The gravestone erected by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Gabbay
The gravestone erected by Rabbi Yisrael Meir GabbayOholei Tzadikim

In the town of Premishlan in the Lvov region of Ukraine, there are two Jewish cemeteries in which are buried hundreds, or perhaps thousands of Jews, dating back centuries.

Premishlan was once a place of renown in the Hassidic world, a town where prominent Hassidic leaders lived, most notably the Rebbe R’ Meir of Premishlan, who was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov.

Rebbe Meir is buried in the older of the two cemeteries; his grandson, named after him, is buried in the newer cemetery, which has remained largely intact over the years, with the gravestones still standing. The older cemetery, by contrast, has been entirely destroyed with nothing left of the gravestones there, not even the one marking the grave of the elder R’ Meir of Premishlan.

Twenty years ago, the head of the Oholei Tzadikim organization, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Gabbay, traveled to Premishlan and viewed first-hand the devastation. Not only were virtually no traces of the older cemetery discernible; a local family had built a home on the ruins. When he made inquiries about purchasing the house in view of clearing the area, however, the family demanded a huge sum of money that Rabbi Gabbay did not have at his disposal.

“I spoke with some of this family’s neighbors who lived just beyond the cemetery,” Rabbi Gabbay related. “I succeeded in purchasing from them a small area at the very edge of the cemetery where I erected a gravestone to the memory of Rabbi Meir of Premishlan, so that there should be at least something that testified to the fact that he was buried there.

“Over the years, several of Rabbi Meir’s descendants, now living in the United States, visited Premishlan, and saw the gravestone that I put up. At a certain point they decided to make every effort to redeem the site. I visited there recently and was delighted to see that the entire cemetery is now surrounded by a high fence, just as it should be.”