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, in recognition of the thousands of Jewish cemeteries in Europe that 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 presence. Eighty years on, all trace of many of these cemeteries has 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 have been erased from memory, as well as the artefacts bearing witness to that lineage.
The ESJF project has begun the process of physically protecting Jewish burial sites across Europe, 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 the prototype for a sustainable, efficient long-term project, with the core objective of protecting and preserving every Jewish cemetery 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 have surveyed at least 1,500 cemeteries in five countries (Greece, Lithuania, Moldova, Slovakia, and Ukraine). The ESJF website hosts a database of the surveyed sites in these countries, with photos, maps, and descriptions to make 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 end, it works with local authorities, residents, and Jewish communities through educational outreach projects to ensure long-term 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 BessarabOffice Director
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.
Samantha ShokinProject Manager
Samantha holds a Master’s in Arts Administration from CUNY Baruch College and a Bachelor’s in Journalism from New York University. Prior to ESJF, she worked at the Museum of Jewish Heritage and Center for Traditional Music and Dance in New York, managing public programs and coordinating the city's annual Yiddish culture festival. As a first-generation American, she is excited to return to her Eastern European roots through ESJF.
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 KliuchnikSurvey and Mapping Officer
At ESJF, she was responsible for the production of photo and video materials, as well as for the development of catalogs, presentations, and the administration and design of the website. Now she is currently coordinating research teams.
Sean McLeodCommunications and Media Officer
At ESJF, Sean handles internal and external communications, manages the organisation’s social media accounts, and acts as a liaison to the press. Prior to joining ESJF, Sean was an editor at Oxford University Press. He is based in Glasgow, Scotland.
Tetiana IvanovaTechnical Engineer
Tanya is a five-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.
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.
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.
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.