Photo Credit: courtesy of the ESJF

The European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative (ESJF) has just completed the restoration and fencing of the historic Jewish cemetery of Buchach in the Ternopil region of Western Ukraine.

This large Jewish cemetery has around 2,000 existing gravestones stretching back to the 1590s, one of the largest number of preserved stones anywhere in Ukraine. Spread across some three hectares, it is the largest fencing project undertaken by the ESJF to date.

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The Buchach Jewish community is famous for its natives of the late 19th – early 20th century. Among them are Shmuel Yosef Agnon, the Nobel Literature laureate, born in Buchach in 1887, who spent his childhood there and referred to his hometown extensively in his writings; Emanuel Ringelblum, the prominent Jewish historian and a chronicler of the Warsaw ghetto, born in Buchach in 1900; and the famous Austrian Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, born in Buchach in 1908. Both of Sigmund Freud’s parents also came from Buchach.

Since its foundation in 2015, the ESJF has fenced Jewish cemeteries in seven Central and Eastern European countries, most notably in the towns and villages where Jewish communities were wiped out in the Shoah, where thousands of sites still lying neglected across Eastern Europe with no Jewish communities there to look after them.

Fencing at Buchach represents the 107th such completed project by the ESJF, which expects to complete at least a dozen more sites by the end of 2018. A German-based international non-profit foundation, the ESJF has received annual funding from the government of the Federal Republic of Germany since 2015.

“The Buchach cemetery project is another vital part of our work to ensure and preserve the heritage of the Jewish people, especially where there is no longer a Jewish community,” said Rabbi Isaac Schapira, Chairman of the ESJF Board. “This community is 500 years old and had many great figures whose work and lives in the religious, cultural and political realms still affect us today.

“Preserving this history creates a vital link to our past which in turn makes us more aware of the present and shapes our future. For us as Jews, these weren’t figures that lived centuries ago but lives who touch us daily, so we owe our ancestors this mark of respect by ensuring their final resting places are restored and preserved.”

Formerly part of Poland before WWII and prior to that in the historic region of Eastern Galicia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Jews in Buchach are mentioned in documents from 1500. The community grew notably in the 18th century and in the 19th century, a small Hassidic court was established in Buchach, led by the town’s rabbi, Avraham David Worman, a disciple of Moshe Leib of Sasov.

“Due to negligence, neglect and antisemitism, many of these cemeteries were beginning to disappear completely so their preservation and fencing that we were able to achieve was almost like a last minute rescue,” said Philip Carmel, CEO of the ESJF.

“While also sending an important message to the Jewish people, these projects informs the local populations that there were significant Jewish communities in these areas and hopefully helps create a sustainable link to a Jewish past across Europe.”

‘The Buchach fencing comes in the same week as completion of fencing by the ESJF in the nearby town of Zbarazh, both of which were key centers of Jewish community life in Eastern Europe for hundreds of years before the Shoah. These large projects also received personal financial support for their fencing from Rabbi Schapira.’

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.