JEWISH TELEGRAPH (LIVERPOOL EDITION), 4 APRIL 2008
Saul is Making His Mark on Cemetery
AT a time when so many young Jews are abandoning Merseyside, 28-year-old Saul Marks is a positive role model for Liverpool youth.
For the Chester-born professional genealogist is voluntarily devoting two-thirds of his time to the Princes Road Synagogue and its historic Deane Road Cemetery. Saul, who studied applied psychology at Durham University, said: “I owe so much to Princes Road Synagogue. It is an inextricable part of my Jewish identity.” Saul, who was elected the shul’s senior treasurer on Sunday, has been attending the shul since he was 11. A year later he joined the choir and now often acts as the congregation’s chazan sheni. Nearly two years before his barmitzvah, Saul’s family increased their synagogue attendance from three times a year to weekly.
Saul’s father, Nachum Marks, who now lives in Little Sutton, on the Wirral, is to remarry at the age of 71. After the death of his journalist wife Ilona in 2001, he is to marry psychotherapist and Leo Baeck College lecturer Susan Lewin.
Saul now lives within walking distance of the synagogue. And even during his student days in Durham, Saul used to help lead synagogue services in Sunderland. He first became interested in genealogy in his mid-teens. He said: “It grew from a hobby to an obsession to a profession.” While studying he volunteered for an online translation project of the gravestones of a large New York Jewish cemetery for which Saul’s Hebrew education at Merseyside Amalgamated Talmud Torah and Yeshiva had prepared him.
On his return to Liverpool after graduation, Saul became active in Princes Road. It was then that he was asked to translate the Hebrew on the tombstones of the 1,700 tombstones, dating from 1837-1929, at Deane Road. All the tombstones had been photographed in 1978 during an aborted restoration project. Since 1929, the cemetery had become derelict and prone to vandalism.
In 1978 Liverpool Corporation offered a grant of £400,000 for the cemetery’s restoration, but this offer was withdrawn after the site was cleared of foliage. Following an arson attack on Princes Road Synagogue the following year, money could no longer be found to maintain the cemetery and the foliage and litter were allowed unrestricted growth. The situation was aggravated by rat infestation and repeated vandalism including damage to the boundary wall. Two further restoration attempts were again aborted until, in 2003, Ruth Webster of the Groundwork Trust set about raising funds and giving suggestions as to how the cemetery could be restored.
Two years later Saul became manager of the restoration project and wrote an assessed essay about it in preparation for his diploma in archives and record management at Liverpool University. Saul, who would like to attract other young people to become involved in Princes Road Synagogue, said: “I love my cemetery.” When he saw shoppers across the road looking at the cemetery’s Grade Listed archway, he dashed up to them to try to enthuse them in the project. He said: “I get a lot of interest from passers-by.”
Saul is very proud of the fact that volunteers from the probation service, an interfaith working party and a local horticulturist have cleared much of the overgrowth and litter but much more needs to be done. But with a minimum amount of funds the project, described at www.deaneroadcemetery.com, currently relies only on voluntary efforts.