Friday, May 30, 2008

the old jewish cemetery



the old jewish cemetery, also referred to as the thomson road cemetery, was located between lorong sinaran and kampong chia heng, where the novena square now stands. there was a main gate leading to it but this gate was normally kept closed. it was only opened when there was a funeral. there was also a side-gate which was just up the slope, next to our zinc-roof house at kampong chia heng. in later years, this gate was also kept locked.

in my growing up years, the cemetery, at my backyard, was my playground. early in the morning, i would go to the bushes along the perimeter fence and the undergrowth, near to the tan tock seng hospital, to catch spiders. normally, the caretakers - two javanese families - would leave me alone. during the kite-flying season, we would go to the field to fly kites or to go after kites that had been cut loose.

i enjoyed reading the inscriptions on the tombstones. smaller graves usually belonged to babies and young children. some of the larger ones had elaborate statues adorning them. some of the verses carved on the stones were quite meaningful. quite a number of the tombstones were constructed out of white marble. but there was no cross on them, only the star of david.

i also remember spending many happy hours with my neighbours 'tobogganing' down the grassy slope at the cemetery. we would use thick cardboard pieces, big enough for us to sit on, and slid down the slope. it was actually a short ride but it gave us lots of thrills and sometimes, a bit of a spill.

i was at the cemetery even at night time, not alone though. we would go there to enjoy the peace and quiet while the adults played with cards (gambled). i have to admit that i was quite scared during those times but male bravado made me go through with it.

there were not just tombs at the cemetery. there were a few mausoleums on the side closer to lorong sinaran. i used to wonder at the amount of money that they would have spent on such a nice resting place for the dead. there was also a community hall where the mourners gathered and where the corpse was cleansed before burial.

i think burial usually took place early in the morning. when there was a burial, the caretakers would forbid us to intrude into the cemetery grounds. i sneaked in more than once to watch the proceedings. like the muslims, the jewish do not have a coffin for the dead; instead they wrap the corpse in layers of cloth.

the caretakers also doubled up as grave diggers. they would prepare the pit once they had been informed of a death in the jewish community. it took a few men a few hours to dig the grave. sometimes, the caretakers would rope in their own friends to help with the digging.

there was one incident which we, kampong folks, all heard about. one of the caretaker's friends or relatives who was helping to prepare the pit, collapsed and died - could have suffered a heart attack - while digging the grave.

the cemetery was around up to 80s. after that it had to make way for the construction of the mrt line and the novena station.

13 comments:

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks for sharing about this Jewish cemetery. I mentioned it in one of my posts in the series on Bukit Timah here. When I was study in ACS in the 60's; sometimes we take the Tay Koh Yat bus no 8A from our school. Drop off opposite present Novena MRT and change a bus. I always noticed the iron gate and the arched top leading to this cemetery. But never got chance to see what was inside.

Lam Chun See said...

My friend Chuck also reminisced about how he played this sliding carton game here

yg said...

if you alighted opposite the present novena mrt, it could be the bus-stop outside the sri dewa barbershop. there used to be another kampong behind the rows of shops, along gentle road.

the other bus-stop, where you could have alighted, was just before the jewish cemetery where united square now stands.

yg said...

we like to share our happy experiences with our children.

the children having fun at the grassy slope of macritchie could have parents or a father who had enjoyed such an activity when he was a child.

i remember when my two girls were younger, i used to take them to a drain at the end of novena terrace to catch longkang fish because i had caught longkang fish in the same drain when i was a boy.

Lam Chun See said...

We used to stop at the bus stop in front of the Sri Dewa barber shop. Patronized them quite a few times. Loved their handheld shoulder and back massager. Next to it was a tailor.

The 8A bus we took goes from Dunearn Road in front of present Chancery Court to Newton Circus and Newton Road and then towards Upp Thomson direction.

I noticed the Jewish Cemetery also becos my friend Simon lived at the low-rise flats along Thomson Road opp the Gold Hill shopping centre. If I remember correctly, going towards Kampong Java direction, immediately after passing the traffic lights, there was a Shell petrol station. After that was my friend's house.

Azlina said...

My Husband used to brag about his days in Kampong Chia Heng. he said, everyday was memoriable day for him, there is no replacement for they enjoyment he had during his days. He told me, how he missed the kampong days, even though his house was without electricity. In fact, only 3 housed in kampong Chia Heng is without electricity, his house, the mee rebus seller house, and the house beside the "CID officer's" house. I think you all know him, his house is the one which sells the malay cakes, just before the small climb to the Tan Tock Seng quarters (to hospital)

yg said...

hi azlina, when we first moved into kampong chia heng, there was no electricity at all. a few years later, a supplier, who had a diesel generator, charged the residents for providing us with electricity from around 7 in the evening to just before midnight. it was much later that we got electricity from the government authorities.
it is no wonder that your husband find those days memorable. they were carefree days, when we spent a lot of time outdoors.
i think i know which house you are referring to. opposite his house was a chinese family. i can remember the name of one of the boys; of course, he is now a senior citizen. his name was ah jit.
my house was just below the quarters of the caretakers - they were all boyanese - of the jewish cemetery.

foo_c_m@yahoo.com said...

In the early 70s I lived in Jalan Novena Selatan which overlooks Kg Chia Heng from the hilltop next to Novena Church. Looking down from my bedroom window was this huge lush green land with a few houses to my right (Kg Chia Heng proper, I think). It was very very peaceful, and in the late evenings and morning the entire area would resound with insects and birds calling. Very very rustic and charming (I am in tears thinking about this now). There was a little stream where people go to wash clothes and bathe. On top of the opposite hill would be the hostels blocks for the TTSH hosp staff, I can still remember seeing the big letter 'G' on the side of the block, & the kids from the families living in the blocks playing about. Lovely memories. Like out of a misty dream ..... B-D
Now the entire area is covered by TTSH buildings.

Regards foo_c_m@yahoo.com

yg said...

foo c m, the little stream where some of the villagers washed their clothes and took their bath was actually a spring. we didn't use the spring water because our house was too far away from the spring. because the water flow was continuous, you could find 'longkang' fish in the monsoon drain.
the entire area is more like a medical hub; it is not just ttsh buildings.
yes, sometimes when i think of those kampong days, i feel like crying because i miss those days.

oceanskies79 said...

yg,
Thanks a lot for sharing this. I didn't know there was such an interesting cemetery at that area.

Anonymous said...

yg,i wanted to see it but then i realized it was no longer around. But this is interesting though

Anonymous said...

Yup I remember the mee rubus below the balonglong tree n the spiders n kite flying n the free flowing water where we take our bath

Anonymous said...

I used to live at the quarters played with spiders, superman cards and sticker books. ET was big so all we want was bmx. Love the helicopters coming in to ttsh.