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In Memoriam Alfred Dunitz

Michael Jolles

<plain_text><page sequence="1">In Memoriam Alfred Abraham Dunitz 15 May 1917-18 February 2011 "Aberdeen, Bath, Caister . . Thus opens the Dunitz lexicon of about twenty projects which has sealed Alfred Dunitz's position as the foremost Anglo-Jewish heritage preservationist of his generation. Although widely admired by Jewish ex-servicemen for his moral support and leadership, he is under-appreciated by Anglo-Jewish historians. He was born in Stepney, London, the son of Joseph Dunitz, who had arrived in Britain from near Bialystok, and Hetty (née Tropp). His grandfa ther, Jacob Dunitz, was a founder member of Machzike Hadath, Spitalfields, before making aliyah in 1912. In the Second World War, Alfred volunteered for the army (RE and RA) and served as a gunnery instructor loaned to the us army. He later started manufacturing quilted fabric in London and St Albans. Alfred was appointed a JP and was elected to the Court of Common Council (1984-2004) at the City of London, representing Portsoken (a ward of Jewish historical significance), where he also served as Deputy Alderman. His many City of London responsibilities included being a governor of the City of London School for Girls and of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He represented the City on the London Waste Regulation Authority, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the London Arts Board. He was the recipient of the first Institute of Waste Management Medal (1999). He was the treasurer of the Jewish Committee for HM Forces, the chairman of the Friends of Jewish Servicemen and the chairman of the Friends of Ramat Gan. Although he was the treasurer (1978-87) and chairman (1987 88) of the United Synagogue Burial Society, he had previously become aware of various threats to Britain's Jewish built heritage through decay, dilapida tion and planning encroachments. An admirer of Georgian architecture, he was determined that the older cemeteries and synagogues should not slip away. In about 1976, on his own initiative, he started checking all the older synagogues and cemeteries regularly, in person, and ensured that they were protected and kept in good order - an expensive objective. With his businessman's knowledge and magistrate's experience, he brought about regular cemetery maintenance and wall repairs at minimal expense by using different towns' local probation services. His local-authority experience, knowledge of parliamentary and local Acts, unfailing courtesy and approachability guaranteed that all the appropriate initial approaches, contacts, legal advice and funding were made so that others could follow his lead locally. He raised about £400,000 from the Department of Environment, 176</page><page sequence="2">Alfred Abraham Dunitz English Heritage, local authorities and other conservation bodies. He also paid many costs himself. One of his early projects was at Exeter, where the restoration of the 1763 synagogue and the creation of an upstairs flat helped reactivate the small Jewish congregation there. He also assisted synagogue projects at Aberdeen and Chatham and provided advice for the Jewish community in Cheltenham. Alfred also helped protect, preserve or restore Jewish cemeteries at Bath, Canterbury, Falmouth, Ipswich, King's Lynn, Penzance, Yarmouth, as well as two at Sheerness. He advised probation services at Blackburn and Preston, where they undertook to maintain the cemeteries there. Alfred cared as much for the tiny Jewish cemetery plot as he did for the more 'high-profile' con tenders for his time, energy and dynamism. How many have visited the inconspicuous Jewish cemetery plot in the north-east corner of Caister-on Sea's municipal cemetery, let alone heard of it? His metropolitan preservation initiatives included instigating and financ ing repairs to Sandys Row Synagogue, enabling repairs to Nelson Street Synagogue's wrought ironwork, blocking the threatened local-authority plan to convert Bancroft Road Jewish cemetery (Mile End) to a park, and obtain ing support for a commemorative plaque in Old Jewry near the site of one of the pre-expulsion London synagogues. Abroad, his diplomatic approach to the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs was instrumental in bringing about the repair of the dilapidated Jewish Cemetery on the Aegean island of Kos, which was reopened in 2001. No one had asked Dunitz to undertake what had become his labour of love. In the 1970s, before the internet and before the heritage industry, a project such as Anglo-Jewish heritage preservation was not a populist one: it was an isolated one and there were few, if any, precedents to emulate. Other success ful pioneers during this period included Rabbi Bernard Susser (expert on tombstone epigraphy), Dr Anthony Joseph (Jewish genealogy) and Henry Morris (Ajex Museum). Dunitz enjoyed writing articles on Jewish history and heritage, particularly of the Georgian period, but as these tended not to be published in the strictly academic press, his preservation legacy is apt to be overlooked. Many congregations are now unaware of their indebtedness to him. It is difficult to think of a better claimant to be the most important Anglo Jewish heritage preservationist of the second half of the twentieth century. Alfred Dunitz married Rebecca Gross (died 2008) and their two sons are Martin Dunitz and the solicitor David Dunitz. Both Jack Dunnett (born 1922), a former MP and vice-president of the Football League, and Professor Jack David Dunitz, FRS (born 1923) the eminent crystallographer, are his cousins. MICHAEL JOLLES 177</page></plain_text>