Moses Montefiore (1784-1885) was a towering figure of Victorian England, renowned locally, nationally and internationally. The grandson of wealthy Sephardi London merchants he retired
from the Stock Exchange a rich man to devote his life to philanthropy. He gave generously locally: his mayoral gold chain features the letter “mem” and .is still worn by Ramsgate mayors.
He first came to Ramsgate in 1812 on his honeymoon with his wife Judith Cohen, sister-in-law to Nathan Rothschild. In 1831, he purchased East Cliff Lodge with its grounds, now George VI
Park. The pious Montefiores immediately decided to build a synagogue as a private `chapel' on their estate and they hired a cousin, David Mocatta, to design it. He was the first Anglo-Jewish architect, a pupil of
Sir John Soane and architect for railway stations on the Brighton Line.
A striking external feature is the clock, an unusual feature for synagogues (the most famous being that on Prague's baroque Jewish Town Hall). It is inscribed in English with the motto
TIME FLIES. VIRTUE ALONE REMAINS. This chiming clock is the only example in an English Synagogue.
Internally the synagogue is a delight to the eye especially on such a sunny day as this. It’s beautifully proportioned and ornately decorated, which as one of our party remarked manages
to be just on the right side of being t.t.t
External light came originally through a lantern of clear and red glass set on the octagonal dome roof, a very Regency feature, and by a tiny window over the Ark. Later on windows were
introduced at the gallery level.
The synagogue is still lit by candles in their original splendid brass chandeliers.
We were all pleased to hear that the synagogue is still used on an occasional basis and in fact a wedding had only just recently been celebrated there.
The Mausoleum next to the Synagogue is a replica of Rachel's Tomb, on the road to Bethlehem, which Lady Montefiore had had repaired in 1839. David Mocatta was commissioned by Sir Moses to
build this mausoleum for his childless wife who predeceased him.
The Montefiores lie side by side in brick vaults covered by tombs of Aberdeen marble. As is traditional the tombs face east towards Jerusalem dimly illuminated by a small stained-glass
skylight. The inscription is from the last verse of `Adon Alom''.
: Within Thy hand I lay my soul
Both when I sleep and when I wake
And with my soul my body too,
My Lord is close I shall not fear
Of current interest is the squabble over development of the open land around about which was given by Sir Moses to benefit the town. Did he have in mind housing development when he made
From Ramagate it was but another short test of our navigation skills to find our way to the home of the Margate Hebrew Congregation. This impressive brick built synagogue in the
Clliftonville area traces its construction back to the heyday of Cliftonville as a place to holiday. As the congregation numbers have declined the sanctuary has been cleverly foreshortened to make a function room
and it was here that we were welcomed by David Gradus on behalf of the congregation and then served with a fine sandwich and more excellent cake lunch organized by Jacqueline Gradus.
This shul has a number of interesting features including a splendid ark with seating to suit the chief rabbi but I was struck by the bimah which incorporates a built in donation letter box on one side and with steps onto it surmounted by welcoming pineapples which double up as sefer torah “bell” holders.
So having enjoyed the hospitality of two communities we departed in a mellow mood. Gladdened by this practical demonstration of how Jews of different hue can enjoy each others company, a
short stroll along the cliff top seemed to be just the thing followed by an ice cream in Broadstairs and then home with a short interlude in Ramsgate to admire their Royal Harbour.
My personal thanks go to the organizers and helpers who made this well supported Jewish Kent event such a success. I look forward to the next one and hopefully a few more attendees from
Bromley Reform Synagogue