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April 12, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, APRIL 12, 2013 By Cnaan Liphshiz (JTA)--Every month Or so, a highly emotional email • lands in the inbox of Martin Kornfeld, CEO of the Federa- tion of Jewish Communities in Slovakia. The authors invariably are Western tourists appalled by the neglect they witnessed during visits to one of the hundreds of Jewish cem- eteries scattered across the country. Often their emails concern the final resting place of their relatives amid overgrown grasses and over- turned tombstones. - "They want us to fix it," Kornfeld told JTA. "But ours is a small and not wealthy community that prioritizes the living." Across Eastern Europe, hundreds of Jewish cemeter- ies are disintegrating as the small communities entrusted with their care focus their limited resources on rees- tablishing a living presence after long years of communist suppression and the near an- nihilation of the Holocaust. Following the fall of com- munism in the early 1990s, control of cemeteries in several countries of the for- mer Eastern bloc reverted to the Jewish community. In Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic and elsewhere, this resulted in communities of a few thousand people sud- denly becoming responsible for vast burial grounds that before the Holocausthad been administered by con- gregations dozens of times larger. Some 90,000 Jews Eastern European communities overwhelmed by costs of cemetery upkeep Restoration of Eastern European Jewish Cemeteries Foundation American college students restoring a Jewish cemetery in Belarus, 2012. million. "It's a constant drain of money," said Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jew- ish Communities in Poland. . "Without fences, the area quickly becomes a dumpster. Then the city fines the Jewish community." Last year, the Council of Europe adopted a nonbinding resolution placing respon- sibility for the care of Jew- ish cemeteries on national governments. The resolution was based in part on a report by the special rapporteur for Jewish cemeteries, Piet de Bruyn, who wrote that Jew- ish cemeteries are "probably" more vulnerable because of the small size of the com- munities. The report also noted instances of cemeteries in Eastern Europe that have been turned into "residential areas, public gardens, leisure parks, army grounds and war; todaythe community numbers about 3,000. "Out of 750 Jewish burial grounds in Slovakia, we can afford to take care of only 150--and even that is a major burden," Kornfeld said. "The cemeteries can drain tens of thousands" of dollars from a budget stretched to cover the senior home, kindergarten, summer camps--the trap- pings of a living, breathing community." In neighboring Poland, a Jewish community that once numbered 3.5 million has been reduced to about 40,000. Michael Schudrich, thecountry's chief rabbi, says fences are crucial to preventing the country's 1,400 Jewish cemeteries from turning into trash heaps, but the Gostof_erecting onehas multiplied. Only about 100 of Poland's cemeteries are fenced, Schudrich said, and turned into lakes." Moshe Kantor, the presi- dent of the European Jewish Congress, says governments should cover the costs of preserving Jewish cemeteries as they would other aspects of their cultural heritage. He noted that Lithuania's Jewish community was declining to reassert control over itscem- eteries because it fears the financial burden of upkeep• In the 1950s, West Ger- many agreed that the pres-" ervation of "orPhaned Jew- ish cemeteries" was the responsibility of local and federal authorities. But most European countries accept no such responsibility• Jew- ish leaders generally see the preservation of cemeteries as a communal obligation. It is "first and foremost a challenge for the Jew- ish world," Schudrich Said. "We, the communities, can provide the administration, but the Jewish world needs to provide the funds." In Slovakia, the commu- nity has launched an online campaign, SOS Cemeteries, which allows donors of $650 or more to sponsor preserva- tion work in a cemetery of their choosing. The program, which Was set up to engage Western tourists, has yet to generate much income, but Kornfeld hopes revenues pick up once word gets out. In Poland, prison authori- ties and the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland launched a program in 2010 in which prisoners help clean up sev- eral Jewish cemeteries. Local PAGE 13A Restoration of Eastern European Jewish Cemeteries Foundation U.S. college students preparing some cement as part of a restoration project for a Belarus Jewish cemetery, 2012. involved, often at the initia- tive of local governments. In New York, Michael Loz- man, an orthodontist whose parents were born in Belarus, founded the Restoration of Eastern European Jew- ish Cemeteries Foundation, which has brought hundreds of American college students to restore cemeteries in Belarus and Lithuania with money raised from private donors. The students spend two weeks restoring one or more Jewish cemeteries along with non-Jewish local students. "Working with locals to preserve cemeteries achieves much more than meets the eye," Lozman told JTA. "It educates young people about their country's Jewish heritage and the Holocaust, and creates in them a com- mitment to the Jewish cem- etery and by extension the Jewish past. Ultimately, the lived in Siovakia before De fencing the rest requires $32 storage sites; some have been vil]agers also have become m • Open mmdedness another casualty in Syrian fighting Suleiman and others on edge. Jabhat al-Nusra, a jihad- ist organization the United States designated a front for Iraq, has angered them. The Jabha's fighters are largely foreign veterans of campaigns stretching from Iraq to Afghanistan• Their hardened creed, which rejects all forms of Islam except their own puritan strand, has slowly gained traction among FSA units.. Among the Jabha's most extreme ideas is that Alawites are heretics worse than Christian and Jews. Un- like the latter religions, which are allowed to live in Islamic lands as second-class citizens, the Jabha decrees the fate of Alawis to be death. Suleiman has heard stories of Alawites captured by Jabha fighters. He moves his index finger across his throat to indi- cate how they are killed. "They don't give them a chance," he says. Even FSA fighters lament the organization's blood- thirsty resolve. "They don't seem to have the same goals as us," explains a fighter who goes by the name Abu Hamza. "They just want to kill Alawites. And that gives us a bad name." Others, however, are satis- fied with the FSA's program. "The Alawites controlled ev- erything-the government, the economy. How can a minority of so few dictate to the majority?" asked Badri Shuqri, 51, of Salma. "They got what they deserved." Vo- • cal hostility such as this has left many residents on edge, fearing that once the sectar- ian genie is released from the bottle, it will be impossible to return it. "This talk will only lead to more killing that will never ena," says Suleiman. Throughout Latakia, the FSA's exploits have left the population sour. In the Chris: tian village of Jdida in the eastern part of the province, the rare rema{fiing resident has nothing but scorn for the rebels. "Everything was good before they came," Boutrous Aziz, 64, said in the deserted village. "We don't need the changes they want. We have peace. We have a good life." Like most of the villages in the region, Jdida looks like the set from "Saving Private Ryan." The houses are gone, replaced by mounds of stones. long-term survivability of the cemetery depends largely on them." Ultimately, however, such efforts are just a drop in the bucket. In Raslavice, in eastern Slovakia, money from SOS Cemeteries helped pay for a new fence at the cemetery there• But tle cemetery is still overgrown, and visiting Jewish tourists are still lodging their com- plaints-and offers of help. "May God bless you for this amazing job," Zvi Ziegler, an Israeli with an- cestors buried in Raslavice, wrote to the community st year. "On the other hand, unfortunately, the grave sites were inaccessible due to the vegetation which cov- ered and hid all the matzevot • [headstones]. I understand that to maintain these holy sites costs money, and I'm willing to contribute toward this expense." Jewish Museum Of Florida-FlU MIITZVAIHI COMES OF AGE Thru September 15, 2013. Discover the 90 year evolution of the bat mitzvah ritual and learn the stories of nearly 100 b'not mitzvah, including many Florida girls and women. A touring exhibition presented by the National Museum of Amedcan Jewish History and Moving Traditions. ' Sponsors Include Congregation Beth Jacob and the Robert Arthur Seall Foundation.  " Porti'aits bylnez Hollanr ........ Thru May 5, 2013 Through vibrant primary colors and strong, unrelenting brushstrokes, this series L.Dmlngoutt documents a community teeming in diversity ElainetnGreenOtess, e,ch, acry,o on canvas. 2008. and captures the emotions of its subjects• acrylic on canvas. 2009. this ad Also see the Museum's core exhibit, MOSAIC: Jewish Life in Wil for 1 Florida, with over 500 artifacts and photographs of unique ILl admission history. Visit the Orovitz Museum Store for one-of-a-kind gifts HFJN and have a snack at Bessie's Bistro! I Jewish Museum @ of Florida 301,Washington Avenue, Miami Beach Open daily 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. 305-672-5044 ............... Except Mondays, Jewish and Civil Holidays I The Museum is supported by individual contributions, foundations, memberships and grants from the State of Florida, Oeparlment  '. ;;;I of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture, the Miami-Dade County Tourist Developement couo,, .e Mioi-Dade Couoty Dp ....... , Co,tara, Affarts . f. Co.O,, Couooi,. t.e M,a=PDade Coolly ayor ,'., I.", ',B EAC H SALMA, Latakia, Syria-- The village of Bayt Swalkha in the coastal province of Latakia bears the physical scars of the Syrian civiivar. Piles of stones are all that remain of rows of houses. Municipal buildings have been reduced to black- ened skeletons. But while the destroyed infrastructure will eventually be rebuilt, it is the emotional wounds that are ir- reparable. For in villages like these throughout Latakia, the sectarian harmony that prevailed for decades has been shattered by a civil war that • has increasingly taken on a religious bent. Of all of Syria's provinces, • Latakia best reflects its reli- gio-ethnic mosaic• A Shi'ite offshoot known as Alawites make up abou 70 percent of the population. Christians and Shrites comprise ancther 15 percent. The Sunnis who dominate the country and the greater Arab world represent only 15 percent of the popu- lation. The various sects and religions give this northern province bordering Turkey a diverse flavor, imbibing its inhabitants with a dose of tolerance largely absent in the Arab world. Today that open-mindedness is being destroyed like everything else in the war-torn country• Nowhere is that truer than in Bayt Swalkha, where Ala- wites and Sunnis lived side by side in peace. For decades, By Michel Stors The Media Line the orthodox Sunnis did not seem to mind that a Shi'ite offshoot that composed only 12 percent of the population ruled the country. But rebels from the Free Syrian Army do, and they have descended on the province like wolves in search of prey. Marwan Sidqi scrounged through the rubble of what was once his house. The 61-year-old Sunni carpenter lost everything when regime forces bombed FSA positions in the city. On a chilly day he was rummaging for his tools but could only seem to find charred stones. "We lived so well before," he explained• "We will never have that again•" Sidqi reminisced about better days when he would invite his Alawite neighbors to smoke water pipes and sip sweet tea. "Politics was never for us," he said. "We only wanted to have good lives." That good life has been destroyed like the buildings around him by the FSA. Since the group is mostly composed of fighters from rural areas in neighboring provinces, they never appreciated the mo- saic that prevailed in Latakia. Instead, they have injected the conflict with a sectarian element that has people here angry. "Their agendas have ruined us," complains 72-year-old Hamid Suleiman in the village of Salma a dozen kilometers away. "These groups, come in and bring their hatred." One group in particular has Cars have been stripped bare. Shop windows are shattered, their contents ransacked. - Pools of dried blood are ev- erywhire. Despite the carnage, Aziz prefers to remember more prosperous days. "We had good lives with quiet. Maybe we can get that back." But with sectarian hatred on the rise, it is doubtful his nostalgic paradise will ever be rebuilt.