Leaders join forces to clean up Mount of Olives cemetery

Knesset agrees to restore 7,000 graves per year, install 200 security cameras

Prominent Jewish leaders around the world have joined forces to create an international- watch committee to clean up the Mount of Olives cemetery. The leaders say the cemetery has fallen into “utter chaos” since Israel regained control of the area in 1967. The committee is planning a kick-off event to raise public awareness on Saturday night at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem.
“There isn’t a Jewish cemetery in the world that’s as neglected,” lamented Menachem Lubinsky, a New York businessman whose parents are buried in the cemetery.
He told The Jerusalem Post that his brother Avraham hatched the idea for an international committee after visiting their parent’s grave this past spring, when he noticed eight nearby graves destroyed with a “the kind of maliciousness that defies imagination.”
In May, the State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss released a report that slammed successive governments for not providing basic maintenance and security in the cemetery. Last week, the Knesset State Control Committee, headed by MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima), said the government had agreed to refurbish 20,000 graves by the end of 2013 – about 7,000 per year. Some 200 security cameras will also be installed in, and around, the cemetery.
Rock throwing incidents in the area have become increasing frequent, with children from a nearby school throwing rocks at cars of the mourners. On September 29, Almagor Victims of Terror Association Meir Indor said he faced a “lynch” situation after leaving the cemetery, when his car was stoned while stuck in a traffic jam.
He was lightly injured in the incident.
Lubinsky said his personal experiences, and the State Comptroller’s report, inspired him to reach out to Jews across the world to form a committee to ensure the changes are implemented.
Among the committee members are Malcolm Hoenlein, Vice Chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Steve Savitsky, the president of the Orthodox Union, and Steve Mostofsky, the president of the National Council of Young Israel.
“There seems to be a consensus across the board that this is something that needs to be done, it’s long been neglected,” said Lubinsky. “It’s a statement to Jews all over the world.
The place where priests prepared the ashes for sacrifice, and where the new month was announced, should be as well-maintained as the kotel [Western Wall].”
Part of the reason for the cemetery’s decline has been confusion over which government agency or organization is responsible for upkeep. The Jewish Development Authority, a semipublic development company associated with the Jerusalem municipality, will be responsible for part of the upcoming renovations.
In addition to Saturday’s kickoff event, the committee plans a ‘grave clean-up day’ by the community to reverse the desecration that has gone unchecked for the past 40 years. But Lubinsky said that maintaining security in the locale, so mourners can visit the graves in peace, is the most important goal.
“The police must return to this area, since it seems like they haven’t been there since 1967,” said Lubinsky.
“They need to return to Har Hazeitim to give impression to Jews and the world that Har Hazeitim is a secure place. The Mount of Olives Cemetery should be given the kind of recognition it deserves, so that people know the holiest and oldest cemetery in Judaism is finally being taking care of.”