In Pictures

Remembering the Jewish dead

The Brady Street and Alderney Road cemeteries in London's East End are among the oldest Jewish burial grounds in the UK, dating from 1761 and 1697 respectively.

Both cemeteries were closed in the 1850s, when they became full.

A roll-call of important members of the Jewish community from this period can be found across its gravestones.

Over a period of five years, Louis Berk visited the cemeteries to photograph their shifting appearance throughout the seasons.

Image copyright Louis Berk
Image copyright Louis Berk
Image copyright Louis Berk

In the Brady Street site, the distinctive headstone in the centre of this photograph may signify the resting place of a musician .

The date has been eroded from the face of the headstone, but it is likely that it is one of the later burials, just before the cemetery finally closed in 1858.

The large memorial below is in a prominent position near the southern perimeter of the cemetery.

A striking feature of this memorial is the bust, as well as the scenes from the Bible that decorate three of its sides.

It is dedicated to Miriam Levy, who died in 1855. She is believed to have been an important figure in the community, revered for her social work in helping the poor and sick.

Image copyright Louis Berk
Image copyright Louis Berk
Image copyright Louis Berk

This headstone bears the symbol of a Cohen (Hebrew for priest), and the distinctive formation of the hands is believed to signify the Hebrew letter ש (Shin).

This is the first letter of several important words, including Shechinah and Shaddai (both alternative names of God).

This symbol was used by the actor Leonard Nimoy in his role as the alien Spock in the TV series Star Trek.

Nimoy, the son of orthodox Jewish immigrants, recalled the sign being used in religious services and decided to use it as the Vulcan salute for "Live long and prosper."

Polish immigrant Hyman Hurwitz is also commemorated, by a tall obelisk.

He arrived in the UK in his 20s and, from 1799, ran a boys' school in Highgate.

In 1826, Abraham Goldscmid, a benefactor of the new nonconformist University College, petitioned to establish a chair of Hebrew language and literature and, in 1828, Hurwitz was offered the position.

Image copyright Louis Berk
Image copyright Louis Berk
Image copyright Louis Berk

There are many examples of gravestones in the cemetery that have turned a distinctive green colour as they have aged.

Scientists believe that discolouration is partly due to the rise in acid levels in rain, especially during the increase in factories and workshops in the area.

Another factor is the impact of freeze-thaw action on the soft sandstone material of some headstones, which leads to the flaking of the surface.

This allows organisms in the air to invade the exposed crevices on the surface and leads to discolouration.

Image copyright Louis Berk
Image copyright Louis Berk

All photographs by Louis Berk.

Related Topics

More on this story