No stone unturned

High school students clean up Sambusky Cemetery

mount zion 88 (photo credit: )
mount zion 88
(photo credit: )
As reported in In Jerusalem ("Gravely in need of restoration," April 7), the Sambusky Cemetery on Mount Zion is the final resting place of more than 900 indigent Sephardim and orphans who didn't have the means to be buried on the Mount of Olives. But today nearly all the grave markers have been destroyed or looted for secondary usage. While a 1910 photo shows the site covered in tombstones, today only a few broken shards remain with Hebrew inscriptions. A group of 80 students from Himmelfarb High School spent three hours Tuesday cleaning up the garbage-strewn, historic graveyard. But to the frustration of Ro'i Herzog and his classmates, 12 students from the Neturei Karta yeshiva showed up - not to help clean the filthy site, but to "supervise" and make sure that no stones were disturbed. Aaron Tarabello explained that the Sephardi hevra kadisha (burial society) has not given permission to move any stones placed on top of graves. The "potters field" continues to be desecrated by Muslim villagers who throw garbage there, while squabbling government agencies have been unable to resolve how to fence off and restore the neglected site, charges Doron Herzog, a local amateur historian who has adopted the 17th-century graveyard, and recruited the volunteers with his son Ro'i. Herzog, 49, a Jerusalem-born tour guide who has been researching the history of the abandoned graveyard for nearly three decades, says the last burial took place there in 1943. That year 30 small stones that had been dislodged from the Western Wall during restorations were buried in the Sambusky "geniza." After the War of Independence when Jerusalem became divided between Israel and Jordan, the graveyard fell on the Hashemite side of the Holy City. Like the Mount of Olives and Mamilla cemeteries - respectively the main Jewish and Muslim graveyards in the divided city, both of which fell under enemy jurisdiction - the site was desecrated. Since 1967 the inactive Mount Zion cemetery has been under the control of the General Custodian for Absentees' Property - which has no budget for cemetery restorations. The site was designated for preservation under the city's 1975 urban master plan, and is currently zoned to become part of the National Park Around the Walled City, also called the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, which was established in 1974 and is being expanded piecemeal to the west, south and east of the Old City by the Israel Nature and National Parks Authority.