The ESJF European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative
The ESJF European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative is a German-based NGO active in Central and Eastern Europe. Founded in 2015 with the recognition that thousands of Jewish cemeteries in Europe lay neglected and threatened, the ESJF began surveying and fencing Jewish cemeteries with funding from the Federal Republic of Germany. To date, it has protected 123 sites in seven countries across Central and Eastern Europe.
Before World War II, more than seven million Jews lived in Central and Eastern Europe. Jews inhabited these towns and villages for centuries. Across the continent, Jewish burial sites provided direct physical evidence of this Jewish presence. Eighty years on, traces of many of these cemeteries have been lost, they lie overgrown and unprotected – the result of the annihilation of their communities in the Holocaust. Centuries of Jewish settlement in Central and Eastern Europe and critically, the historical witness and evidence of it, were driven from memory.
The ESJF project has begun the process of physically protecting Jewish burial sites in Europe, most particularly in places where Jewish communities were wiped out in the Holocaust. Moreover, it has identified resources, limitations, costs and general practical models in order to provide a prototype for a sustainable, practical and efficient long-term project with its core objective to protect and preserve all the Jewish cemeteries in Europe.
In November 2018, the ESJF received support from the European Union for a mass survey project of Jewish burial sites using cutting-edge drone technology. By June 2020, it will be surveying at least 1,500 cemeteries in five countries (Greece, Lithuania, Moldova, Slovakia, and Ukraine). The ESJF website will host a database of the surveyed sites in these countries, including photos, maps and descriptions, making information on Jewish cemeteries in Europe public and accessible to all.
The ESJF believes that mapping these Jewish cemeteries is an important step in protecting European cultural heritage, and must be carried out on a local level. To that aim, it works with local authorities, residents and Jewish communities through educational outreach projects to ensure long-term project success.
Philip CarmelChief Executive Officer
Phil has been Chief Executive Officer of the ESJF since its foundation in 2015. Born in the UK, Phil has lived in Israel, France and Belgium and was International Relations Director of the Conference of European Rabbis based in Brussels, where he set up and was Executive Director of the Lo Tishkach Foundation, a database of Europe’s Jewish cemeteries. He was subsequently Senior Advisor on European Affairs for the European Jewish Congress and a co-chair of the Global Forum on Antisemitism. He lives in Birmingham.
Alexander BessarabProject Manager
Alexander trained as a construction engineer at Kyiv University of Construction and Architecture. Before joining ESJF, he worked in projects related to construction and civil engineering in Ukraine, Sweden and Dubai, and he managed large engineering projects. As an expert in drone technology and its application, today he is responsible for training and accompanying ESJF’s survey teams in the field, and works as a project manager overseeing the technical aspects of the project and data processing.
Diána VonnákCommunication and Media Officer
Diána trained as a social anthropologist at Durham University, where she is currently finishing a PhD. She has worked on projects related to cultural heritage and urban development, including a year-long field research project in Lviv, and a shorter project in the Indian Himalayas. Before joining ESJF, she was a researcher at the Metropolitan Research Institute in Hungary. She is based between Cambridge and Budapest.
Alexandra FishelEducational Projects Officer
Alexandra Fishel is a specialist in the study of Jewish cemeteries and headstone inscriptions on the ground. She studied at the Institute of Asian and African Studies of Moscow State University (Department of Hebrew Studies) and held an internship at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Currently Alexandra is about to complete a PhD in the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences. She also lectures on Jewish epigraphics at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. At the ESJF, Alexandra is responsible for educational programs.
Kateryna MalakhovaHistorical Researcher
Katya holds a PhD in philosophy from the Kyiv Mohyla Academy. She was previously a member of the National Academy of Sciences in Ukraine. A specialist in 18th-century Jewish history, hasidism, and Haskalah, she is the lead historian at ESJF.
Yekaterina KliuchnikGraphic Design and Web Administrator
Yekaterina studied clothing design at Kyiv National University of Culture and Arts and, after graduation, switched to graphic design. She has over 10 years of experience in the graphic design field, as well as 5 years in marketing research. At ESJF, she is responsible for producing both photo and video material, as well as designing catalogues and presentations. She also acts as ESJF’s webmaster.
Ian GaleevskiiSenior Surveyor
Ian has a background in tourism development. He gained practical experience in Turkey and Thailand in various hotels and developing sightseeing services. Before joining ESJF, he worked in Thailand as a hotel guide, catering to tourist groups from across Asia and Europe. He is based between Uzhgorod and Kiev.
Tetiana IvanovaTechnical Engineer
Tanya is a fourth-year student at the Faculty of Geoinformation Systems and Territorial Management at Kyiv National University of Construction and Architecture. For ESJF, she creates 3D models of Jewish cemeteries, applying the knowledge she gained in university. Improving her skills within this project is very rewarding, as it is a responsible and noble cause: the preservation of Jewish cemeteries in Ukraine and in Europe.
Yakiv YakovenkoAdministrative Officer
Yakiv studied Eastern European Studies and Soviet Studies at Kyiv Mohyla Academy and the University of Warsaw. He has participated in various programs focusing on regional Jewish history and Yiddish. He also volunteered in epigraphical expeditions. Before joining ESJF, he worked as a research assistant in the Judaica Center of Kyiv Mohyla Academy and as an opinion journalist.
Olena SharafanenkoHistorical Research Assistant
Olena is studying for a master in Jewish Studies at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. Before joining ESJF, she graduated from the two-years Certificate Program in Judaica of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. She is interested in the reconstruction and proper depiction of the reach and tragedy of Jewish history in the regions of Eastern Europe, the past centre of Jewish life.
Julia SheinmanNational Coordinator for Moldova
Julia has been involved in community development projects for over fifteen years, considering that such development is impossible without knowledge and preservation of historical and cultural heritage. For her, participation in the ESJF project contributes to the saving of heritage and handing it over to our children.
Kostas StathopoulosNational Coordinator for Greece
Kostas studied Political Science and International Studies at Pantion University of Athens and Legal Sciences at Democritus University of Thrace. He is a lawyer in Athens. Kostas participates in the effort of the Greek Jewish community to preserve the memory and history as well as support the development of the Jewish Communities in Greece, which are among the oldest on the European continent.
Henrich SternNational Coordinator for Slovakia
Henrich studied in the Faculty of Engineering at the Slovak University of Agriculture. Since 2011, he has been working at the Federation of Jewish Communities in Slovakia as a project manager. There, he is responsible for real estate, particularly cemeteries.