A ceremony this past week celebrated the completion of a preservation and fencing project at the Jewish cemetery in Lubavitch, Russia, the village near Smolensk where the Chabad movement was was based for more than 100 years and where some of its major rabbis and historical figures are buried. The August 26 ceremony was attended by dozens of international guests including leading rabbis of the Chabad Lubavitch movement.
The project, the first of its kind carried out in Russia by the European Jewish Cemetery Initiative (ESJF), included gravestone restoration work, fencing, lighting and construction of a new access road and bridge at this cemetery, which was established in the early 19th century. (Virtual Shtetl notes that an earlier and less extensive clean-up took place in 2015.)
Lyubavichi also has a Chabad information center and museum, and the ceremony came only days after antisemitic slogans reading “Jews out of Russia, our land” and featuring the Baltic variant of the swastika were scrawled on the center’s fence.
The cemetery has about 200 gravestones an an ohel. Virtual Shtetl describes the cemetery thus:
The following rabbis are buried in the ohel:
- Rebbe Menachem Mendel Shneurson (1789-1866),
- Baruch Shalom Shneurson, Menachem Mendel’s son,
- Rebbe Shmuel Shneurson (1834-1882),
- Shmuel Shneurson’s son, Avraham Sender, who died at the age of 9.
The burial place of the tzadikim is being visited almost every day by groups and individual people. The graves in the ohel are covered by a thick layer of kvitleh. Several dozen meters behind the ohel, the graves of the tzadiks’ wives, Shayna, Sterna and Mushka are located.
The cemetery is a located on a wide clearing. Not so long ago, it was completely overgrown with bushes. In 2015, the greenery was cleared and partly burnt down. There are about 200 matzevot at the cemetery but it is only a small fraction of their pre-war number. The majority of the tombstones have been irretrievably lost. Many of them were looted by local peasants who used the stones to build their houses.
The ESJF coordinated the preservation and fencing project, in collaboration with the Geder Avos Jewish Heritage Group under the direction of Rabbi Moshe Rubin. Funding came from Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Popack of the United States. Mr. Popack’s grandfather studied at the Tomchei Temimim Talmudic College, the first of many branches of Chabad yeshivas bearing the same name today around the world.
“It is my honor and privilege to be able to facilitate this project,” Popack said. “The impact that this small town had has on the entire world is tremendous, and to me personally it means everything. My family’s destiny had been intertwined with that of Lubavitch. The spirit and flame of Lubavitch lives in our family.”
Founded in 2015, the ESJF has preserved and built fences in more than 100 Jewish
cemeteries in seven countries in Central and Eastern Europe, mostly in the towns and
villages whose centuries-old Jewish communities were destroyed in the Holocaust.