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Minsk Hillel restores Jewish cemeteries in Belarus

Students of Hillel Minsk – the branch of the international student Jewish organization – are continuing a ‘MEGA’ project aimed to restore Jewish cemeteries in Belarus. The Euro-Asian Jewish Congress supported the initiative since its beginning more than seven years ago. Hillel’s students and volunteers call this project a “global cultural and educational tradition” whose goal is to connect young Jews to the history of their community, introduce them to culture and traditions, and help restore valuable historical sites – Jewish cemeteries. Eventually, the objects of restoration become full-fledged sights of the state level.

Project name is an abbreviation. It stands for “Memory. Education. Generation. Action”.

“During the World War II and even after it, many ancient Jewish cemeteries were destroyed. The tombstones were used for various domestic purposes. For example, as a building material for houses or road. Most of these cemeteries today remain hidden under forests or fields,” says Elena Kulevnich, Executive Director of Hillel Minsk.

According to her, the descendants of Jews living in Belarus often cannot find any traces of their ancestors. “They have nowhere to bring the memorial stone. They cannot find traces of their family, although they know for sure that their family roots are in Belarus, a country once full of Jewish communities, while Yiddish was the second most common language here.”

As part of the MEGA project, Hillel volunteers and students find cemeteries underground, explore the scope of reconstruction and restoration work. The preparation process includes the necessary calculations, drawing up a program and route, finding resources and experts. Then the organizers announce the recruitment of volunteers: Jewish young leaders aged 18 to 30.

Among the achievements of the project, the organizers note several restored cemeteries across the country at once – in Dyatlovo, Shatsk, Zembin, Mir, Motol, Kopyl and Vishnevo. In Brest, according to Minsk Hillel, about 1,000 tombstones have been preserved and restored.

More information about the Hillel Minsk MEGA project can be found in the article by the head of the organization – on the Jewish Heritage Europe website.

One of the priorities of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress is the preservation and restoration of the Jewish heritage of the countries of the Euro-Asian region. Throughout its history, the EAJC has supported numerous projects in this area.