Sefer – the Center for University Teaching of Jewish Civilization in Moscow — carried out clean-up and epigraphic work this summer at the ruined and overgrown Jewish cemetery in Rashkov (Raşcov), Transnistria, whose gravestones date back to the 18th century.
Raşcov is currently part of the unrecognized Pridnestrovian Republic (Transnistria), which split from Moldova in 1990–92. However, historically Raşcov belonged to Podolia (now a part of Ukraine) and its Jewry was integral part of that of Podolia.
Sefer’s annual summer Field School took place in July and included 30 young researchers and postgraduate students from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Latvia; it was organized with the support of Genesis Philanthropy Group, UJA Federation of NY and other sponsors.
Twelve of the participants, led by Alexandra Fishel and Mikhail Vasilyev, carried out the documentation of the Rashkov cemetery — cleaning, photographing and measuring the mazevot as well as reading and copying the epitaphs. They found many of the matzevot damaged or broken, and/or covered with soil.
Fieldwork of this part of the school-expedition included photographing headstones, determining their size and decor features, fixing them and drawing up a detailed cemetery map showing the location of individual stelae. During this expedition the researchers documented more than 950 monuments of the early XVIII – mid XIX centuries. The earliest of them date back to 1700s – 1720s., i.e. to the beginning of the flourishing of the Rashkov Jewish community. In this case, not only the texts of the epitaphs are of special interest, but also the rich carved decor in the form of an ornament or images with traditional Jewish symbols adorning most of the tombstones.
Sefer noted to JHE that most of the stones were made from limestone and “skillfully decorated with carved ornaments, zoomorphic figures or Jewish traditional symbols (such as birkat kohanim, magen David, etc.).”
In addition — a detailed cemetery map was drawn with the coordinates of every gravestone indicated. Sefer plans a full electronic catalogue of the Rashkov cemetery, which, along with the map, will be uploaded to its web site.
Bes documenting the Jewish cemetery in Rashkov, participants in the field school carried out overviews of a nearby modern cemetery and the vast Jewish cemetery at Vadul-Rashkov (on the other side of the Dniester River) in preparation for future detailed research at those sites.