The Museum of Family History

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   Preserving Jewish Heritage

We can define Jewish heritage in many ways. Each facet of Jewish heritage, in its own way, has been challenged over time. In some ways, these challenges have occurred due to the assimilation of the Jewish people into larger, heterogeneous societies. Also, in some horrible way, our heritage was and is threatened by the brute force of anti-Semitism and war. Governments have imposed arbitrary rules and regulations on Jews for centuries, and this too has forced many Jewish towns to hold more tightly onto their traditions and heritage.

The institutions that had been so much a part of Jewish life, especially in the Eastern Europe countries, have mostly been destroyed or altered in some way over time; only a small percentage of these institutions remain intact. These are our cheders, our synagogues, our cemeteries. How many synagogues were burned and destroyed before and during World War II by the Nazis and their collaborators? Why were so many of the countless Jewish matzevot in our sacred graveyards been vandalized, toppled or used as paving stones? Certainly these and other Jewish institutions, as they once existed, were some of the riches of our Jewish past.

Our heritage is not inviolate. It has changed over time and will continue to do so. The question is always "What can and will we do as individuals, as institutions, that will contribute to the preservation of our Jewish heritage?" Of course, we must not rely on others to work towards this end. It is really up to each of us to do our part, even if our contribution is a small one.

What can we do then? Firstly, we can contribute financially, in whatever amount is feasible for us, to an institution whose mission you can most closely identify with. Secondly, we can volunteer and help those, either individually or institutionally, that are truly needy. Thirdly, we must strive to pass down our Jewish heritage from one generation to the next. No matter where each of us fall on the spectrum of Judaic observance, whether we are traditional or not, conservative or liberal, etc., we all share a common history that was created not only by our own ancestors, but by all our ancestors. As Jews, though we come from the several tribes of Israel, we are all one family. We must do what we can to pass down the stories of our families from one generation to the next, and encourage others to do the same. In this way our Jewish roots become more firmly planted in all our minds, and this can provide us with a great source of strength.

There are many ways to preserve Jewish heritage, though the manner of doing so depends on the location and the opportunity. In the United States, many old synagogues have been restored; many sadly have been neglected and met the wrecker's ball. Probably this is more so in Eastern Europe, though some synagogues may have been converted to churches or used in other public ways. Often there is only a memorial plaque with an inscription that states that a synagogue once stood there.

The overall condition of the cemeteries of Eastern Europe is of major concern. Many are in disarray, stones have been toppled, broken, moved to other places away from the grave they represent. The good news is that many cemeteries have been restored--fences have been built around the grounds, stones have been placed erect again or made part of a cemetery memorial if the proper location could not be determined. Unfortunately, many former Jewish cemeteries are no more, having been razed or built over, buried under apartment buildings, town pools and firehouses. Some have become the site of industrial areas or are used for grazing purposes. Through the efforts of various organizations such as the Poland Jewish Cemeteries Restoration Project, there is hope that many of our precious Jewish cemeteries will be restored and protected. Time, as usual, is of the essence.

One of the main functions of the Museum of Family History is to preserve and perpetuate the Jewish family and its way of life. It is essential to educate the many who have never experienced the beauty of Jewish tradition, and to remind those who might have forgotten. How we will define what a Jew is and how we value our collective histories twenty, fifty or one-hundred years from now will be up to all of us. How we honor and work to preserve our Jewish heritage will be our legacy.

Within this exhibition, the Museum displays a representative sample of the many ways that the Jewish people have worked to honor and preserve their heritage. This exhibition, like so many that stand within the virtual walls of the Museum, is ever-evolving, and will be augmented over time. If you feel you have material that would be suitable for this important exhibition, please contact the Museum of Family History at


The Future Vilnius Jewish Library


The Jewish Cemetery and Place of Remembrance, Dobra, Poland
The Rededication Ceremony in Wachock, Poland
Restoration of the Losice Cemetery in Poland

The Town of Szczekociny, Poland


Commemoration of the Liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto


Reopening of B'nai B'rith Lodge in Warszawa




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