Tributes to United Synagogue’s head of burial Melvyn Hartog, who has died aged 76

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Tributes to United Synagogue’s head of burial Melvyn Hartog, who has died aged 76

Community stalwart who spent more than 23 years advising bereaved families and wider society on Jewish burial, died on Sunday following a short illness.

Francine Wolfisz is the Features Editor for Jewish News.

Melvyn Hartog. Pic: Courtesy of family
Melvyn Hartog. Pic: Courtesy of family

Hundreds have paid heartfelt tribute to the United Synagogue’s head of burial Melvyn Hartog, who has died aged 76.

The community stalwart, who made a “profound impact” by spending more than 23 years advising bereaved families and wider society on Jewish burial, died on Sunday following a short illness.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis led the tributes and described Mr Hartog, who lived in Chigwell,  Essex, as “one of the finest people I have ever known”.

In a statement posted on social media, Chief Rabbi Mirvis said: “A warm-hearted, humorous and compassionate mensch, Melvyn’s selflessness and generosity of spirit knew no bounds.

“As head of the United Synagogue Burial Society for 23 years, he brought comfort, reassurance and consolation to thousands of people and was an extraordinary beacon of light and inspiration to us all.

“We wish Arichut Yamim to his wife Marilyn, his daughters Laura and Deborah, his siblings and all the family.”

Michael Goldstein, president of the United Synagogue, revealed his colleague “always went above and beyond to help in any way he could” and said his passing “leaves an irreplaceable gap.”

He said: “Melvyn was a larger-than-life character who put his heart and soul into helping families at the most difficult and delicate times of their life.

Melvyn Hartog with his wife and daughters, November 2023. Picture: courtesy of Hartog family

“He spoke to communities regularly about the work of the Burial Society through a challenging session called ‘Talking about death won’t kill you’, to encourage loved ones to make arrangements should the worst happen. As a result, countless families were better prepared.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said Mr Hartog was “a pivotal figure” who “made lasting change”.

A heartfelt tribute stated: “Melvyn was a pivotal figure in the community who made a profound impact on the lives of bereaved families with his sensitivity, diligence and thoughtfulness.

“His contribution to advising coroners about Jewish sensitivities and improving relations between the coroner service and Jewish community has made lasting change. He will be sorely missed by many.”

Of those who worked alongside him, many spoke about how Mr Hartog endeavoured to ensure bereaved families were given the support they needed, no matter the circumstances, while also advising coroners and burial societies on the intricacies of Jewish ritual.

The Federation of Synagogues paid tribute to him as “a man for all Jews” and said that many looked to him as “our elder statesman”.

A statement said: “He headed the United Synagogue Burial society for more than two decades but was in no way parochial; his advice, encouragement and support were available to colleagues in other communities.”

The Association of Jewish ex-Servicemen and Women noted that Mr Hartog always attended their annual parade every year and had supported them with the burial of veterans.

“He will be greatly missed by all who had the privilege to know him,” the organisation said.

Mr Hartog, who also volunteered his time as a Jewish chaplain at HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs in Hammersmith, leaves behind his wife, Marilyn, and daughters, Laura and Deborah.

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