The Commission has begun an ambitious multi-year project to restore the historic Jewish cemetery in Berdichev, Ukraine. The cemetery is one of the most important in Ukraine, in part due to the artistic quality of its gravestones. Approximately 5,000 stones are still on the site, some dating from as early as the 18th century.
Beginning in the 18th century, Berdichev was a center of the Hasidic movement, which transformed Jewish religious practice in much of Eastern Europe. Many of Hasidism’s revered leaders are buried here. Among the most famous is Rabbi Levi Isaac, who died in 1809.
The Jewish population of Berdichev peaked at nearly 50,000 in the mid-19th century. It declined to 14,000 in 1990, and is less than 800 today. This has left the community unable to preserve the enormous cemetery.
Most of the cemetery is walled in, but one of the most serious problems is erosion caused by private development along the unfenced eastern edge of the cemetery, where the construction of garages has aroused concern from Jews around the world.
The Commission obtained a grant of $10,000 for restoration of the cemetery from a private foundation.
Of the $10,000 grant half will be used to clear away vegetation from part of the site. Almost the entire cemetery is heavily overgrown with trees and shrubs making most of it inaccessible to visitors. New pathways will also be created to allow a preliminary mapping of the site, access to visitors, and regular maintenance. Over time, as more trees and bushes are removed, mapping can be completed in detail, including documentation and conservation of the thousands of gravestones.
The other $5,000 will be used to conduct additional legal research to correctly ascertain the historic boundaries of the cemetery. It is claimed by many former and present Berdichev residents that the cemetery extends considerably beyond the boundaries recognized by the municipality and possibly comprises the area on which the construction of garages continues. Once the legal boundaries are determined, the cemetery can be demarcated and fully fenced.
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