US and Israel teaming up to protect Europe’s Jewish heritage sites

Mosaic United is set to bring thousands of volunteers from around the globe to restore and preserve historical properties decimated in the Holocaust and under Communism

The Great Synagogue of Slonim, which has been selected for preservation as part of the Historic Synagogues of Europe project. (Foundation of Jewish Heritage)

Thousands of Jewish volunteers from around the world are set to converge on Europe in order to preserve an array of Jewish heritage sites damaged in the Holocaust and subsequent years, thanks to a new cooperation agreement signed Monday by the United States and Israel.

The agreement, called Mosaic United, was finalized between the US Commission for the Preservation of American Heritage Abroad (CPAHA) and the Israeli Diaspora Ministry. The two bodies pledged to work together to locate and identify objects of cultural importance in Central and Eastern Europe, and to preserve them via joint projects.

At the signing were US Ambassador David Friedman, CPAHA chair Paul Packer, and Dvir Kahana, director of the Diaspora Ministry.

“Relations between the United States and Israel have never been closer, and we cooperate at every level and in every field. Diplomatic and security cooperation is often what makes the news headlines, [but] I am particularly proud of this new joint declaration which unites our efforts to preserve cultural heritage — a subject of great importance to millions of American citizens and citizens of Israel,” said Friedman.

Paul Packer, chair of the US Commission for the Preservation of American Heritage Abroad (left), with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (center) and Dvir Kahana, head of the Diaspora Ministry, signing the Mosaic United agreement in Tel Aviv, February 26, 2018. (Courtesy)

While the commission was established in 1985 and has worked with local governments to preserve heritage sites tied to the history of US citizens, Monday’s agreement will see cemeteries, synagogues, monuments, and archival material restored and protected under the auspices of both countries.

Packer, himself Jewish and with a history of investment in Israel, was assigned to head up the commission in October of last year by US President Donald Trump. He previously worked in finance.

Projects are currently ongoing in countries such as Armenia, Italy, Germany and Austria, according to the CPAHA website. However, the majority of the commission’s work is focused in Central and Eastern Europe, where conditions for already decimated properties were exacerbated under decades of Communist rule.

Many of the heritage sites that benefit from the commission belonged to the Jewish communities in their respective countries.

“The agreement is the first step in the implementation of the Mosaic United project of the Israeli government and the Jewish people,” said Kahana. “This is a process of bringing thousands of Jewish volunteers from all over the world.”

According to Packer, “the new partnership with the Diaspora Ministry will enable the United States and Israel to strengthen the heritage of their citizens, not only to remember and perpetuate the past but to ensure that the value on which our nations were built will never be forgotten.”

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