Ruth Ellen Gruber writes about cuts in government funding in Italy and how they will impact Jewish heritage projects - especially synagogue restoration for which local, regional and national government often contribute from 50% to 70% depending on the circumstances.
The renegotiation of the Vatican Concordat in 1984 established Italy as a religiously pluralistic nation. Unlike the United States which separate religion and government and therefore denies most kinds of support to historic churches and synagogues, in Italy the new situation only served to equalize a system where previously Catholic churches benefited from public funds, but not other religious institutions. Thus, the state was suddenly responsible for the protection of a while realm of Jewish heritage sites it had previously ignored. This change has led, over the past quarter century to a revolution in the treatment and promotion of Italian Jewish sites. Synagogues which ad previously been closed and often dismantled, were now treated to ambitious, expensive and high quality restoration. Private funds have been raised locally and internationally to match government support. At the same time, new guidebooks, museums and tour companies have developed to promote this cultural legacy. So much good work has laready been accomplished, it seems doubtful that the present economic crisis will cause great harm. Some projects might be slowed, but many of the very best sites in the Veneto, Piedmont, the Marche and Tuscany have already been restotred.
A Jewish member of the Italian Parliament, Alessandro Ruben, says that the state funding cuts for Jewish heritage forced by the economic crisis may not be as disastrous as earlier predicted. About 25 percent of the funds allocated in the 2009 budget for restoration and repair of Jewish cultural heritage (amounting to €450,000) are being cut.
Moked.it, the online newsletter of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI), reports that an order has been issued sanctioning the government to provide extra resources "in particularly urgent cases."
"In particular situations the Ministry of Culture will evaluate, at the request of the UCEI, the possibility of allocating further funding," Ruben said.
"The ball is now in the UCEI's court," writes Daniela Gross on the Moked web site. "It will be up to the [UCEI's cultural heritage] commission to carry out the difficult task of evaluating the numerous requests from individual Italian Jewish communities to restore and recuperate Jewish heritage and to establish priorities, deciding which need to be handled right away and which can be put on hold."
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