Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ukraine -- A New Plan to Restore All Jewish Cemeteries?

Jewish cemetery, Busk, Ukraine, 2006. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

I'm posting this little article from the Federation of Jewish Communities in the CIS, stating that the Chabad-linked Jewish community in Zhitomir, Ukraine, headed by the very energetic Rabbi Shlomo Wilhelm, has "begun a massive project to restore and preserve approximately 1,500 Jewish cemeteries scattered throughout Ukraine." According to the article, an office for this project opened this past week. But it doesn't look to me, from what is reported, that there is real funding.

It says that a "detailed inventory" of all Jewish cemeteries in Ukraine will be prepared "with information as to the degree of neglect, damage and defacement."

Jewish cemetery, Brody, Ukraine, 2006. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

It is not clear to me if this initiative has any connection with the cemetery inventory that the Lo-Tishkach organzation is carrying out in Ukraine. This is what Lo-Tishkach describes as "a three-year FSU educational project to catalogue all of the Jewish cemeteries and mass graves in Ukraine and the Baltic states." It says that surveys of 216 Jewish burial grounds have now been performed in eight of the Ukraine’s 25 regions, and that data from these surveys in now being processed.
Participants, who are drawn from local youth groups and universities, carried out comprehensive surveys at each location, illustrated by detailed photographs, and gathered vital information on the areas’ Jewish life, history and culture. The data collected from these surveys is currently being updated to the Lo Tishkach Database (see the list of recently updated records on the homepage) and will shortly be presented in a series of publications providing an up-to-date record on the situation of Jewish burial grounds in Ukraine. 

Many sites urgently in need of care were identified during the surveys, details of which are available here. Contact us at info@lo-tishkach.org to find out how to help save these sites.
Co-ordinated by the Lo Tishkach Foundation and supported by the Genesis Philanthropy Group, the project seeks to practically engage young Ukrainians with their culture and history, encourage reflection on the lessons of the Holocaust, develop values of volunteerism and civic responsibility and collect valuable information for the Foundation’s database.
The Zhitomir-project says that funding has come from the "well-known 'Chevra Kadisha' organization." But there is no indication of methodology.

The funding for this ambitious project is coming from the well-known "Chevra Kadisha’ organization. Many of the Jewish cemeteries that will be part of this project are located in towns and villages where there is no longer a local Jewish population or where there are very few Jewish residents. These cemeteries contain Jewish graves that are currently in a terribly neglected state and are often subjected to attacks by local vandals.

The office from which this project will be managed opened this past week. In the first phase of the project, a detailed inventory of all Jewish cemeteries in Ukraine will be prepared, with information as to the degree of neglect, damage and defacement. The staff will attempt to compile lists of famous individuals who are buried in these respective cemeteries.

The second phase of the project involves putting the cemeteries back in order and organizing their regular maintenance.

The initiators of this project are hopeful that the World Zionist Organization will provide financial backing and organizational assistance in implementing this project. According respect and honor to the deceased is an important part of Jewish tradition.

Read article at the web site

It is important to recall how vast, complex and difficult an operation it will be to again survey the Jewish cemeteries in Ukraine. A survey was carried out -- to determine threats and status, and also to identify the sites -- in the 1990s, overseen by the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad. It was published in 2005 and can be downloaded by clicking RIGHT HERE. Dozens of people were involved, and the Commission's list and report remains the most inclusive to date.

Jewish cemetery, Sadhora, Ukraine, 2006. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

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