The European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative (ESJF), Chabad-Lubavitch Hassidic movement and Geder Avos Jewish Heritage Group, Inc. held a historic unveiling ceremony this week to introduce a new preservation project at the Jewish cemetery in Lubavitch, Russia.
Lubavitch is the small village where the Chabad movement was based for more than 100 years, and where some of its major rabbis and historical figures still lie at rest.
“Initiatives like these are vital because of neglect, economic and agricultural development and vandalism,” said Rabbi Isaac Schapira, the founder and Chairman of the ESJF board.
“Around a quarter of all Jewish cemeteries in Eastern Europe were already destroyed in these regions during the Nazi and Soviet periods. Most of those that have remained lie neglected principally because their communities were wiped out in the Holocaust, and are open to the elements and at risk of industrial, domestic or agricultural encroachment or destruction.”
The project in Lubavitch is the first undertaken by the ESJF in the Russian Federation after the completion of numerous fencing projects in Ukraine, Poland, Serbia, Moldova, the Czech Republic and Belarus, and was made possible through the support of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Popack of the United States. Mr. Popack’s grandfather studied at the Tomchei Temimim Talmudic College, the first of many branches of Chabad yeshivas bearing the same name today around the world.
The ESJF has preserved and built fences in more than 100 Jewish cemeteries in seven countries in Central and Eastern Europe, mostly in the towns and villages whose centuries-old Jewish communities were destroyed in the Holocaust.
Often, the Jewish cemetery is the single remaining witness to the once flourishing Jewish community life that existed for so long in these settlements and its preservation is therefore both a key religious and moral obligation for Jews as well for the maintenance of the memory of the Holocaust and its lessons for future generations.
The Lubavitch cemetery project was the first of its kind in Russia and included the preservation, fencing, lighting and construction of a new access road and bridge at the cemetery, which was founded in the early 19th century.
The ceremony was attended by numerous guests from the United States and Israel, including leading rabbis of the Chabad Lubavitch movement: Rabbi Yehuda Yeroslavsky, general secretary of the Chabad Bet Din in Israel and Rabbi of Nachlat Har Chabad in Kiryat Malachi, Rabbi Yitzchok Kogan, director of Agudas Chasidei Chabad in Russia and Mr. Eduardo Elsztain, philanthropist and activist from Argentina.
The ceremony was addressed by Mr. Popack, Rabbi Schapira and Rabbi Yochanan Gurary, chief Rabbi of Holon, Israel and Rabbi Leib Altein, editor in chief of Heichal Menachem publications.
“It is my honor and privilege to be able to facilitate this project,” said Mr. Popack. “The impact that this small town had has on the entire world is tremendous, and to me personally it means everything.”