Sighet Cemetery Restoration and Preservation Project
The Sighet cemetery is at least 275 years old, and according to estimates, approximately 5,000 people were buried at the cemetery from Sighet and the neighboring area. In the past, the cemetery was divided into 16 lots. However, the Chevra Kadisha records were lost, and only one book documenting the burial plots from 5701 until 5704 [1940-1944] survived. After the war, burials continued to take place at the cemetery but organized records were not kept.
About thirty years after the war, the cemetery was remapped according to the existing tombstones. The new records divided the cemetery into five lots, and only about 3,000 tombstones were counted. The rest of the tombstones had either been damaged, fallen or stolen.
Most of the residents of Sighet had been poor; thus, the majority of the tombstones were made of cement, concrete and other cheap materials that did not withstand weathering over time.
The cemetery has been neglected for many years. Although there is a guard who occasionally pulls out weeds by hand, and the Satmar community improved the access roads, no significant steps have been taken to thoroughly restore the cemetery and ensure its ongoing maintenance. The falling tombstones are covered in grass and plants, disappearing entirely. Hundreds of trees grow wildly between the graves, knocking down the tombstones. Climbing vines cover the tombstones and moss grows all over them until they slowly disintegrate to the extent that they cannot be restored.
In light of this situation, we realize that if we are not there today, they will not be there tomorrow!
In the summer of 5775, an initial group of 10 volunteers arrived to begin restoration and preservation work at the cemetery. The work was performed with the assistance of the Sighet municipality, after the mayor of Sighet promised to help with anything related to the restoration and preservation of the cemetery. The municipality workers skillfully cut down the large trees and mowed the grass and weeds, while the volunteers cut down the smaller and medium-sized trees, cut weeds growing about the tombstones, assisted in clearing the yard waste, sprayed weed killers and pesticides. The volunteers also documented, supervised and assisted the municipal workers in protecting the tombstones so that they would not be damaged while the trees were being cut down.
The maintenance efforts at the cemetery lasted nine days and concentrated primarily on Lot 2 and a significant portion of Lot 1, as marked in the photograph.
During the maintenance work, approximately 200 trees were felled and huge piles of yard waste were removed from the cemetery. Despite the extensive work, there are still hundreds of trees and thick vegetation growing in the cemetery.
The cost of the volunteer delegation in the summer of 5775, travel expenses, accommodations, cost of materials and equipment were $12,000.
Photos and explanations of the work performed in the summer can be seen on our Facebook page.
Our Plans for the Future:
We plan to send another delegation of teenagers and volunteers to continue the work in 5776 and 5777.
Our long term goal is to transform the cemetery into a well-tended place once the maintenance work is completed. It will be free of trees growing between the graves and the tombstones will be clean of moss and fungus that is damaging them. They will be treated with chemicals to prevent water penetrating into them, making them durable for several decades to come. The names of the deceased will be rewritten, signs with directions will be erected in each lot and row, and Perspex signs depicting the names of the deceased will be placed wherever a tombstone is missing or when the name on the tombstone is illegible.
· To the Sighet municipality and the mayor, Ovidiu Nemes, for providing resources and manpower for the project.
· To Ilana – who accompanied us every step of the way with great dedication and did everything in her power to enable this project to take place.
· To the Chairman of the Tel Aviv Chevra Kadisha, Rabbi Menela, architect Rotem Zeevi and Mr. Ido Egozi, who assisted us with their advice and professional knowledge.
· To the donors: Rabbi Yosef Meislish, the Zinger family, the Weiss, Halpert and Tzarfati families, the Goldfarb, Greenfield and Fischer families, Herman Kahan and a donor who requested to remain anonymous.
· To Mrs. Pnina Zilberman, who works tirelessly to preserve the memory of the community of Sighet.
· To Mr. Yehuda Levinger, who oversaw the maintenance work performed at the cemetery with great dedication.
· To the dear volunteers who worked non-stop and exhibited their commitment to this important goal.
· To Cassa Yorka Hotel, which also assisted by allowing the use of their kitchen, facilities and the dining hall for the entire group for over a week, without any extra charge, and treated them with great patience.