It's hard to believe but our year of on the ground work in Poland is complete!
We had a great year of work that had us crisscrossing the country. Our president, Dr. Steven Reece, attended the majority of the projects and he collected many miles of road, rail, and sky! We're grateful for the health and safety of everyone who participated in each project. We met new friends and were reacquainted with many old friends. Volunteers came from all over... the US, Poland, France, Canada, and Israel to name a few locations.
We are happy to give you a quick review of each of our projects. Thanks to everyone who donated to The Matzevah Foundation (TMF) over the past year! We could not have done any of this work without you.
Przysucha (April 30-May 5)
We returned to Przysucha for a second year in a row, partnering with the University of Szczecin, Staffordshire University, the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, The European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative and scholars from the Fulbright Program. Volunteers from the Polish Council of Christians and Jews, and about 25 high students and their teachers also joined in the project during the week.
The team of volunteers started the week off with an orientation from Filip Szczepanski from the Rabbinical Commission. Once equipped, they spent the week trimming back overgrowth, picking up trash, and general maintenance all around the cemetery. The team from Staffordshire University conducted a non-invasive study of the cemetery. One of their discoveries was finding the foundation of the original wall around the cemetery.
The project concluded with a ceremony attended by local residents, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Archbishop Grzegorz Ryś, and Maciej Biskup. The ceremony recognized the cemetery’s inclusion in the program, „Oznakowanie cmentarzy żydowskich w Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej” ("Marking of Jewish cemeteries in the Republic of Poland"), and honored the 100 Jewish men who were murdered in the Przysucha Cemetery during World War II.
Krzepice (June 6 and 7)
Thanks to some flexibility in schedules, Steven Reece was able to make his yearly journey to Krzepice to join local high school students and their teacher, Jolanta Drab, as they conducted their annual clearing of the Jewish cemetery. Several other local volunteers joined in the work and over the course of two days, close to 80 people attended!
Częstochowa (June 12-14)
It was a joy to join our friend Alon Goldman of the World Society of Częstochowa Jews and Their Descendants as well as volunteers from Fundacja Adulam and Hillel students from Dartmouth University in the U.S. in Częstochowa. We also had Rachael Romero and her sister, Autumn, join us as volunteers with The Matzevah Foundation. Rachael has been working with TMF since 2016! The focus during our time together was clearing many trees that had fallen during the year throughout the cemetery as well as general vegetation cleaning.
A highlight of the project was finding several matzevot (headstones) that had been hidden for years due to the heavy growth of brush.
Lublin I (June 26-30)
For the third year, TMF partnered with JewishGen Future Scholars and Friends of Jewish Heritage in Poland to bring university students to Poland. The students spent several days touring the country and visiting many of the key Jewish cultural sites and meeting Polish stewards who care for and preserve Jewish heritage and memory. They then joined us in collaborating with the Warsaw Jewish Community in the Old Lublin Jewish Cemetery and the Wieniawa Jewish Cemetery along with volunteers from Studnia Pamięci.
Lublin II (July 17-19)
We made a second visit to the Lublin area in July along with our partners Friends of Jewish Heritage in Poland and JewishGen. This year, JewishGen created the "Neshama" Cemetery Project. Neshama means “soul” and through this project, the goal was to connect participants to the importance of caring for Jewish cemeteries. Volunteers were from the U.S., Canada, and France and they were a fun, hard-working group!
They worked in the New Jewish Cemetery in Lublin by clearing brush away from matzevot and memorials. We’re grateful for our friends from Studnia Pamięci who joined us again for the week of work.
Oświęcim (August 7-11)
Our final project for 2023 was in Oświęcim, a much beloved city to TMF. In fact, this marked our 10th year of work here! The team from TMF and volunteers from two churches in Middle Tennessee, Brentwood Baptist and the Church at West Franklin, celebrated this milestone with our good friends at the Auschwitz Jewish Center. There was cake, coffee, and memories shared of the good work we’ve done together.
The volunteers spent three days working in the cemetery. Despite some rainy weather, the team accomplished a lot! A highlight of the work was having several students join us for two days. They were participating in the Summer Camp hosted by the International Youth Center and put on by Action Reconciliation in Germany. It was fun to have some of our local friends from Oświęcim come out to lend a helping hand.
We also got to see the start of a special project in the cemetery by The Auschwitz Jewish Center. They are highlighting several matzevot fragments on the outside wall of a bunker that’s in the cemetery. It’s a wonderful way to highlight these pieces and to honor the lives they represent.