Commission Chair meets with Orthodox Jewish Leadership in Brooklyn
UJO Hosts Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad Chair Weiss
By Jeff Mann of the Greenpoint Gazette in New York
February 28, 2014
Rabbi Niederman (behind Assemblyman Lentol) addresses Weiss and religious
leaders at UJO's Williamsburg headquarters.
In two weeks, Irish-Americans will honor their heritage as they march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. As winter turns to spring and then summer, immigrant pride will be on display nearly every week at a variety of parades and events honoring the homelands from which each group emigrated to make the US the melting pot that it is.
Recognizing that its population is comprised mostly of immigrants and their descendants – proud Americans with a strong sense of their historical cultures – the US government has taken an interest in preserving foreign sites, which are an important part of its citizens’ heritage. Tasked with achieving that goal is the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, an independent government agency, established in 1985 to restore, preserve and memorialize cultural heritage properties, including cemeteries, monuments and historic buildings.
This week, its Chair, Lesley Weiss visited North Brooklyn, joining The United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg (UJO), local elected officials and Jewish leaders to discuss the Commission’s work. Weiss, a President Obama appointee, is charged with protecting Jewish cemeteries and holy sites abroad. The Commission has a history of working with UJO to preserve Jewish cemeteries in Europe, including most recently in Kalisz, Sublice, Vinnitsiya and a mass grave in Kremmnetz.
“The preservation of Jewish cemeteries cuts across all communities,”said Rabbi David Niederman, Executive Director of UJO. “A Jewish cemetery does not lose its holiness with the passage of time or because vandals destroy the tombstones. The cemetery belongs to its inhabitants who purchased their plots to rest in peace, undisturbed, even for the most noble of purposes.”
The Holocaust annihilated much of Europe’s Jewish population, leaving no one to care for the communal properties that were an integral part of the Jewish religion. The destruction and deterioration of properties under the Nazis persisted under subsequent atheistic Communist regimes.
“Congress and the President originally established the Commission because Orthodox Jewish leaders, like those I was privileged to meet in Brooklyn, feared that cemeteries in Eastern and Central Europe would be lost in the aftermath of European Jewry’s destruction,” Weiss explained. “While the Commission’s work isn’t limited to cemeteries or to Jewish sites, addressing that original concern remains its priority mission.”
Most of the Commission’s projects are funded by private sources and some receive assistance from the government where the site is located. Notable projects include the construction of a memorial on the section of the Nazis’ Buchenwald Concentration Camp, known as the “Little Camp” and a Holocaust memorial in Brailov, Ukraine dedicated to 3,000 people massacred by the Nazis on a single day in 1942 The restoration of a pre-burial house at a historic Jewish cemetery in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in what was known as “Sniper’s Alley” during the 1992-1995 War, is nearing completion.
The late Williamsburg Congressman Stephen Solarz, who served from the 1970s to 1990s, led the Congressional efforts to establish the Commission. At last week’s meeting the community’s local elected officials, Assemblyman Joe Lentol, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Councilmember Steve Levin joined Weiss, Niederman and the other leaders in support of the Commission’s work and its efforts on behalf of the Jewish community.
“The work [Weiss] does to preserve the historical and religious sanctity of many generations is admirable,” Lentol said. “We must look back to be able to successfully look forward and protecting the holiness of a cemetery takes direct aim at honoring these sanctuaries.”
UJO of Williamsburg Hosts U.S. Commission Chair Lesley Weiss with array of Jewish Leaders
(UJO press release)
The United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, welcomed Hon. Lesley Weiss, Chair of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, along with a wide swath of the Orthodox community. Chair Weiss was appointed by President Obama a year ago to lead the Commission and is charged with protecting Jewish cemeteries and holy sites abroad.
Prominent elected officials Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, Senator Daniel Squadron and Councilman Steve Levin attended and voiced their support of the Commission's vital work and the critical efforts they are engaged in on behalf of the Jewish community.
"It was a privilege to host Chair Weiss, Commission Member Herbert Block, in Williamsburg, which is where the legislative roots of the Commission took form, when the late Congressman Stephen Solarz led the Congressional efforts to establish it. We were so gratified to be joined by a diverse part of the Jewish community from the Chasidic, Sephardic and the Mirrer Yeshiva. The preservation of Jewish cemeteries cuts across all communities and its very reassuring that we all stand united with the American government and the U.S. Commission led by Chair Weiss. A Jewish cemetery does not lose its holiness with the passage of time or because vandals destroy the tombstones. Even when there are no visible symbols that it is a cemetery, the integrity of the entire area, according to its original boundaries, has to be preserved in perpetuity. The cemetery belongs to its inhabitants who purchased their plots to rest in peace, undisturbed, even for the most noble of purposes." said Rabbi Niederman.
Commission Chair Lesley Weiss said after the meeting, “Congress and the President originally established the Commission because Orthodox Jewish leaders, like those I was privileged to meet in Brooklyn, feared that cemeteries in Eastern and Central Europe would be lost in the aftermath of European Jewry’s destruction.“While the Commission’s work isn’t limited to cemeteries or to Jewish sites, addressing that original concern remains its priority mission. The meetings I held in New York City Wednesday will help to guide the Commission’s important efforts in protecting and preserving these cemeteries, which are so important to our heritage.”
Richard Altabe, Headmaster of Yeshivat Shaare Torah commented, " It has some years since I witnessed with my own eyes the destruction of my ancestors resting place in Salonika, Greece. We must insure that we protect Jewish cemeteries abroad so that desecrations like the one I witnessed in Salonika never happen again. I thank Rabbi Niederman for hosting this meeting and encourage the Commission to continue to advocate for U.S. Heritage Abroad and seek to tie U.S. aid to securing our cemeteries."
“It was a pleasure to join my colleagues and constituents to honor the work of Commission Chair Lesley Weiss. The work she does to preserve the historical and religious sanctity of many generations is admirable. We must look back to be able to successfully look forward and protecting the holiness of a cemetery takes direct aim at honoring these sanctuaries. I also must acknowledge the work Rabbi David Niederman continues to do on behalf of the Jewish Community worldwide in preserving Jewish cemeteries. His work is so important to honoring the history of many of Williasmburg's families,” said Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol (D-North Brooklyn).
State Senator Daniel Squadron said, "I thank Chair Weiss for sitting down to discuss the important work of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad. Around the world, Jewish cemeteries and other holy sites are threatened, especially in areas in which communities have shrunk or disappeared. Working with community leaders, the Commission is an important part of preservation. I look forward to continuing to support the work being done to protect and honor those sites here and abroad."
“It was a great honor to welcome Chair Weiss to Williamsburg,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “Protecting Jewish cemeteries and holy sites is incredibly important and dear to our hearts and I was pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the issue with Chair Weiss. I want to thank Rabbi Niederman and the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg for hosting the meeting with Chair Weiss."
Commission Chair Lesley Weiss, front row center, Member Herbert Block, front third from the left, and Member Jules Fleischer, front second from the left, pose with members of Admas Kodesh after a meeting February 19th in Brooklyn, New York regarding the preservation of Jewish cemeteries in Eastern and Central Europe--a principal Commission focus. Former Commission Member Rabbi Edgar Gluck is in the last seat on the right.
Standing from left to right are: Chaim Appel, a lawyer who helps restore cemeteries in Europe; Wolf Sender, a Boro Park Jewish activist; Shimon Weinberger, Director of Admas Kodesh, who also represented Satmar Institutions; Yitzchok Reichberg, who helps restore cemeteries in Galicia, Poland; Gary Schlesinger, Executive Board Chairman, UJCare/Admas Kodesh; Leon Goldenberg, Executive Board Chair, Flatbush JCC; David Moskowitz, founder of Jewish Day Schools in Budapest, Hungary; Josh Mehlman, Executive Director, Flatbush JCC; Moshe Vizel, who works on government relations for UJCare/Admas Kodesh; Ezra Friedlander, President of the Friedlander Group; Rabbi Yechiel Landau, Congregation Veretzky and the Flatbush JCC; and Naftali Reiner, who represented the Bobov Institutions. Sitting far left is David Singer, who helps restore cemeteries in Poland. Sitting second from right is Rabbi Gershon Tennenbaum, Director, Agudas Harabonim.
Commission Chair Lesley Weiss (right facing camera) and Member Herbert Block (center
facing camera) meet with personnel of the Heritage Foundation for the Preservation of
Jewish Cemeteries, also known as Avoyseinu, February 19th in Brooklyn, New York. The
Foundation fences and restores Jewish cemeteries in Eastern and Central Europe. The
Commission was established to help such efforts by identifying burial places and other
sites in the region associated with the heritage of Americans, obtaining assurances from
foreign governments that these sites will be protected and preserved, and encouraging and
facilitating site preservation projects.
Commission Chair Lesley Weiss speaks to Orthodox Jewish leaders and local elected
officials at a meeting organized by the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and
North Brooklyn in Brooklyn, NY February 19th. Commission Member Herbert Block is
on her right.
Commission Chair Lesley Weiss was in Brooklyn, New York February 19th to meet with Jewish
leaders in the community that prompted the Congress to establish the Commission. She is shown
here speaking at the first of the meetings, which was held at the office of the Ohel childrens home
and family services organization. Commission Member Jules Fleischer is the second person seated
Chairwoman Weiss with Vice President Joe Biden at an event marking
the 100th centennial of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Commission Chair Lesley Weiss (at head of table on right) November 20th discussed local collaboration
in the Holocaust with diplomats from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Uzbekistan,
Azerbaijan, and the nation of Georgia, and scholars at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Commission Chair Lesley Weiss spoke October 16th at an international
conference on combatting anti-Semitism in Kiev, Ukraine. It was sponsored
by the Ukrainian Jewish Committee and the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe, an organization of the governments of 57 nations.
Commission Chair Lesley Weiss joined Vice President Joe Biden and
Dr. Jill Biden at a reception for Jewish leaders at the Vice President's
residence September 24th.
Commission Chair Lesley Weiss met with the Foreign
Minister of Belarus, H.E. Vladimir Makei, on September
25th in New York City.
Commission Chair Lesley Weiss with Former Chairman (2001-13)
Commission Chair Lesley Weiss [center] and Member Michael Levy [right] July 8th
presented the Commission's recent report on Protestant Historic Monuments and Sites
in Bulgaria to Bulgarian Ambassador Elena Poptodorova [left].
and current Member Warren Miller [center] and Former Chairman
Michael Lewan (1994-2001) [right] at a Commission lunch
honoring Miller June 19th.
Commission Chair Lesley Weiss speaks to the Fourth International Conference of the Global Forum for
Combatting Anti-Semitism May 30th in Jerusalem. She co-chaired the Conference's Anti-Semitism
in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe Working Group.
President Names Weiss to Chair America’s Heritage Abroad Commission
President Obama January 25th designated Lesley L. Weiss to Chair the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. He appointed her to be a Commission Member in April 2011.
She succeeds Warren L. Miller, who was designated Chairman by President Bush in 2001.
Weiss is, and will remain, Director of Community Services and Cultural Affairs of NCSJ, a non-governmental organization that advocates on behalf of Jews in the former Soviet Union.
The Commission was established by law to identify and report on cemeteries, monuments, and historic buildings in Eastern and Central Europe associated with Americans and to obtain assurances from foreign governments that these properties will be preserved. It also implements and encourages private and foreign-funded site restoration and memorialization projects.
The law establishing the Commission was enacted in 1986 in response to the concern of American Orthodox Jews that cemeteries in the region were being lost because the Holocaust left few Jews there to care for the burial places and Community Party dictatorships were unsympathetic. The Commission’s mandate, however, is not limited to Jewish-related sites or to burial places.
At NCSJ, Weiss: coordinates democracy initiatives, community education and outreach efforts; promotes partnerships between Jewish communities in the United States and the former Soviet Union; and monitors foreign government compliance in the areas of free emigration and religious and cultural rights.
In 2005, Weiss served as a Public Advisor to the U.S. Delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Conference on Anti-Semitism and Intolerance and, in 2007, to the follow-up Conference on Combating Discrimination and Promoting Mutual Respect and Understanding.