Spring is well under way, signalling the start of the Jewish Cemetery clean-up season. We hope to be able to pull together a round-up of such actions in various countries — and are listing some, such as the clean-up in Rohatyn, Ukraine, in our Calendar — but meanwhile will also be highlighting some individual projects in news posts. (We started yesterday with an item about a volunteer clean up of the Jewish cemetery in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina, by young people from a local Muslim youth group.)
In Belarus, the fifth season of volunteer efforts to restore the Jewish cemetery in Beshenkovichi, in the Vitebsk region, will take place May 1-11.
Volunteer work began here in 2015. According to organizers, the priority task of the upcoming session in May will be the completion of cleaning the remaining territory of the cemetery from felled trees, windbreaks and bushes.
This means that in May we will really need the physical strength of men and the patience of mobile women – many, many shrubs, half-rotten logs, debris and branches will have to be pulled out of the cemetery. Given the several huge logs still undisturbed from the cemetery, help with chainsaws may be superfluous.
Once the 4.2 hectare area is clear, the team will perform a final search for matzevot that might be lying down and covered by dirt and debris. After that, the final stages of mapping and cataloguing the cemetery can take place. Following this, the IT-department of the Sefer Center in Moscow can start finalizing its planned on-line database of the matzevot.
In 2016, the Sefer Center carried out a summer field school at the cemetery in Beshenkovichi. One of the aims was to completely document the cemetery as part both of a broader catalogue of Jewish cemeteries in the country and a general Jewish heritage preservation project in the town .
The idea to organize the school in Beshenkovichi was initiated by the project of preserving and reconstruction of historical heritage of Beshenkovichi shtetl. This project is coordinated by Jewish community of Vitebsk and international community “Beshenkovichi Shtetl Memorial Restoration” (led by Anna Klimovich from Saint Petersburg). Volunteers from different countries have worked for two years on the Jewish cemetery in Beshenkovichi. Now there is an idea to create a Jewish museum in Beshenkovichi. Sefer Center decided to support the initiative of the international team and joined the project by organizing the field school on Jewish ethnography and epigraphics.
Some 29 people took part in the 2016 session in Beshenkovichi which was organized by Sefer Center together with the Institute of Slavonic Studies (Russian Academy of Sciences) and supported by Genesis Fund, UJA Federation of NY and Russian Science Foundation.
During the field work
the Jewish cemetery in Beshenkovichi was catalogized completely (1200 tombstones were described). First tombstones are dated from the end of the 18th century, the latest – the beginning of the 20th century. A detailed map of the cemetery was made too.