The Heritage Foundation for Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries (HFPJC), also known as Avoyseinu, is a non-profit organization committed to assisting Jews in restoring their ancestral cemeteries in Eastern Europe.
The Holocaust had left the vast majority of European shtetlach (towns) virtually bereft of a Jewish presence. After decades of this void – and lack of awareness among the western Jewish world – hundreds of cemeteries have tragically been desecrated or compromised for agricultural, commercial, or private use. Those that did remain relatively intact are suffering from neglect and decay, a situation unacceptable by Jewish law; honoring the dignity of the deceased has always been among the primary duties of Jewish communities.
Established in 2002 as a corporation recognized by the IRS under Section 501 (c)(3), the HFPJC has effected the complete restoration numerous abandoned Jewish cemeteries throughout Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, western Ukraine and some parts of Poland.
The first step in every project is sending down our professional surveyors to evaluate the site and obtain the necessary permits and surveys, simultaneously establishing friendly relations with the localities to ensure their future cooperation. The cemetery status report, along with digital photos, is then provided to the descendant(s), after which other concerned descendants are notified, forming an ad-hoc committee to help raise the funds.
The actual operation, though varying somewhat from project to project, generally entails enclosing the cemetery with a durable fence, cleaning and clearing the grounds of the overgrowth and wild vegetation, and restoring and up-righting every gravestone. All the stones are then photographed individually for future indexing.
The final, though equally important, phase is ensuring the long-term maintenance of the restored cemetery. A contract is signed between the HFPJC and a responsible local, who, for an annual fee, is entrusted with the protection and upkeep of the cemetery. HFPJC representatives visit these cemeteries regularly to verify that the terms of the agreement are kept.
Lack of effective intervention will likely result in the loss of these last remnants of our European heritage. The HFPJC-Avoyseinu readily provides non-profit assistance, be it technical, advisory, legal, and otherwise, in rescuing, restoring, and preserving these holy sites. The HFPJC also serves as a reuniting force and liaison between Jews worldwide in restoring their common ancestral gravesites.