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Holocaust Remembrance Project Gathers Honors for Dartmouth Hillel

In 2005 Rabbi Edward Boraz, rabbi and executive director of Dartmouth Hillel, took 19 students of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds to the town of Lunna, Belarus for Project Preservation to restore a desecrated and long-abandoned Jewish cemetery. In Lunna, a place where the Jewish population was wiped out during the Holocaust, the students righted over 100 toppled headstones and enclosed the cemetery. As Boraz explains, "Project Preservation is not about Jewish cemetery restoration. It is about our students and creating an experience that can deepen their commitment to God, to the Jewish people, and to humanity." The project is attracting attention from around the world in the form of honors and interest by scholars and individuals.

Dartmouth students work to restore a Jewish cemetery during the 2005 Project Preservation trip to Lunna, Belarus.
Dartmouth students work to restore a Jewish cemetery during the 2005 Project Preservation trip to Lunna, Belarus.  (Photo courtesy of Project Preservation)

Preparations are now under way for Project Preservation's next - and fifth - trip, this time to the small Ukrainian village of Zhuravnacki. The trips are documented on the project's Web site, which was designed by students. Visitors to the site can also search photos and read translations of individual headstones discovered by the students. The group also returned with video footage that one participant used to make a documentary film, Belarus 2005: Remembering the Jews of Lunna.

The project has been a remarkable success, explained Boraz, who has received letters from people who believe that the restored headstones belong to their ancestors. And recently it received Hillel International's Tzedek Hillel Award for an Outstanding Tzedek Initiative. In Hebrew, "tzedek" means justice, and is an important tenet of Judaism. The Hillel International award is given annually to one exemplary campus Hillel program that engages students in the quest for social justice. "Many wonderful projects get submitted every year," says Boraz. "To receive it really makes you proud to be part of Dartmouth Hillel. That we won is a wonderful acknowledgement of a student-led, student-run initiative."

In March 2006, Boraz plans to present the work and results of Project Preservation at the second international conference on "Jewish Genealogy and the Internet," hosted by Tel Aviv University. While in Israel, he also plans to meet with a group of Holocaust survivors' descendants who have expressed an interest in the records unearthed by Project Preservation.

Rabbi Edward Boraz in Lunna, Belarus.
Rabbi Edward Boraz in Lunna, Belarus. (Photo courtesy of Project Preservation)

The cemetery restoration in Lunna represents an extraordinary find for Jewish genealogists and historians, and the work done to restore the site and honor the dead was considerable. For Boraz, however, the deeper significance of the project is the revived memory of the Holocaust in parts of Eastern Europe where the decimated Jewish population has been forgotten. He is fascinated, he says, by the power of the Internet to preserve and promulgate the traces of Eastern European Jewry and hopes that Project Preservation will plant the seeds of other restorative projects in the future.


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Last Updated: 12/17/08