for the burial of the Dover Jew in their cemetery. Normally Dover Jews were buried in the cemetery without individual charge as some members of the Dover community made a general annual contribution towards the costs of the cemetery.

The Dover Express wrote that the reason for this decision "is that they have not been treated courteously by their friends in Dover, and are disposed to adopt the "tit-for-tat" policy."

Unfortunately, the body of the dead Jew was already being taken by wagon to Canterbury by the time this decision was relayed to Dover. It also turned out that the deceased and his son were too poor to pay this large sum of money and the community would not accept the offer to pay in installments.

The result was that the body was left in the Whitstable road outside of the entrance of the cemetery, as Canterbury community refused even to let the body enter the property. The son had the coffin taken off the wagon and set in the road outside the entrance, in full view of all - no doubt to advertise his plight and to shame the community into allowing the burial.

Since it was a Sunday and many Canterbury citizens took their walk up the Whitstable road the coffin in the road became a public spectacle. The police became involved and the Clerk of the Justices. An arrangement for burial was secured from the Canterbury community for the next day and the son of the deceased accepted an offer to temporarily house the coffin in a nearby Christians' cart-lodge out of view. Soon after, the cemetery was unlocked and the coffin was put into the ohel or dead house. The body was buried the next day on the Monday.

This incident doubtlessly encouraged the Dover Jews in establishing their own cemetery in 1863 and which was in use from 1868.

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