The Return of Synagogues

Relations with Local Authorities

In addition to internal, Jewish problems, the restitution process has encountered obstacles from local ruling authorities. Such obstacles, for example, appeared in cases when the synagogue building was being used as a residence and there was no place to resettle the residents or when an influential institution that could not be ousted was located in the building.
The fight for the return of synagogues sometimes takes years. This was the situation in Kishinev, where the Association of Jewish Communal Organizations of Moldova succeeded in 1999, after a long struggle in regaining (actually buying) the synagogue on Diorditsa St. (which was built in 1835 and is the oldest of the surviving synagogues in Kishinev).

Sometimes attempts to regain a synagogue were met with such resistance that the community decided to abandon its efforts. This was the case in Smolensk, where a vocational school was located in the former Choral Synagogue. As the community’s intention to request restitution became known, the local newspaper printed a provocative article about Jewish plans to deprive “our children” of the possibility of gaining an education. As a result, the Jewish communal leadership decided it would be prudent to forget about its claims to the synagogue.

In Tbilisi the local Jewish community fought an exhausting battle to gain the former Ashkenazi synagogue, where the popular Georgian Theater was ensconced, and then spent a great amount of money to reconstruct and renovate the building. Although a court decided that the synagogue should be retained by the Jewish community, municipal authorities refused to carry out the decision. The fight for this synagogue caused friction between Georgians and Jews.
Sometimes an appeal to the authorities for the return of a synagogue or merely public discussion of the question has led to the intentional destruction of the building. In Khabarovsk local authorities destroyed a former synagogue in the summer of 1993 when the Jewish community began to ask for its return. In Kremenchug “unknown persons” set fire to the synagogue, which was totally destroyed. Ukrainian city of Khmelnitsky (infamous in Jewish history for the 1919 bloody pogrom committed by Petliura’s forces) was adorned by the impressive building of a former synagogue which had been transformed into a sports club. The club left the building in the 1980s; in 1991 the local authorities ordered the building torn down. In Dragobych, Omsk, Yaroslavl, and Ryazan “criminals” set fire to synagogues that had been returned to the Jewish community. In the fall of 1993 in Kamenets-Podolsk, during the night before the signing by the city executive committee of a resolution transferring the synagogue on Dragomanov Street for free use by the Jewish community, the synagogue was looted, the floor boards and window frames were carted off, and some of the interior walls were broken down.


 

 

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19 Jul 2007 / 4 Av 5767 0