The Matzevah Foundation Summer Update
Updated: Sep 13, 2020
It’s a little sad that we here at The Matzevah Foundation are congratulating ourselves for making it through the summer. There were moments when the sadness over not being in Poland was so great that we wondered how we’d push through. Whenever one of us had a moment of sadness, we’d shoot out a text to the group and we’d then proceed to commiserate together.
One of my low moments occurred earlier in the summer. I went out for an early morning walk in my neighborhood. I rounded a corner just as some landscapers started up their weed eaters, ready to tackle someone’s yard. All of a sudden I was not in Nashville on a summer morning but in Poland. The sound of the engine, the smell of the gasoline, and the early morning humidity transported me to the early mornings we have on a cemetery restoration project. I quickly shot off a text to our group and invited them into my moment of longing for Poland. The fun memories and silly jokes that were shared helped the feeling of sadness turn into joy as I was able to think on Polish summers with joy and not the sadness of missing it this year.
I’ve also tried to compensate by attempting to make pierogi. After having flour and dough all over my kitchen, I have decided to leave the pierogi making up to the Polish chefs and mamas who know how to do it with expert precision.
As we head into the fall, I will continue to long for the summer days spent working with new and old friends in Jewish cemeteries and stolling the cobblestone streets of small Polish towns in the evening.
Director of Communications
How we’ve been spending Summer 2020
So, what have we been up to over the summer? Quite a bit actually!
We successfully executed our first “Get to Know TMF” Zoom chat that was broadcasted live on Facebook. TMF president Steven Reece joined two other board members, Kevin Little and Rachel McRae, to talk about our work in Poland. We had people watching from all over the world! Many viewers sent in questions during the video or shared about special places in Poland that are dear to them and their families. It was such a great night.
If you missed our conversation, you can check it outby visiting our YouTube channel. We hope to have more videos and interviews like this in the future so please stay tuned!
TMF Board Member Przemek Panisuik joined our partners at Fundacja Zapomniane and traveled to the Lublin area. There they met a locan man who was fairly insistent about showing them a mass grave. They used ground penetrating radar to confirm the spot and then placed a wooden matzevot.
The elderly gentleman who led them there was very grateful and said many times, “my task is done.” It was evident to the team that he had this need to share the location of the grave for a long time and saw the importance of people remembering it. They told the gentleman that the picture and memory of the place will be published on the internet soon so it will be remembered forever. That gave the man great comfort.
This was an extraordinary day! A first of its kind virtual conference was held entitled Restoring Jewish Cemeteries of Poland: The Task Ahead. Steven Reece was a presenter and co-organizer of the event. People who are engaged in Jewish preservation work in Poland participated in the online event where they got to hear from many speakers about the variety of work going on to save Jewish cemeteries and the great needs that remain.
Here’s a look at a portion of the press release:
Restoring the Hidden Past: A Teleconference
Warsaw, Poland-August 19, 2020-An ad hoc and dedicated group of Jewish and Non-Jewish organizations and individuals held a first of its kind internet-based teleconference yesterday for restoring Jewish cemeteries in Poland. Up to 70 individuals, from Israel, Poland, and the U.S., participated in the conference addressing the state of these -Polish-Jewish cemeteries.
The fourteen conference speakers included the Chief Rabbi of Poland, a Roman Catholic Archbishop, a Baptist minister, local and national Polish governmental officials, U.S. based Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, local restoration practitioners, and diaspora descendant activists.
The impetus for the conference grew out of the concern that some stakeholders have expressed. Though some progress has been made, according to Bill Brostoff, a Polish-Jewish descendant, "the restoration of these Polish-Jewish cemeteries is not progressing nearly fast enough to preclude irretrievable losses." Likewise, Brostoff proposed that "the descendants in the diaspora must move from focusing on individual cemeteries to the broader perspective. This meeting is an ideal catalyst for us to work with the existing officials synergistically."
Dan Oren, President of The Friends of Jewish Heritage in Poland, affirmed that he "is grateful to bring energy and support from Jews and non-Jews worldwide dedicated to working in partnership with the people of Poland to preserve the Jewish heritage in Poland that still lives in its many Jewish cemeteries." Additionally, Steven D. Reece, CEO of The Matzevah Foundation and an ordained Baptist minister, described the conference as "groundbreaking and innovative, bringing together experience and expertise to address the complex issue of long-term Jewish heritage preservation in Poland."
Piotr Puchta, CEO of FODZ, affirmed that "the Jewish cultural heritage forms an integral part of the shared cultural heritage in Poland, and therefore, requires a common responsibility and joint efforts to preserve it." Similarly, he stated, "By ensuring the survival of Jewish historic sites, collective memory would also be preserved."
The Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, added, "We've gone from three million Jews to tens of thousands in Poland. We need your help."
Steven Reece sums up the importance of this event and of the work that is already bearing fruit from it:
No one person or group can do what it takes to care for and preserve the Jewish heritage that these sacred sites represent. We need help, and we need to work together. The teleconference aimed to begin linking like-minded individuals, groups, and governmental leaders together to do precisely that. We have taken a small step in that direction. We still have much more to do in securing the necessary resources and develop a coalition to move things forward. We see a new horizon of opportunities, and we are diligently working to that end.