LONDON - In 1992 a non-profit committee aiming to protect and preserve Jewish cemeteries in Europe was established. It was called the Committee for Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe (CPJCE), founded by Rabbi Elyakim Schlesinger. Fresh out the gate, it had the tacit support of the Jewish community in general.
The CPJCE did not have any official authority to preside over the management of the cemeteries, other than the fact it was ostensibly doing so in the best interests of the Jewish community. The community believed that its goals were commendable.
Today that scenario has reversed course. The CPJCE is not the committee that it once was. Its winning streak, during which it did make some symbolic efforts to protect cemeteries, changed in about 2005. In that year the Lithuanian government announced plans to construct two apartment buildings on Vilnius 500-year cemetery. The CPJCE filed a half-hearted objection to the Lithuanian plan. The CPJCE’s level of authority and degree of legitimacy was so insignificant that they were ignored by the government.
When the Lithuanian government went ahead with the construction of the two apartments, perpetrating wholesale desecration to the cemetery and uprooting skeletal remains, the CPJCE attempted to step in. It tried to regain the credibility that it had lost. It professed that it would play the role of an ombudsman, monitoring and managing the construction process in lieu of fees for which the government would be billed.
However, what the CPJCE became was a partner to the government’s ill-conceived desecration of a Jewish cemetery. Some members of the Jewish community say that their motive’s were noble, but that they unwittingly fell in a hole which had no end.
It took condemnation by Jewish organizations, for the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a motion in 2008, condemning Lithuania for its "failure to protect the historic Jewish cemetery in Vilnius.” The respective motion was passed, no thanks to the CPJCE.
Unfortunately it was too little, too late, an attempt to close the stable door after the horse had bolted. That House of Representatives motion, the desecration which the Lithuanian government perpetrated in collaboration with the CPJCE, is still ringing in the ears of the Jewish community and those that care.
Today the CPJCE is an embarrassment to the Jewish community. They are a committee which flagrantly violates the decrees of Jewish law, the halacha as determined by Jewish sages and the rulings by Torah giants of this generation.
Members of the Jewish community who are active in protecting cemeteries around the world claim that the CPJCE has less credibility than Korach. Korach was a prominent leader in Bible times who rebelled against Moses.
Tragically and naively in 2012, the Council of Europe provided its member states with a recommendation that they work with CPJCE to protect Jewish cemeteries. This suggestion by the Council of Europe was after the 2005 apartment construction debacle, so no one really knows what happed. As far as the CPJCE was concerned, it had won the lottery.
The alternate and legitimate Jewish organization which the Counsel of Europe recommended in its resolution of 2012 that member states work with to protect Jewish cemeteries, was Agudath Israel World Organization.
The CPJCE has become the de facto address to where anti-Semitic governments turn, to secure their kosher certification. It is a way for these governments to perpetrate wholesale desecration of cemeteries and at the same time claim that they have the support of the Jewish community. When governments need a fixer for their misdeeds, the CPJCE is their port-of-call.
The story of Korach did not end well for him and his followers. He was motivated by his own personal agenda rather than trying to benefit the larger community. Tragically, the course which the CPJCE is following, is no different to that of Korach. Members of the Jewish community who are God-fearing, pray and hope that CPJCE will see the light. Others remain skeptical.
About Jonus Norkus:
Jonus Norkus is an activist who battles against human rights violations and cemetery desecration.