05 June 2008

Ukraine: Dartmouth students restore cemeteries

Dartmouth College students are heading to Stojanov, Ukraine to restore its Jewish cemetery during June 9-19.

Since 2002, the school's annual Project Preservation has restored cemeteries in Belarus (2002 Sopotskin, 2003 Indura, 2004 Kamenka, 2005 Lunna), Ukraine (2006 Druhzkapol and this year), and Lithuania (2007 Yurburg)

There's also a link to a podcast on the project with Rabbi Edward Boraz.

Established in 2002, Project Preservation is a Tucker Foundation cross cultural education and service project. It is organized and coordinated by Boraz, who explains that these European shtetlach (shtetls) were once mainly Jewish and now have no Jewish residents. Without people to care for them, they are neglected and overgrown.

Stojanov is the birthplace and former home of author Leon Wells, who appears to be the sole survivor from that town, who chronicled his life in the town and throughout the Holocaust in his books, Janowska Road (Macmillan Company 1963 and Halo Pr 1999) and Shattered Faith (University Press of Kentucky 1995).

Boraz says this year's trip is dedicated to Wells' work. The cemetery has no headstones because they were used for flooring for the collective farms in the Soviet era.

Before traveling, students design and implement a 10 week- week course focusing on understanding genocide, an emphasis on the Nazi period, impact on Europe and the history of the village they will be visiting that year. Following the course, students first visit Auschwitz, and then travels to the village to work on the cemetery. Usually assisted by villagers, the group cuts the vegetation, rights headstones, erects fences and holds a rededication ceremony.

"I am deeply moved that each year, a diverse group of students of different faith traditions and ethnicities are committed to and willing to confront first hand the legacy of one of the most tragic events in the history of western civilization, the genocide of the Jewish people of Europe," says Rabbi Boraz. "My own humanity and my own rabbinate have been transformed in many ways because of the nature of the encounters I have with students and with this program."

Some students have traveled to more than one town.

Boraz says that they receive calls to visit specific villages to work on the cemeteries after these years of visits. Sometimes requests come from people whose ancestors once lived there, and sometimes from the people now living in the town who want to preserve their history. "I hope we continue this work, because unfortunately, there is no shortage of Jewish cemeteries that need our help," he says.

Read more - including student comments and the podcast link - here.

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