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My Machberes

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Cemetery Restoration:
The Jewish Press At The Forefront

With the contributions of Torah Editor (and rav of Khal Bnei Matisyahu) Rabbi Yaakov Klass and the editorial leadership of Senior Editor Jason Maoz, The Jewish Press and this column have been privileged to assist in the resolution of cemetery preservation efforts abroad.

We are particularly proud to have been of assistance in the cemetery preservation and restoration impasse deliberations in Romania and Spain that were favorably moved ahead and successfully resolved. The following press release from the Admas Kodesh organization reflects the positive results of the many efforts invested:

Admas Kodesh Resolution on Jewish Cemeteries
Ratified by the Council of Europe

At the initiative of Admas Kodesh, the Standing Committee of the Council of Europe has unanimously adopted a landmark resolution on the protection of Jewish cemeteries at its meeting in Tirana, Albania, on May 25, 2012.

This milestone has been reached after a seven-year campaign of intense lobbying at this major European body based in Strasbourg, representing 47 European member states and composed of 636 parliamentarians.

Brooklyn-based Admas Kodeshis the American arm of the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe, also known as C.P.J.C.E., has extensive legal and political experience in the fields of human rights, freedom of religion, protection and preservation of cultural heritage, and education. This leadership has been recognized in the Council’s resolution.

The initiative for this important resolution, which will hopefully have a major effect on the protection of hundreds of thousands of Jewish graves in Europe, came from Rabbi Abraham Ginsburg, secretary general of the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe. Having actively been involved in campaigns to protect Jewish cemeteries and mass graves in a number of Eastern and Western European towns, Rabbi Abraham Ginsburg realized that recognition of the importance of protecting Jewish cemeteries must be addressed within a European political and legal framework.

With the active support of the revered Rosh Yeshiva and President of the C.P.J.C.E., Rabbi Elyakim Schlesinger, and Rabbi Simcha Bunim Ehrenfeld, Mattersdorfer Rov and leading member of the American Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah, and Rabbi Yitzchok Zekel Pollak, Dayan of Machsike Hadass Kehila of Antwerp, together with Rabbi Chaim David Zweibel and David Moskowitz of New York, Mr. Nathan Rothschild of Zurich, and Professor Zvi Loonstein of Amsterdam, the long slow bureaucratic processes of Council of Europe were gradually set into motion, leading to this significant outcome.

Raising awareness of the particular Jewish sanctity of all Jewish burial sites including Jewish mass graves made a tremendous Kiddush Hashem throughout the Council’s different committees involved.

Admas Kodesh praises the open-mindedness of Council delegates who were presented for the first time with a comprehensive explanation of the Jewish laws pertaining to burial sites. They truly marveled at the beauty of the halacha.

The necessity of consulting with world-recognized Rabbonim on questions relating to Jewish burial sites at risk was emphasized, and C.P.J.C.E. compiled a special treatise on “The Sacred Obligation of Burial and Life After Death in Jewish Belief,” containing explanatory notes on this subject written by Rabbi Schlesinger, revered Rosh Yeshiva Horomo in London, and head of the CPJCE’s Rabbinical Board. The role and dedication of the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe has been highlighted in the resolution and its leadership in this field has been recognized.

The massive legal research involved in this campaign was conducted by Professor Christians, expert in religious freedom at Louvain-La-Neuve University, who also compiled, at the request of Admas Kodesh, a major study on “Protection and Preservation of Jewish cemeteries and Mass graves in European and national law.”

Meeting with the consul general of Romania.

The resolution, based on these major essays, declares: “The Assembly asserts that right of freedom of religion guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights upholds the right of the deceased to rest in peace in accordance with their religious belief and the responsibility to protect human dignity in a broader sense, by ensuring that deceased persons are preserved in their place of burial in a manner compatible with their religious practice.”

The explanatory memorandum of the resolution has been built on a detailed report written by C.P.J.C.E. experts. It contains a description of Jewish burial sites, the threats they face, consequences of desecration, case studies, examples of difficult cases and good practices for protection of Jewish burial places.

The resolution recalls the historical contribution made by Jewish communities to creating the social, cultural and economic fabric of Europe and underlines the importance of preserving the religious, historical and cultural identity of Jewish communities.

The resolution recognizes Jewish cemeteries and mass graves as part of the European cultural heritage, to be protected under the Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society (the Faro Convention 2005), which establishes an important link between the protection of fundamental rights and heritage protection and affirms a “common European responsibility” towards cultural heritage. It goes on to emphasize the Jewish people’s tragic history and the extermination, exodus or resettlement of many local communities, with traces of cemeteries in towns and villages that have lost their Jewish populations and where their preservation and protection are under constant threat.

The Assembly notes that damage suffered by Jewish burial sites in Europe is not confined to desecration, but is very often a result of inadequate management, lack of funding or infringements of protective measures, inadequate town planning or misuse of property. It also notes that the legal status of Jewish burial sites is complex, given the variety of legal situations in which both these sites and Jewish communities find themselves in different European countries. In many cases, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, the legal status of Jewish cemeteries has been disregarded or overlooked following changes in the political systems.

But positive developments are also noted in the resolution – joint efforts to protect Jewish graves undertaken by local and international Jewish and non-Jewish organizations in cooperation with local authorities throughout Europe, with a new European Jewish Heritage Route established under the auspices of the Council of Europe Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes.

The Assembly therefore recommends that the member states of the Council of Europe ratify and implement the Faro Convention, and join the Council of Europe Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes and, when appropriate, its new European Jewish Heritage Route.

It also recommends that member states should review legal frameworks, so that town planning and local development projects avoid violation of Jewish burial sites in accordance with Jewish cultural and religious values and traditions, in partnerships with relevant local authorities and interested Jewish organizations such as the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe (CPJCE) and Admas Kodesh.

It proposes the establishment of programs for locating Jewish burial sites using non-invasive (and halachically approved) technical devices (e.g. ground penetrating radar), facilitating technical investigations and identification and establishing up-to-date libraries of the sites, with maps, photographs and testimonies, while at the same time promoting knowledge of local history and of Jewish local cultural heritage.

With the passing of time there is a growing, urgent need to raise the awareness of local communities to preserve the sites in danger of desecration, damage or disappearance, and the resolution suggests initiating pilot projects involving schools and local associations in building protective walls, taking part in cemetery maintenance, consulting local archives, “adopting” cemeteries, etc.

The common situation, in which the sympathy of national government leaders and diplomats and their undertakings made to international Jewish representatives to protect Jewish graves are ignored by the local authorities, is also addressed. The Assembly invites the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe to take account of this resolution and to promote cooperation between local and regional authorities in this respect. While it does not in itself offer financial support for Jewish cemetery preservation, the Assembly invites the European Union “To cooperate with the Council of Europe to support the effective implementation of the Faro Convention and to develop guidance and financial incentives for the protection and preservation of Jewish heritage sites in the framework of the Council of Europe Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes.”

Admas Kodesh expresses its thanks to all those responsible for reaching this important step, in particular to Belgian deputy and rapporteur Mr. Piet De Bruyn, to Hungarian deputy Mr. Mátyás Eörsi for initiating the motion for a recommendation, to Mr. Samuel Bamberger and to Spanish deputy Mrs. Blanca Fernandez-Capel Baños, who presented the outline report to the Committee.

The Council’s resolution sets a precedent for the development of further important projects by the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe and Admas Kodesh.

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