UJO of Williamsburg Applauds President Obama for Signing “The Protect Cemeteries Act”

(Monday, August 11th, 2014)

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The UJO of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn thanks and applauds President Obama for signing in into law “The Protect Cemeteries Act” (H.R. 4208) which amends the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to include the desecration of cemeteries among the many forms of violations of the right to religious freedom. Special credit goes to Congresswoman Grace Meng, who spearheaded this law in Congress, and Senator Ben Cardin, the Sponsor of an identical Senate version.

The issue of cemetery preservations is one that is very dear to the Williamsburg Jewish community, one that was formed by Holocaust survivors and came to the United States and started to rebuild the community from scratch. The cemeteries of their ancestors are among the only and the holiest things that they left behind them in the Eastern Europe towns and villages. As time passes on, these holy links to our past are more and more threatened by greedy developers and others, sometimes with clear anti-Semitic intentions. The Williamsburg Community is working for decades to stop the decimation of the holy cemeteries globally. As part of these efforts, the late Congressman Stephen Solarz of Williamsburg heeded the call oif the community and passed a law to establish the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad – a panel appointed by the president – that is active in preserving cemeteries and other landmarks overseas.

“The Protect Cemeteries Act” will add an important tool in the arsenal for the protecting of the Jewish cemeteries. Rep. Meng was personally thanked her for that by Rabbi Niederman today, at an event arranged by the Vaad Harabubim of Queens at the Margaret Tietz Nursing & Rehabilitation Center to mark the passage of the law. Congresswoman Meng thanked Dr. Bernard Fryshman, leader of the Conference of Academicians for the Protection of Jewish Cemeteries that works very closely with Asra Kadisha on the preservation of cemeteries, who was advocating for such a bill since 2007, and the brothers Rabbi Pinchas Hecht, Executive Director of the Mir Yeshiva, and Rabbi Avrohom Hecht of the Vaad Harabunim of Queens, for bringing it to her attention.

“I was excited to be told by Congresswoman Meng today that the President has signed this important bill on Friday, and I expressed to her the appreciation of a grateful Williamsburg community for leading this effort. We are also thankful to Senator Cardin for his work in the Senate. Additionally we want to thank our Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, for co-sponsoring the bill together with Representatives Doug Collins (R-GA) and Alan S. Lowenthal (D-CA), and to our local Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez for strongly supporting this bill in the House, and for Senator James E. Risch (R-ID) for co-sponsoring it in the Senate. We especially want to express our appreciation for Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, for ensuring that the bill comes to a vote in the House, and for the Senate Foreign Relation Committee, its Chair Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-TN), for passing it in the Senate,” Rabbi Niederman said.

“We hope and pray that countries around the world will allow the Jews buried there to rest in peace for eternity, but in cases that they G-d forbid don’t, this bill helps the U.S. government act for those that cannot,” Rabbi Niederman concluded.

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