We live to remember, and remember to live
For thousands of years our lives have been passing the way from birth to death. This cycle cannot be stopped. But in our power to create, preserve the memory of those who are no longer with us.
From century to century, Jews, following traditions, recall the deceased, reciting prayers. Traditions and commandments pass from generation to generation. It is our power to preserve those bits of memory that are carved on a time-consuming stone.
Our project is designed to preserve the memory of the deceased. We create photo catalogs and databases of Jewish cemeteries in the territory of the countries of the former USSR. Many burials have not survived the years of the Second World War, as well as the period of communist power, but in our power to preserve the memory of the people who left this world.
Creating photo catalogs, we set a goal to save also epitaphs, put on the stone. Not many people know that much of the information for genealogical research and collecting information about families can be gleaned directly from the drawings depicted on tombstones (matzev). And lions, and deer, and candlesticks are just the few that can be seen on Jewish tombstones of the middle - the end of the 19th century. Records on tombstones also often contain information about who the person was, what memory of himself he left, how he died. Sometimes there are gravestones with whole family stories or quotes from the Torah.
Most of the tombstones of 1800-1930 were written in Yiddish, and not always the inscription was made by literate, educated people, it sometimes makes the process of deciphering these epitaphs very difficult. Until 1900, it is rare to find burial places with names. The shape of the monuments themselves is as diverse and, sometimes, traditional for a particular region. For example, Berdichev: most of the ancient monuments are made in the form of a shoe. In Belarus, not so rich in rock, many pre-war graves are made of ordinary stones of boulders. More modern monuments - 1920-1940 are made of brick lined with lime. Unfortunately, because of this manufacturing technology, most of them have reached us almost destroyed.
Very often in modern history, we can meet cases where Jewish cemeteries are destroyed over time, without due care. There are many non-profit organizations supporting the cemeteries in the proper way. However, they are not always able to clean the territory of the cemetery from trees and weeds, restore the half-ruined tombstones, turn them inscriptions up, and generally give them a well-groomed appearance. Many relatives have lost touch with the place of their birth, and their close people are buried in cemeteries for thousands of kilometers away. They cannot always come and visit their burial grounds. However, having found the photo of the tombstones of their relatives on the pages of our Catalog, they can fulfill the commandment (mitzvah) and remember them.
Part of the photo catalogs we receive from people who are not indifferent. Many of them, living in small regions, visit local Jewish cemeteries and, seeing their condition, try to keep a memory of their names by such an accessible method (photographing).
So why do we need to remember, why do we accumulate this knowledge, you can ask? We have the answer. We live to remember, and remember to live. A person without a history is a lost destiny.
Let us together preserve what our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren should know and remember.
Benjamin Belenky – CEO, Chesed Shel Emet