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The Archivist Abroad: A Visit to Willesden Jewish Cemetery in London 



Willesden Jewish Cemetery 

Willesden Jewish Cemetery is a Victorian-era cemetery founded in 1873 which has long been considered a prestigious place of burial. Many prominent Jews are buried there, including numerous Chief Rabbis of the British Empire, various members of the Rothschild family, many scholars and scientists, writers, poets, artists, and more.  


Among the many people buried here are three past presidents of the Shaar Hashomayim, all members of the Moss family, who were among the earliest members of the congregation. As I am currently on a trip to London, I took a visit to the cemetery to visit their places of burial. 



Archivist Hannah Srour-Zackon lays a stone on the grave of John E. Moss, Shaar president from 1885 to 1890 


The Moss Family 

When Congregation Shaar Hashomayim was founded in 1846 as a breakaway congregation from Shearith Israel (the Spanish and Portuguese), it consisted of only a handful of families. It took the congregation some time to find its footing. It was only when the prominent Moss family, who had established a successful business, joined the congregation that things began to move in more productive directions. The first generation of the family, brothers David, Edward, and Lawrence Moss, all born in England, were all integral members of the community. Both David and Edward were early presidents of the synagogue. It was David Moss who laid the cornerstone of the first building on St. Constant Street. Through Lawrence Moss died while still in Montreal, his two brothers both eventually returned to London where they remained for the rest of their lives. 


Edward’s son John E. Moss and David’s son Hyam D. Moss (some records refer to him as Hyman) remained and became leaders of the congregation in their own right. John served as president of the congregation from 1885 to 1890 and Hyam as the congregation’s president in 1871 and 1881–4, as well as parnass. Yet eventually this second generation left for England too. 


Why did the Moss family leave? 


Rabbi Shuchat offers a plausible explanation for this in his book The Gate of Heaven: The Story of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal, 1846–1896:  

“This was a pattern followed by many families at the time… Why did they do so? For one thing, many of them regarded England as home and Canada as a temporary sojourn. If they were in a family business, they felt that they had spent enough time in the branch and wanted to return to the home office. Some families thought that their children would have better opportunities for marriage in England. There was also the question of being with family again and possibly being buried close to relatives. Presumably these considerations applied to the Moss family.” (p. 41–2) 


Edward Moss 


Edward Moss was born in London in 1816. He serviced as Shaar President in 1864, and died in 1876, just 11 years after leaving Canada. The front of his tombstone reads: