This enclosed graveyard was reserved for burials of Jewish people.
Most of the first wave of Jewish immigrants to New Zealand in the 1840-1860 period, came from England where a serious depression had reduced economic opportunities.
Application for a cemetery
In 1842 David Nathan and John Montefiore applied for 0.4ha of land on the corner of Karangahape Road and Symonds Street, then on the outskirts of the town, for a Jewish Cemetery.
The land was granted and the cemetery was officially opened on 24 November 1843.
In a sad co-incidence, the first burial (which took place in 1844) was of six-month-old Catherine, the daughter of David and Rosetta Nathan.
The Jewish Centennial Memorial Hall is at the SW corner of this section of the cemetery. Designed by Albert Goldwater and his son John, this structure in the International Modernist style, dates from 1953. It commemorates the first Jewish religious ceremony held in New Zealand, in 1853.
Used as a chapel and mortuary, the Memorial Hall replaced an earlier wooden building from the 19th century, known as Tahara House.
Jewish burial practise requires the body to be cleansed in the Taharah ritual, and that a Shomer (watchman) stays with the deceased until burial. This is to symbolically accompany them to Beth Almin (the House of Eternity).
People are cleansed, then clothed in tachrichim, which are simple white linen robes, without pockets – symbolizing that when we leave this world we are judged on our merits and deeds, not the material wealth we may have gained.
Tradition calls for simple wooden caskets, made without metal parts. Mourners make a small tear in their clothing, or wear a black ribbon on a sleeve that has a torn end.
The five-pointed star seen on some Jewish headstones is known as the ‘Seal of Solomon’, and is an early symbol of the Jewish faith.
The six pointed star made of two triangles is also recognised as a modern symbol of the religion. This ‘Star of David’ or ‘Magen David’ in Hebrew, is more associated with Zionism (a nationalist and political movement of Jewish culture), and the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
Also a common feature on Jewish headstones are the characters in Hebrew lettering for ‘peh nun’ , which means ‘here lies.’
You will notice on some headstone two different dates recording a person’s birth and death. The older dates are from the Hebrew Calendar, which begins at creation, and 3760 years before the start of our current dating system, based on the birth of Jesus.
So the year 2015 can be considered in the Hebrew calendar to be 5775.
The Hebrew year starts at Rosh Hashanah, on 1 Tishrei, which is usually in September.