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Progress Report 2019

November 28, 2019

As we come to the end of our work year and for those in America, Thanksgiving, we are incredibly grateful for the support you have given us allowing us to get to where we have today.  For those in Canada, we have been advised (and sincerely hope) that we will receive our charitable status by the end of the year.

 

This year, we have reached our full stride. It is 13 months since we started our work and in that time we have managed to clear 8 sections, 58,211 m2 in area (629,000 sq ft or 15 acres), opening up access to the graves of 17,635 people! To put this into perspective, this is already more graves than any other Jewish cemetery in Hungary. The closest in size is the old Budapest cemetery closer to downtown on Salgotarjani ut that has about the same number of burials in an area that is 20% smaller. Yet we are only getting started with 11% of our goal reached. Depending on the weather, we may have time to do one more section this year. We have also spent a 6 weeks maintaining our cleaned sections by the removal of re-growth, the most essential work in a project like this. With a permanent wood chipper on site, we also took the opportunity to clear our entire backlog of branches and logs that had blocked roads.

This is a map of our completed sections. The first table on the left gives the number of burials by section and the second provides the area in square meters.

We are very happy with our progress even having experienced some “growing pains” that slowed our achievement a little. After some slippage in work quality we came to realize that our team from Szolnok would need to be replaced and furthermore, we would need better daily supervision. We think we have found the solution with an experienced supervisor named Zsolt who has worked in Jewish cemeteries before. He lives in a town about 25 miles (40km) from the cemetery and will bring his own team of workers who he can control. With a booming property sector, the demand for basic labor is very high so that reliable workers at a reasonable price are hard to come by. Our cost per hour will go up  but productivity improves as well and time will tell how we come out on a per square meter basis. We envisage our cost at about US$1-1.10 including labor and all materials which is still extraordinarily low.

Our new team beginning work on Section 33C

Ambassador Cornstein’s Visit

We have been fortunate to have the US Ambassador to Hungary, David Cornstein, take a serious interest in our project.  

Understanding the tremendous importance of the cemetery as a piece of heritage belonging to many Americans, October 28th, Marc and I were honored to accompany him on his visit. We hope that his interest will cause the Hungarian government to consider some direct funding of this project.

Volunteers’ Day

On a beautiful and sunny Sunday 27th October, 15 students of the Scheiber High School in Budapest gave us an entire morning to help in various tasks within Section 22, at the time our most recently-cleaned section. Their enthusiasm was infectious and the contribution significant. Many thanks goes to the leadership at the school – Principal Bernadett Kovacs and Vice Principal Zsolt Martha – as well as to teacher and mentor, Istvan Balog who organized the group and supervised them on the day. We also thank our two local volunteers who will help with future student days; Michele Migliori and David Feiner.

Their work consisted of three tasks:
 

  1. Row Markers: any visitor to the cemetery will be familiar with the sandstone row markers within sections that are mostly illegible. In just a couple of hours, the students painted 147 of them – both sides of 22 and one side of 28 - and the impact is enormous as you can see in the before and after shots just below.

    The photo also provides a glimpse into Section 28, an enormous section with almost 5400 burials. This section from 1907-1909 is one of the oldest and was almost impenetrable. Many of the stones have been damaged or slanted by years of tree and plant growth and we are proud to have rescued this from near destruction. While it does not look beautiful, the rows and graves are easily accessible and the damage from future growth has been arrested.

On the left, a typical row marker which is illegible. On the right, newly painted ones in Section 28On the left, a typical row marker which is illegible. On the right, newly painted ones in Section 28

2. Cleaning Garbage: There are many years’ worth of plastic waste (bottles and bags) strewn about the sections. These come from two areas: firstly, bottles of acid used to clean the stone and secondly, plastic bottles that are used as makeshift vases. The children were horrified that visitors would behave like this and filled an entire truckload of garbage

3. Photographic database

Our longer term aim is to develop a photographic database of the entire cemetery

and we were fortunate to have had pictures of almost 1000 graves from that morning. While just a drop in the ocean, a number of days like this will build a significant number of pictures.

 

 

Equipment

In our last communication in June, we wrote about experimenting with various wood chippers. We are pleased to announce that the Jensen machine has now been bought and is with us full time. Much of July and August were spent in dealing with the large backlog of branches and wood that had blocked many roads. Every road around the sections we have worked is now clear and the practice now is to chip and clear everything as it is cut. Aside from creating less obstruction, this also increases our efficiency significantly as the wood only need be handled once.

Our chain saws have given us great service but we envisage replacements being needed in the coming year. Just to give you a sense of how hard they are used, we have 3 chain saws and 12 chains. 3 or 6 get sharpened in the shop overnight while the other 6 get used one day before becoming blunt again!

 

Annual Maintenance

The biggest pitfall to any project like this is to simply clear the land without a forward plan of maintenance. Without it, the area goes becomes difficult to enter again within 5 to 7 years. Going into this year, we had little idea as to what and how much would grow after our clearing and applications of herbicide. The answer was a great deal, especially the invasive bálványfa or Tree of Heaven (originally from Asia) and the acacia, both of which re-sprout vigorously when cut. We engaged a forester to advise us who explained that when trees disseminate their seeds, not all sprout in the first year. They create a “seed bank” ensuring a number of years of new saplings, even when the original trees have been removed!

The good news is that while labor intensive, the small nature of the trees means that this can be done quickly and at about 10% of the cost to clear the section. USD 8-10c per square meter

Above, one can see an aerial view of our cleaned and maintained Section 28. For those familiar with the cemetery, the main road is just above this section. Around this section are tens of thousands of graves all hidden by forest.

Canadian Charitable Status

Canada Revenue have been advised us that we will receive our charitable status by the end of the year. In addition, we will be allowed to issue tax receipts in retrospect for the 2019 calendar year. This is per Canada Revenue’s Policy Statement CPS17 that allows a charity to use its date of incorporation or application as the effective date of registration.

 

"An effective date of registration may be selected that is within an earlier fiscal period notwithstanding the above, and with discretion. For example, to compensate for any Charities Directorate internal delays such as backlog, response time, or other internal factors."

 

For further details please see: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/charities-giving/charities/policies-guidance/policy-statement-017-effective-date-registration.html

 

 
CALL TO ACTION

 

Please consider donating further to our cause.  At our current pace of activity, our cash burn is very high at present and we need funds urgently to continue.

 

For donors (including those in the USA wishing to take advantage of tax deductibility) please click on this link:

 

https://www.budapestjewishcemetery.com/donate