Choa Chu Kang – Jewish Cemetery

There used to be two Jewish cemeteries in Singapore – one in Orchard Road and the other at Thomson Road. They have since been relocated to Choa Chu Kang. At the gateway, there is this prayer for the deceased to be said by those who have not visited a cemetery in the last 30 days: “Praised be the Eternal, our God, the Ruler of the Universe who created you in judgment, who maintained and sustained you in judgment, and brought death upon you in judgment; who knows the deeds of everyone of you in judgment, and who will hereafter restore you to life in judgment. Praised be the Eternal who will restore life to the dead.”

The origin of the Jewish community in Singapore can be traced to a census dated 1830 which records the presence of nine traders of the Jewish faith in Singapore. However, it is uncertain if any of these traders actually settled in Singapore because in 1833, only a total of three Jews were recorded as actual settlers. Some may have returned to their land of origin to bring family members back to Singapore. By 1833, the numbers had increased to 22 Jews: 18 males and four females. By 1858 there were 20 Jewish families in Singapore. The Jews that came to Singapore were mainly Shephardi Jews, or Oriental Jews rather than Ashkenasi (also known as Ashkenazi) Jews who saw their home in Europe. The Shephardi Jews came mainly from India and originated from Baghdad or Arabia while the Ashkenasi were mainly from Germany.

The Orchard Road Jewish Cemetery was open from 1841 (or 1838) to 1903. It held around 160 burials. The Trustees of the Jewish Synagogue held the land on a 99-year lease. The last burial took place on 8 Dec 1903 when Sam and Christy Dimmenberg were interred there. The cemetery survived the Second World War, but in 1983, the land was repossessed for development. Mr Nathan made a complete transcript of the 160 graves in 1976 but it does not appear to have been published.

The Burial ground at Thomson Road opened in 1903 and contained both Sephardic and Ashkenazi burials. This cemetery just north of Moulmein Rd, close to the Thomson Rd and Newton Rd junctions, was acquired in December 1900 and contained burials from 1904 until 1973. It was not reflected in the 1907 town plan of Singapore. A list of names of people interred from 1904-11 is listed in The Jews of Singapore, p185-86. In 1985, the cemetery was being cleared for a site for the underground train (Novena MRT station).

In 1974 the government provided space for a Jewish Cemetery at Choa Chu Kang, a large burial ground for people of all faiths and ethnic groups. In 1983, the Jewish Welfare board agreed to close the old Orchard Road cemetery as well as the cemetery on Thompson Road after the government decided to use the land for construction of the new MRT. The government paid the expenses for the transfer of the remains to another cemetery.

The remains of those buried in Orchard Road and Thomson Road Jewish Cemetery were moved to Choa Chu Kung, although some families did take this opportunity to have their relatives re-interred in Israel. Most of those re-interred in Singapore now have a small plaque with their name and date of death but a handful of the original tombstones were moved to their new resting place.

It was rumoured that one of the veterans of the Crimean War who had settled in Singapore had been buried at the cemetery, but no verification has been made for this. Laid here are some of Singapore’s founding fathers and with some probability (just maybe) the parents and grandparents of David Marshall, Singapore’s first Chief Minister.

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Sources: Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cemetery Scribes, International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies, National Library Board, National Archives of Singapore, and Wikipedia.

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