«Jewish Observer»
August 2002
5762 Elul

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When did the Jews settle down in the region now called Zakarpatje ("TransCarpathia")? There exist different versions. Some assert Jews settled in this region in the VIII - IX centuries while making, together with Hungarian tribes, difficult travels across the mountains. According to another among many version supported by famous historic personalities (for example, Gorovits Mor - director of the Jewish school, professor of the Uzhgorod gymnasium, author of the articles and books on the history of Jewish community), Jewish families resided here since the XVI century.

Of interest is the story "Gut" from the book "Historical ears" by Tivodar Legotsky (1830 - 1915, an archaeologist. ethnographer, student of folklore who spent a bigger part of his life in Mukachevo), "A legend runs about a treasure of gold billions and figures of animals piled on a farmstead in the XIII century when Israelis dominated in our region". So, "Israelis dominated", i.e. resided in masses in the early feudal period.

We cannot now name monuments of material culture of that period. The most ancient among the preserved ones are old Jewish cemeteries.

Jewish settlements have always been accompanied by cemeteries belonging to communities. Locations of over 130 cemeteries are discovered today in almost the same number of settlements.

It is acknowledged that a significant part of Jews in Ukraine resided in towns, but in Zakarpatje nearly 70% of Jews (prior to the Holocaust) were villagers. This is one of unique features of this land.

The geography of cemeteries reflects the ways Jews were settling about the territory. This information is, undoubtedly, not complete. No one knows how many cemeteries have disappeared for the process is still going on. A Jewish cemetery is an infinite world of stones-matsevas: "Their procession seems possessing No start and no end..." (a verse by David Kmit, real name - David Fikhman (1900-1955).

One of the biggest cemeteries in Zakarpatje is in Uzhgorod. A funeral society "Khevra kadisha" (literally - "Saint brotherhood") was founded in Uzhgorod in 1777. The cemetery dates back to this very period. Generation after generation joined the "House of eternity".

Architectonics of matsevas is utterly laconic, whereas depictions present entire subjects- messages from the past to the future. Creator of a monument knew much about the deceased and depicted this is stone.

Two burning candles on a matseva... We approach a monument to a pious woman who thoroughly observed necessary rituals. A broken tree of life evokes sadness about an untimely-deceased virtuous mother, orphaned children-nestlings...

Deep sense of cult symbolism, a clear graceful script, original ornaments - all this put together presents wonderful models of folk art bequeathed by masters of the past. A mere one cemetery is rich in different schools of stone cutting representing the Jewish national culture practically unknown and out of use in our region.

We stopped in front of a glade with a lonely monument. Its epitaph ran: "Teacher is a true genius known in every country. In our imperfect world we had a true tsadik, Shlomo Ganzfrid, son of the teacher Joseph...". Shlomo Ganzfrid was the author of the immortal "Kitsur Shulkhan Arukh" and other books (20 in total), member of Rabbinate in Ungvar (Uzhgorod), died in 1964. The monument is very modest but for a wonderful epitaph. A subtle drawing is seen in the upper part on a medallion - a hand with a feather - testifying to Rabbi's main occupation. The monument will soon be century and a half old, collapses and on ohel (tent) above it would bring good to it.

At the cemetery's entrance there is a memorable stone established owing to Lotsi Raizman, born in Uzhgorod, who now resides in USA. An epitaph on it runs: "To remember and not to forget. 14 thousand Jews from Uzhgorod, earlier called Ungvar, and its neighborhood were deported to Auschwitz (Oswientsim). This monument commemorates our dear people..."

The Uzhgorod community has lots of problem with cemeteries. The city administration is reluctant to solve the problem of returning the premises for funeral preparation (Beit khalevayot) earlier belonging to the community, there are no funds for restoration works, oldest monuments collapse and disappear.

The town of Mukachevo has an ancient cemetery... Its fate is tragic. It used to be quite a big cemetery. Y.Khodorkovsky managed to study it in a way and even took a picture of one matseva. In 1970's the Mukachevo authorities passed the decision to turn it into a construction site. Bulldozers swiftly leveled sacred matzevas with the ground.

An English lord Robert Maxwell (Ian Ludwig Khokh), born in Solotvin, happened to learn about these plans and decided to help his fellows- tribesmen win the cemetery back. He left for Moscow to meet with L.Brezhnev but was late. The cemetery had been destroyed though no buildings appeared there. In 1990's the territory was returned to the community. Restoration works are under way there. But what can be restored if fragile old matzevas are broken and deeply dug. A former countryman residing now in USA Gurovets funds the works. A khesed's curator Dmitry Rozenfeld takes an active part in organizing this noble cause. A "Lamenattion wall" is under creation - a symbolic monument of available matzevas' fragments. An idea exists to create a preserve here as the history and culture of TransCarpathia, Mukachevo including, Jewry is unique and little known. It would be nice if "Joint" takes such project under its 'guardianship".

Discovering the past we try to link it to the present. Speaking about the present we would like to witness constant development of a Jewish community life in its diversity: in the traditions of daily life and culture, in organizational forms. Even non-religious Jews prefer to be buried Jewish-like, in accordance with funeral laws. Laws of Judaism in this respect are among the most ancient, many ceremonial elements were borrowed from neighboring peoples. Contemporary portraits and fences result, undoubtedly, from our being unaware of our traditions. In previous times town funeral parlors cared for funeral ceremonies in compliance with Jewish laws and customs. There are no such societies now, traditions simplify and vanish. "Every culture has dignity and values to be respected and preserved", - these words from the Declaration of the 14th session of the UNESCO General Conference remain, for the time being, declaratory. The same can be applied to the provisions of the Law "National minorities in Ukraine": historic and cultural monuments of national minorities in Ukraine are protected by law".

Our great contemporary and artist Amadeo Modiliagni wrote, "Life, like history, predetermines no forms but only brings them to existence".

Cultural and historical heritage of the people vanishes before our eyes. What forms will be activated to preserve this heritage? The main this is not to be late...

"Echo", Uzhgorod

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