A long-abandoned 300-year-old Jewish cemetery, the largest in the Netherlands, will be open to the public one Sunday a month into November, thanks to restoration efforts by local Jewish and Moroccan young people.
JTA quotes Marcel Mock, the spokesperson for the Association for the Restoration of the Zeeburg Cemetery, as saying that the opening was made possible by the efforts of several dozen Jewish and Moroccan youths who have volunteered with the association since 2011 to clean up the area. The first open Sunday was March 3.
Located at the edge of Amsterdam’s Flevo Park, Zeeburg Cemetery, with about 200,000 graves, is the largest in the Netherlands, but was long neglected — and far off the tourist track. Much of the cemetery is still very overgrown. Founded in 1714, it marks its 300th anniversary next year. The Jewish Historical Museum web site notes that:
Zeeburg was above all intended for poor Jews who couldn’t afford the cost of a grave. It was also the place where people were buried when they died on a Friday or Jewish festival, or the day before one of these. The funeral procession to the cemetery at Muiderberg would be with a horse and cart and then by barge. This was so time-consuming it couldn’t take place on high days and holidays. But Zeeburg lay much nearer the city.
The restoration effort began in the autumn of 2011, with the establishment of the Stichting Eerherstel Joodse Begraafplaats Zeeburg (Rehabilitation Foundation for Jewish Cemetery Zeeburg).
At that time, Samuel Gruber reported on his blog:
On Sunday, October 30, 2011, Amsterdam’sbegan a collaborative program for Moroccan and Jewish youth to clean the large and neglected Zeeburg Jewish cemetery. On six Sundays, as many as 100 young people will collaborate to improve the condition of the cemetery and in the process to learn more about the history of Jews of Amsterdam.
The program to engage young people in the protection of the cemetery was initiated by Frans Stuy and Jaap Meijers who in contacted the Foundation for Rehabilitation Zeeburg. Jaap Meijers said “The cemetery is completely overgrown, it’s a jungle. There is a huge wall built around it and making it impossible for regular visitors to visit. We are now looking for the original gate, which is still somewhere, and with the the help of young people, to make it presentable again. Of course we also hope that it will initiate awareness. “
The Jewish Historical Museum says the idea to restore the cemetery was initially sparked by an article in 1982 that described its neglected state:
The writer and journalist Boudewijn Büch described in the Amsterdam daily Het Parool (The Word) (18 June 1982) how: ‘On a summer’s day I stroll through what is in fact Flevo Park p and pass through a brick gateway into Zeeburg. This lovely old gateway isn’t the original entrance into the cemetery. Until 1898 there was a gate across the bridge leading up to and across today’s Singelgracht. The entrance was rebuilt in 1938 in the place where it now stands. The ‘former Israelite Cemetery Zeeburg’ consists today of three parts and is reached through wrought-iron gates that are always unlocked. I wander though the long grass, the sun is warm on my back. All around people are basking in the sun, sometimes stretched out on a gravestone. Lawnmowers seldom pay a visit to Zeeburg; in fact it would be virtually impossible to mow or cut the grass with a sickle, because of the thousands of pieces of stone lying scattered through the grass and tumbled between the marshy reeds’.
The Zeeburg Cemetery Foundation’s web site lists the forthcoming open days as mainly the first Sunday of each month:
- April 7
- May 12
- June 2
- July 7
- August 4
- September 1
- October 6
- November 3