© Marcus Roberts (2004 & 2008 & 2012)


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20th Century Ramsgate

Since the War the community in Ramsgate has declined. In World War II many Jews were dispersed from Ramsgate and many eventually went to Manchester, which depleted the community - though but it still held its own. Since the War there has been more decline, but the community is still active, though the local Jewish population is more spread-out in the local east Kent area, and as in many other provincial areas, the synagogues tend to have quite wide catchment, as congregants commute to participate in local Jewish life.

Today there are still some Jewish residents in Ramsgate, and the Thanet & District Reform Synagogue, at Margate Road, in Ramsgate, has an active community of around 70 families, both from Ramsgate and drawn from the surrounding Thanet and East Kent areas. There are other active communities in East Kent; at the Margate Hebrew Congregation there are about 20 plus families. There are perhaps around 150 - 200 Jews actively involved with the Jewish community in the East Kent area, living in locations such Ramsgate, Broadstairs, Margate, Cliftonville, Birchington, and further out in Canterbury, Whitstable, Faversham.

The college that Sir Moses had started suffered in parallel with the woes of the community. During the later course of its history it eventually became a rabbinical college for Sephardim. Once Jew's College took over that role for Sephardim, it became a retreat for scholars and rabbis. A number of refugees from the Nazis were there, not only during the war but pre-war and post-war as well. In 1952 it was used as a training place for Jews from North Africa, so that the students could be teachers or rabbis in Africa, Israel or South America. However the college found it difficult to get collegiates post-war, due to the Holocaust, aliya of Jews to Israel and a revival of Jewish life in North Africa. Ultimately, its active functions were taken over by Jew's College and the college was demolished in 1961.

In the 1960s the Lubavitch leased Mill House for their activities and it was used for holidays and retreats. The Mill House had nine rooms and stood south of the main gate to the estate. Stanley Kinn was resident on the estate from 1964-8 and ran activities until 1973. The remaining estate houses, Temple Cottage and Mill House, both eventually stood empty and deteriorated and suffered vandalism. This lead to Temple Cottage being demolished in the late 1960s and Mill House in the late 1970s.

Until 1989 the Elders of the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation in London remained responsible for the foundation, but then they gave the responsibility back to the Montefiori Endowment in Ramsgate itself and George da Costa was appointed chairman. The aims of the Montefiori Endowment (incorporating the Judith Montefiori College Trust), still fulfills its aims by the making of grants and scholarships for the training of Orthodox Jewish ministers. The Endowment still has very significant incomes from its assets. There was in 1999 a Montefiori Kollel (study centre) in Maida Vale.

In 1994 planning permission was gained for the old college crescent site - by then degenerate wasteland - to build housing. This lead to a furor in 1999, on the 114th anniversary of Sir Moses Montefiori's death - when plans to revive building schemes were taken in hand again and lead to protestors disrupting the memorial service at the synagogue. Also, the alleged threat of removing the Montefiori's remains, first raised in 1985, affected the protestors. The endowment denied that they had any intentions what-so-ever to remove the interments.

Sir Moses Montefiori's synagogue is still used for worship, by arrangement, from time to time. Mr. da Costa, at the time of my visit, prided himself on always having the synagogue ready for use at any time and he was nearly the solitary custodian of Montefiori's legacy in Ramsgate. He recalled to us his childhood and younger days around the synagogue; the annual outing that everyone looked forward to so much and the wonderful displays of plants and flowers at the synagogue - especially the banks of flowers inside the building that had all been grown in the East Cliff Lodge green house. He also told us that his grandfather, a jeweler, had originally come to Ramsgate in 1885.

Only time will tell the ultimate fate of the Ramsgate community and the Montefiori legacy and the dispute over the future of the site and buildings, is a long-running saga and may take a long time to resolve. However it is almost certain that Mr. da Costa will be one of the last Jews with living links to the original Ramsgate community, though the current community has continued to re-invent itself. The current controversy about the buildings and interments are also significant as they are indicative of attitudes towards Jewish heritage in this country at large and what the fate may be of Jewish relics in places where there are few or no Jews.

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