The Return of Synagogues

The Results of Restitution Activity and a Shift in Emphasis

The tempo of the transfer of synagogues to local Jewish communities increased in the mid 1990s. By late 1994, approximately 40 buildings or parts of them were already community property. By late 1996, the number was about 60. Synagogues continue to be returned. In the year 2000 alone, synagogues were returned in Vladikavkaz, Izmail, Kerch, Tomsk, and Ryazan.

The more buildings that have been returned, the more the emphasis of the JDC’s restitution program has shifted from archival and legal support to financial and engineering aid for the renovation of returned synagogues. In 2000 alone, with JDC support, synagogues were renovated in Tyumen, Penza, Nizhnii Novgorod, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Shepetovka, Gomel, Minsk, Pinsk, and Dnepropetovsk. Furthermore, engineering aid (consultation and supervision) was provided to a majority of the above-mentioned communities, as well as those of Vladivostok, Kharkov, Lvov, Evpatoria, Khmelnitsky, Vitebsk, Kiev, and Astrakhan. The JDC provides aid for the renovation of returned synagogues, as well as functioning since the Soviet period . The most prominent examples of the latter are the Choral Synagogues of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Today increasing attention is being accorded to the economical renovation and planning, designing and construction of functional premises.

In cities where the Jewish communities are sufficiently large and returned synagogues are basically used for religious purposes, the JDC, along with aiding synagogue renovation, has begun buying separate buildings and premises in which to locate its philanthropic services (hasadim) and secular community centers. In order to avoid wasting resources this new program is being coordinated with the restitution program.

Over the years, the involvement of other organizations and of individuals in financing the renovation and reconstruction of synagogues has increased while the role of the JDC has been reduced. In Russia and Ukraine this is occurring due to the contributions of local businessmen (in Kazan, Chelyabinsk, Krasnoyarsk, Donetsk, and Dnepropetrovsk). Help in financing the restoration of synagogues has also come from the Russian and Ukrainian Jewish Congresses (for example, for the Voronezh synagogue and the Brodsky Synagogue in Kiev). On occasion, help has also been received from the local authorities (in Omsk, Yaroslavl, Nizhnii Novgorod, and Kazan). In Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, the leadership of the Muslim religious community contributed to the renovation of the synagogue.

Particular activity in the area of restitution has been demonstrated by the Habad Hasidim, who today head a majority of the religious communities in the CIS. For example, it was largely Habad and its contributors, both local and foreign (Lev Levayev and George Rohr, et al.), who renovated synagogues in Dnepropetrovsk, Donetsk, and Kherson. In Moscow Habad built a new synagogue to replace the one that was burned down in the Marina Roshcha district of town. Next to the synagogue a multi-storey Habad community center that includes another synagogue was opened in the fall of 2000.

Construction of new synagogues has been undertaken by others as well. For example, in 1993 the community of Mountain Jews in Nalchik built a new synagogue with only a modest contribution from the JDC. In Moscow, in 1998, the Russian Jewish Congress built a beautiful and costly Holocaust memorial synagogue on Poklonnaya Gora.


 

 

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19 Jul 2007 / 4 Av 5767 0