A Look Back at the First 5 Years of The Matzevah Foundation
“While living and working among Poles, I faced a choice one day in 2004. Hannah, a woman of Jewish descent, urged me to visit the Jewish cemetery in Otwock. I realized the uniqueness of her request; it was a “once in a lifetime” moment. However, I did not know what her request meant.
I wanted to find out why a Jewish cemetery was important to Hannah. My search for understanding led me to the question: What should be the Christian response to the Shoah?
I began researching Jewish cemeteries and considering what it would look like if I began caring for and restoring one Jewish cemetery. Why? My purpose was simply to open dialogue and pursue reconciliation with the Jewish community. In 2005, I began to lead Baptist volunteers to care for and restore the Otwock Jewish cemetery. By the end of 2008, Baptist volunteers had worked in the Warsaw Jewish cemetery in Okopowa and in the Jewish cemeteries of Pruszkow and Sochaczew.
In 2010, my work eventually led to the establishment of The Matzevah Foundation, Inc. with a group of friends. Five years have now passed and our work continues to grow. Nonetheless, we have not lost sight of why we exist. Our mission is to care for and restore the Jewish cemeteries of Poland and to educate the public about the Shoah. Our mission is carried out by remembering, restoring and reconciling. Everything that we do is framed by “acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly” before G-d (Micah 6:8).
We continue to cooperate with the Rabbinical Commission for Matters of Cemeteries in Poland. We partner with the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, the Foundation for the Documentation of Jewish Cemeteries, and Fundacja Zapomniane (Foundation of the Forgotten).
Since 2012, we have worked in the Jewish cemeteries of Zambrów, Oświęcim, Krzepice, and Wolbrom. Each year our work has been broadened and deepened. In 2016 we will have Jewish cemetery restoration projects in Markuszów, Nasielsk, Radecznica, Oświęcim, and Krzepice.
We have learned that remembering leads to restoration – not just the restoration of physical places but the restoration of relationships. Restoration is a process. We think rather optimistically that the process of restoration will lead to the possibility of reconciliation in the future. In the meantime, for us, remembering leads us to action.
As we end our fifth year of service, we continue to restore Jewish cemeteries in Poland. We are learning about the process of restoration and the work of reconciliation. To this end, we work towards changing perspectives of Christians and Jews concerning each other. It is our desire moving forward that we will be able to engage both Jew and Christian in meaningful interaction as we care for and restore the Jewish cemeteries of Poland.” Steven R. Reece, President, The Matzevah Foundation