SYDNEY, Australia (Feb. 28)
Workmen excavating a building site last month in Tasmania have exposed the remains of some of the 90 Jews buried there between 1828 and 1872.
The site in Hobart, Tasmania — an island off of Australia’s southeastern coast — was last used as a Jewish cemetery 130 years ago.
None of Hobart’s Jewish population of about 100 is descended from those buried in the Harrington St. cemetery.
The Tasmanian government’s Housing Commission, which is redeveloping the block of land, made clear that the remains must be treated with dignity and handled only by religious Jews.
David Clark, a 61-year-old Orthodox member of the Hobart Hebrew Congregation — which hosts both Orthodox and liberal services on Shabbat — is using his car to move the remains to their new resting place at the current Jewish cemetery on the banks of Hobart’s Derwent River.
Apartments were built over the Harrington St. cemetery site after the land fell into state hands in 1945.
The government has offered to contribute a small coffin for each set of remains, and a ceremony is being planned for the reburial.
About 42 sets of remains await reburial, Clark said, and an archaeologist has been hired to help identify the remains.
The Hobart Synagogue is the oldest in Australia. Founded in 1846, special benches still exist that were built for Jewish convicts who had been given permission to worship by the authorities.
Jews first came as convicts to Hobart from London in 1804, synagogue member Peter Elias said. In 1847, many left Tasmania after receiving conditional pardons, and there was a mass exodus in 1851 when gold was discovered on the Australian mainland in Victoria.
Today, a large portion of Hobart’s community is made up of Holocaust survivors and their descendants.
On his first trip from Harrington St. to the current cemetery, with remains of eight people in the back of his car, Clark dreaded being stopped by police.
Now, as he makes his daily drive from the old cemetery to the new, he says he feels the presence of the past in the back of his car.
“I don’t find it gruesome, although I am more than aware of the passengers I am carrying,” he said. “Rather, it’s a solemn task and a special mitzvah. In fact, it’s very possible many of those buried in Harrington St. did not have a proper Orthodox funeral. They will get one now.”