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Berdichev Jewish Cemetery Restoration, Ukraine

The Commission has worked to help 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 1700s, Berdichev was a center of the Hasidic movement, which transformed Jewish religious practice in much of Eastern Europe. Many of Hasidism’s 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. Fourteen thousand in 1990, and it was less than 800 a decade ago. 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 for restoration of the cemetery from a private foundation.

Half of the grant was used to clear away vegetation. New pathways were also 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 of gravestones.

The other half of the grant was to conduct research on 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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