Jewish Heritage Europe

Role of the Internet. Marla Raucher Osborn

Marla1 Presentation by Marla Raucher Osborn at the Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Jewish Cemeteries, Vilnius, 2015 — Outline and pictures of a power point talk By Marla Raucher Osborn

Foundation for the Preservation of Polish Jewish Heritage; Rohatyn Jewish Heritage

The Role of the Internet: Key Questions

Marla2 The Internet as a Heritage Preservation Tool: My Professional and Personal Experience My professional work – FODZ:

On Jan 1st of this year, 2015, I joined the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland FODZ), based in Warsaw. My primary role is to interface with the Jewish diaspora educating them about the Foundation and its projects, and trying to inspire individual and family activism and involvement in protecting Poland’s surviving sites of Jewish history and culture (primarily cemeteries and synagogues). I call it “bridging between genealogy and preservation.”

My personal work – Rohatyn Jewish Heritage:

I am founder and project lead for Rohatyn Jewish Heritage, a small, individually-funded volunteer-led collection of heritage preservation and education projects working to re-connect the history of Rohatyn’s extinct Jewish community with the modern Ukrainian town. My involvement, as those who attended the 2013 seminar in Krakow already know, grew out of my initial 2008 visit to the town – a typical family heritage trip – and the formation of a Rohatyn descendants genealogy group that today has  more than 250 members in a dozen countries.

Since 2011 I have made more than a dozen trips to Rohatyn, finding myself unexpectedly in the role of activist vis-a-vis local people who have been voluntarily caring for the surviving Jewish sites (two cemeteries and three mass graves). Part of my role is dealing with discovered Jewish headstones and their return to the cemetery. I am almost always accompanpied by my husband Jay and my friend, translator, and Lviv-based researcher Alex Denysenko. My most recent visit was last month.

The recovery, collection, and documentation of Jewish headstones and fragments continues to be the primary focus of Rohatyn Jewish Heritage, but we now have a website and identified heritage projects, including clean-up and rehabilitation of the old Jewish cemetery, erection of a modest memorial for recovered headstone fragments, and installation of signage and information points at key locations around town.

I have used the Internet for:

– documenting material heritage & physical sites

– reporting facts & trends

– generating interest & activism

– connecting & building online communities: RSRG and Rohatyn Jewish Heritage

– project initiation and engagement: FODZ’s Adopt A Cemetery

– fund-raising

Internet tools I have used to-date:

– email forums and online digests (JewishGen, SIGs)

– Google groups

– Google sites

– photo hosting sites (pbase)

– SIG web & print-format journals

– Facebook personal pages

– Facebook groups

– Facebook ‘communities’

– YouTube

– online radio stations

– personal blog sites (of others), such as Vanished World, Treelines, and Polaron

– project pages on heritage web sites, such as Virtual Shtetl

– project-focus websites

– news reports on heritage journalism sites, such as Jewish Heritage Europe

– news reports on ‘other’ sites

Internet tools I haven’t used (yet):

– crowd-funding sites

– Twitter & other event reporting tools

– podcasts

– Wikipedia

– apps, games


Internet as Documentation Tool

Should Everything Be Digitized?

What Are the Existing Platforms?

Rohatyn Jewish Heritage:

Photos of headstones recovered + database of headstone information

Mapping of recovered headstones (creation and verification of suspect neighborhoods; patterns)

Records: testimonies, eye witness accounts, Mr. Vorobets histories, articles, and documentation


for chronicling ongoing renovation works + before and after results

Should everything be digitized? –

– Headstones: yes, digitize, because the future – virtual only.

– In Rohatyn, stones already deteriorating and breaking from handling, exposure, weather, visitors

– Primary reason behind FODZ’s recent partnership with the FDJC

  But, none of the Internet tools are effective without someone reliable on the ground in the places where the actual immovable heritage exists. What matters is eyes, hands, cameras, and especially action. Given the huge distances between the places and the intended focus audience, the ‘someone reliable’ has usually been either a Foundation employees (for my professional work), or me and my husband (for my personal work on RJH).



How Can People Be Engaged Through Social Media? How Can An Online Community Be Created Around Specific Projects & Locations?

FODZ’s Adopt-A-Jewish-Cemetery and Rohatyn Jewish Heritage as Examples

Internet as:

– reporting tool

– engagement tool

– fundraising tool

Use of Facebook:

the Power of Social Media to Engage (at least initially)! – create awareness and build momentum; move from negative initial attitudes to more positive, engagement

Form a group (genealogy, descendants, etc) – RSRG formed in 2009, today >250 members

Online Blogs and Digests

JHE as example of info portal;

limitation: preaching to the choir?


How to Go from the Virtual (Facebook/Blogs/Groups) to the Real (actual sites/projects)? Issues I have encountered that counteract engagement and donations:

Activist Antipathy – or shoot the messenger (me at FODZ; drop-outs from RSRG due to):

– non-genealogy posts (preservation-focused issues in a genealogy group make for unhappy members?)

– admission to genealogy group of non-Jews – a formula for failure using genealogy?

What hasn’t worked:

– bridging between Jewish genealogy and Jewish heritage preservation: unable to convert transient interest and emotion into genuine long-term enagagement for preservation, memorial, and education projects

– is this proof of a larger inherent incompatibility between Jewish genealogy and Jewish heritage?

– FODŻ struggle has been similar – Adopt-A-Jewish-Cemetery initiative as example.

Issues of efficiency, or Return on Investment:

– big investment of time for little real payoff (lots of interest and inquiry; little actual donation);

plenty of online activism (in terms of “likes” and “followers”)

– vulnerability to personal attacks in a public (virtual) space

– gives a forum for contentious dialogue and invites argumentation not necessarily dialogue

Marla6 From Oblivion to Ohel – Rohatyn Jewish Heritage as example

Worth it?

Too soon to tell….. ?

Some successes attributable strictly to chance (here, info discovered on the internet, converted into  actual physical preservation project on-the-ground in Rohatyn)


We need different tools for different purposes, and we have to learn how to transition online communities to real, permanent volunteers and longterm financial supporters.

2 comments on “Role of the Internet. Marla Raucher Osborn

  1. Thank you for making my outline available, and I look forward to making future presentations that can demonstrate that some if not all of these internet and virtual tools are successful in bridging between the diaspora, descendants, and family historians, on the one hand, and those working on-the-ground to manage and protect surviving sites of Jewish heritage in Europe. I am encouraged!

    • Dear Marla,
      Thank you so much for your presenation. As a matter of fact, I am also in the process of starting an association that would like to help record, restore, maintain and preserve Jewish cemeteries in former Bessarabia. The use of the Internet and social media is extremely important to me too and therefore your experience in this matter is very valuable to me.
      Would it be possible for me to contact you per email, if questions arrived in this matter? You have my email above.
      Many thanks!
      Yvette Merzbacher

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