25 November 2005
In August 2004 we said in the final report of the “Liepaaja Jewish Memorial Committee” that the new foundation Liepaaja Jewish Heritage (LJH) had agreed to assume custody of the Memorial Wall. We thought we had ensured the future of the Wall for several decades, well beyond the life expectancy of us 79-year-olds. However, LJH has reneged on this agreement, forcing us to establish a new foundation, Memorial, to care for the Wall. Here is the background.
Mr. Ilya Segal—co-owner of Metalurgs and Board member of the new foundation Liepaaja Jewish Heritage—promised that the Foundation would take over our left-over donations of $5,603 and assume responsibility for upkeep of the Wall, including any fundraising needed after this surplus was used up. We drafted a formal agreement, and on the strength of his promise, we transferred the money to a special account of LJH. However, eight months later Mr. Sergey Zaharjin objected to the arrangement, and although we changed the language of the agreement, he categorically refused to have anything to do with the Wall and insisted on returning the money.
The Liepaaja Jewish Community under its present leadership has disqualified itself from becoming custodian of the Wall. As mentioned on p. 7 of our Final Report, they refused to return to us $1,190 left over from donation money that we had deposited with them. Luckily we were able to nearly square the accounts by withholding (with the donor’s permission) a donation of $1,144 that the Bub family had asked us to pass on to the Community. Clearly, to give money to the Community would be, in Khrushchev’s immortal phrase, “like putting the goat in charge of the cabbage patch”.
The solution we have come up with is to establish a new foundation, “Memorials”, for the exclusive purpose of taking custody of the Wall. Its Executive Committee in Liepaaja will manage routine matters; its members are to be Vladimir Ban, Eduard Kaplan, and Gunaars Silakaktinsh. (Kaplan, a member of the Community who cares a lot about the cemetery, has become an expert at locating graves and has been very helpful to visitors. Silakaktinsh, a local historian and housing expert, also holds a position with the City and often becomes involved in Jewish matters). With the advice of a lawyer, we have drafted statutes and applied for registration with the responsible office of the Latvian government.
According to Western practice there should also be a Board that oversees the Committee and appoints members. However, Latvian law permits only a single governing body of “founding members”. We have therefore come up with the following workaround, whereby the Executive Committee establishes an Advisory Board with appropriate powers. Members of the Board are the following people who have demonstrated a strong interest in the Wall.
The main functions of the Board will be: replacing members of the Executive Committee, reviewing audit statements once a year, and discussing any big and important matters that come up.