Through the efforts of a team of askanim and U.S. officials, a construction plan that threatened a historic beis hachaim in Lviv, Ukraine, has been put on hold and possibly prevented altogether. Following a concerted effort, the town’s mayor pledged to prevent building on any land deemed to be a cemetery.
“The hashgachah was such that I was at an affair with the U.S. ambassador [to Ukraine] and the head of the Presidential Administration [a deputy to the Ukrainian President] when I found out about it and raised the issue with them right away,” Rabbi Yaakov Bleich, Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, told Hamodia.
The site, known as the New Jewish Cemetery, was opened in 1855. It is believed to contain the kvarim of Harav Shlomo Sassover, zy”a, and well as several other leading Rabbanim from the region, as well as victims of the city’s 1918 pogrom. Following the Second World War, a road was built over part of the beis hachaim and, subsequently, a parking lot was constructed over another section. Few matzeivos remain, but those who have studied the site believe that no actual graves have been damaged.
The protection of a larger beis hachaim in Lviv that is the resting place of the Taz and the Shevet Moshe has been a subject of struggle between the Jewish community and local officials for many years.
In October of 2015, the city sold the area, which had been used as a parking lot, to a private developer with plans to build a hotel there. The local Jewish community used many avenues to fight the construction plan, but had met with little success.
Shortly before building was set to begin, Rabbi Bleich was contacted by Rabbi Abba Cohen, Washington director of the Agudath Israel of America, who had been asked by a team of American-based askanim to apply whatever pressure they could to stop the impending desecration.
Rabbi Cohen and Rabbi Bleich working in concert with the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of U.S. Heritage Abroad, providing the necessary information to the embassy and high-ranking officials in the Ukrainian government to stop the construction. Both wrote and spoke with local officials in Lviv and expressed their disapproval of any plans that would endanger the cemetery.
Shortly after, Lviv’s mayor, Andriy Sadovyi, sent a message through a deputy that before any construction is allowed, an assessment will be carried out to ensure that no building will take place on what is officially deemed to be cemetery grounds. The deputy said that a written statement to that effect would be forthcoming.
“It isn’t over till it’s over,” said Rabbi Bleich. “There is still much to be done, because the site hasn’t been considered an official cemetery for 25 years, but for now, all the efforts certainly seem to have paid off.”
A fuller report will appear, iy”H, in a future edition.