The history of Jewish communities across Central and Eastern Europe is rich and varied, stretching back millennia. In a few short years, the Holocaust brought the long history of thousands of these communities to a cruel, abrupt end. Without their owners to safeguard and preserve them, many of these Jewish cemeteries have fallen into disrepair, and after 80 years of vandalism and neglect, many are at risk of disappearing entirely, bringing the last physical testament to these ancient communities with them.
The ESJF European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative is a German-based non-profit established in 2015 by Rabbi Isaac Schapira with the core objective of protecting and preserving Jewish cemeteries across Europe through the accurate delineation of cemetery boundaries and the construction of walls and locking gates.
What happens if we don’t protect European Jewish cemeteries?
We lose thousands of years of European heritage!
Thanks to consecutive grants from the Federal Republic of Germany since 2015 as well as private donations, the ESJF has managed to fence over 250 Jewish cemeteries across Europe. The ESJF has also received funding from the European Union (EU) since 2018, which has been used to conduct mass surveys using cutting edge drone technology, produce publications and conduct educational outreach.
In order to fulfil our mission, the initiative has developed a strong and sustainable administrative and research structure and created standardised models for engineering, halachic methodology and cost effectiveness, which has contributed to the success and scaling of our work across Europe.
There are around 10,000 known Jewish cemetery sites across the 46 member states of the Council of Europe. Roughly three quarters of these are located in Central and Eastern Europe, in what we have termed “designated areas for priority work”, which can be understood as all the members of the former Soviet bloc, as well as South-Eastern Europe. The ESJF’s mission is therefore not only urgent but vast.
The initial priority for this preservation work is the construction of walls with locking gates around the cemetery sites, as well as general clearance and cleaning. It is not within the remit of this project to renovate or replace gravestones.