The Gidonim project is a unique venture undertaken by graduates and teachers from the Reut School in Jerusalem, who every year go to Poland and renovate Jewish cemeteries in Poland. Groups from the Re’ut school in Jerusalem have undertaken this mission and have carried out this project since 2004.
The Re’ut School is the realized vision of Dr. Aryeh Geiger (z”l), who championed the notion that pluralism must be actively taught, adopted and pursued as a way of life if it is to shape attitudes and behavioral change and bring about greater social cohesion. The founding initiative of Dr. Geiger (z”l) – Beit Sefer Re’ut – was created as Israel’s first religious pluralistic school and opened a world of possibilities for Israel’s youngest citizens and for a new breed of educators committed to reducing social and educational polarization.
These groups of graduates and teachers have been returning to Poland almost every year since 2004 in order to reconstruct and document Jewish Polish cemeteries. The mission members are volunteers and also contribute financially to the overall expenses of the project.
The “Children of Gidonim” addresses the need to reclaim forgotten Jewish graves in Poland, which were either, destroyed by the Nazi regime or neglected over time. Beyond the intense physical work performed on individual graves and entire cemeteries, we also seek to honor the memory of those whose burial places would have been tended to by their own relatives had they not been murdered in the Holocaust. While there are other reclamation efforts, Gidonim is the only program created and run by and for Israeli youth.
Since the 2004 mission, some 95 participants have repeated this mission on another six occasions.
Goals of the specific program
Each summer, Gidonim sends young adults ages 18-30+ to Poland for 8-10 days to restore Jewish cemeteries, meet local youth, and examine what it means to assume responsibility for their role in history.
Specifically, the program focuses on:
- Cemetery restoration, mapping and documentation for use by the greater public.
- Honoring the basic mitzvah of showing respect for the dead.
- Remembrance of the vital community that existed in Poland throughout history.
- Education about the Holocaust as well as contemporary Jewish life in Poland.
- Leadership development and offering experiences for young adults to be active in hands-on tikun olam programs beyond their high school years and to serve as an example to their younger peers.
Re’ut School graduates spend considerable time during their senior high school year fundraising and planning the summer program, some as members of the student-led steering committee. The staff from the school who attend come and participate in the work of restoration and learning together.
All the participants have been on a regular Israeli school trips to Poland and have agreed to participate in the Gidonim project. For the last six years, these groups have been working in the Czestechowa Jewish cemetery. It is the third largest cemetery in Poland (after Lodz and then Warsaw). The work is especially difficult here; the Nazi’s vandalized this cemetery. In the area that this year’s group worked, hundreds of matzeivot (tombstones) were broken and displaced.