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Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

by Emma Davies, Head of Volunteering

On Monday 16 March, the Jewish Museum volunteers embarked upon a day trip in recognition of their hard work and
continued contribution to the museum. In 2014 alone,
the Visitor Services Volunteers gave an impressive 8,743.5 hours and to reward
them for their endeavours, the museum funded a trip to the seaside!

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Under the renowned guidance of Blue Badge Guide Rachel
Kolsky
we boarded a coach and headed to the lovely seaside town of Ramsgate. 

March
may seem like an unusual time for a coastal trip, but the main purpose of our
visit was to view the wonderful Montefiore Synagogue and Mausoleum. The
buildings were kindly made accessible to us by the ‘Keeper of the Keys’ and we
had a private tour. The paddling therefore was sadly delayed until next time!

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I always consider the volunteers to be an extremely
knowledgeable bunch but everyone learnt something on this trip. It was
absolutely fascinating to see the buildings, with the synagogue dating from
1833. 

Sir Moses built the synagogue as a private place of worship, not too far
from the East Cliff estate that he purchased in 1831, and it does not
disappoint. It is small but perfectly formed, with a stunning interior designed
by David Mocatta, a protégé of Sir John Soane and also Montefiore’s
cousin.  

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We enjoyed a history of the Jewish centre in Ramsgate and
even more about the life of Sir Moses Montefiore and his family, from both our
guide Rachel and the Keeper of the Key. The connections between the powerful
Jewish families of the time are evident in Moses and his wife Judith, who was
sister in law of N.M.Rothschild. 

Although the synagogue is not used to the same
extent in the present day, due to the lack of a Sephardi minyan (the minimum number of people required for Jewish public worship) in Ramsgate, some
special services do still take place. 

When in London, Montefiore worshipped at
Bevis Marks, as part of the Spanish and Portuguese congregation and modelled
his own synagogue on this. In fact, his chairs still remain at Bevis Marks and
in the Ramsgate Synagogue; both marked with “This is the chair
of Sir Moses Montefiore Bart. Please do not sit here” – a sign of respect for the incredible impact
Montefiore had and the philanthropic work he did.

When Lady Judith Montefiore died in 1862, Moses buried her, as planned, only a few paces from the Synagogue. He then erected a mausoleum
over the grave, based on a structure found on the road from Jerusalem to
Bethlehem and believed to be the tomb of Rachel. When Moses died after reaching
his century landmark, he was buried next to Judith and now two marble slabs
cover their graves.

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After learning so much about the Montefiore family and
estate, there was only one option – fish and chips at the seaside. The Ramsgate
Sands are known for their beauty and Ramsgate still has a very active port and
harbour. Some fresh sea air prepared us for the second part of our day,
visiting the grounds where East Cliff once stood.

East Cliff happened to be adjacent to the holiday home
of Queen Victoria, who according to local myth, was given a golden key to move
freely between the grounds of the two buildings. 

Sadly, the house at East Cliff
was torn down in the 1950s and little evidence remains, aside from a stunning
Glass House (below). There is also a plaque to commemorate Moses Montefiore on the Gate
Keeper’s House, a house in which he certainly didn’t ever live but stands proud
with the association today!

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A wonderful day trip out, the volunteers and staff who
accompanied them were given a real insight into life in Ramsgate and the impact
of the Montefiore settlement, both in the 19th century and through
the work the endowment still carries out today. 

Find out more as it is a real hidden gem and worth a visit!

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