Mazel tov to Lesley L. Weiss, whom President Obama has appointed as the new Chair of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. She succeeds Warren L. Miller, who steps down after 12 years in the post: Miller was designated Chairman by President Bush in 2001.
Weiss is, and will remain, Director of Community Services and Cultural Affairs of NCSJ, a non-governmental organization that advocates on behalf of Jews in the former Soviet Union.
Over the years, and particularly in the 1990s, the Commission, an independent agency of the U.S. government, has played an important role in the documentation and recognition of Jewish heritage sites in post-Communist Europe. It produced an extremely valuable set of surveys of Jewish sites in a number of countries — among them Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Ukraine, Moldova, Bosnia, Bulgaria. In many cases these were, and remain, the most comprehensive, publicly accessible inventories of such sites.
The Commission was established by law to identify and report on cemeteries, monuments, and historic buildings in Eastern and Central Europe associated with Americans and to obtain assurances from foreign governments that these properties will be preserved. It also implements and encourages private and foreign-funded site restoration and memorialization projects.
The law establishing the Commission was enacted in 1986 in response to the concern of American Orthodox Jews that cemeteries in the region were being lost because the Holocaust left few Jews there to care for the burial places and Community Party dictatorships were unsympathetic. The Commission’s mandate, however, is not limited to Jewish-related sites or to burial places.
At NCSJ, Weiss: coordinates democracy initiatives, community education and outreach efforts; promotes partnerships between Jewish communities in the United States and the former Soviet Union; and monitors foreign government compliance in the areas of free emigration and religious and cultural rights.
In 2005, Weiss served as a Public Advisor to the U.S. Delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Conference on Anti-Semitism and Intolerance and, in 2007, to the follow-up Conference on Combating Discrimination and Promoting Mutual Respect and Understanding.