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.
Since its founding in year 2002, the HFPJC has worked tirelessly to reverse this appalling situation and has effected the complete restoration in hundreds of abandoned Jewish cemeteries, thus saving approximately 100,000 gravesites from disgrace.
The first step in every restoration project is sending down our professional surveyors to evaluate the site and report the conditions of the cemetery borders, wall, grounds and matzevos (gravestones), simultaneously establishing friendly relations with the localities to ensure their future cooperation. The cemetery’s assessment 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 for the necessary restoration measures. Thus, the HFPJC also serves as a central address and liaison between Jews worldwide intent on restoring their common ancestral gravesites.
The HFPJC then sets out to tackle the preparatory phase of the project, which includes conducting professional surveys to mark the property, obtaining permits through the relevant departments and offices, negotiating with neighbors and locals regarding any disputes over the cemetery parcel, and seeking out the most economical quote for the work involved.
The actual operation, though varying somewhat from project to project, generally entails enclosing the cemetery with a durable wall, clearing the grounds of the overgrowth, and restoring and up-righting every gravestone. All the stones are then photographed individually for future indexing.
The final, though crucial, 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," says Jacob Gutman, CEO of the HFPJC. "We are in a race against time; with each passing year, borders shift and laws are transformed, threatening those abandoned lots." The HFPJC’s protocol of securing and marking the property with a sturdy wall, re-erecting the tombstones, and keeping the grounds clean, provides an excellent deterrent against any plans to privatize or desecrate these sacred sites.
The HFPJC team is prepared to service all your cemetery-related needs.