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October 21, 2014 / 27 Tishri, 5775
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My Machberes

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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