The Return of Synagogues

Seminars and Instructional Material

To familiarize community activists with the range of issues connected with the search for and return, renovation, and use of community property, the JDC began to conduct regular restitution seminars. The first seminar of this kind was held in Odessa in 1992. This was followed by seminars in Minsk and Omsk in 1994, St. Petersburg and Zaporozhie in 1995, Lvov in 1996, St. Petersburg, Vinnitsa, and Nalchik in 1997, Vinnitsa and Odessa in 1998, one in Kiev in 1999, three in St. Petersburg in 1999 and 2000, and one in Yaroslavl in 2001. These seminars involved a total of 400 community activists and consultants who were directly concerned with various aspects of restitution.
The organizers of the seminars understood quite well that the restitution and renovation of synagogues were inseparable from the strengthening of local Jewish communities. For this reason the seminars not only dealt with archival, legal, and engineering questions and not only discussed specific projects and provided individual consultations, but also dealt with problems of community building. The seminars also made clear that the very process of searching in archives for information about former synagogue buildings could stimulate the interest of young people in the Jewish history of their city, uncover unknown documents and facts, provide the impetus for the organization of an exhibition or museum, and, ultimately, facilitate community solidarity. Joint community efforts for the restitution of synagogues can also unify the community.

The restitution seminar program always includes visits to returned synagogues, including those in the process of restoration, in order to instill optimism and confidence in community activists. In 1996, with JDC support, film-makers in Kishinev made the video “The Community Gains a Home,” which was first shown at the seminar in Nalchik. The video includes interviews with community activists who succeeded in overcoming bureaucratic barriers and regained synagogue buildings.
Parallel to the organization of seminars, the JDC issued instructional materials for people involved in problems of restitution and renovation. The first “Guide for the Return of Confiscated Jewish Communal Property” was issued in June 1995. It contained advice by a historian, a lawyer, and an engineer, as well as the texts of laws and government decisions about restitution. This was followed by guides devoted to specific questions, e.g. archival searches, renovation, etc. Five such practical guides have been published thus far.


 

 

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19 Jul 2007 / 4 Av 5767 0