(ISJM) After more than six years of abandonment, the 17th-century Great Synagogue of Iaşi, in northern Romania, is again the object of government-sponsored restoration work, thanks to pressure by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania (FedRom), and international attention.
After years of repeated appeals from the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania (FEDROM) to re-start this work, The Ministry of Culture and Heritage (MCP) has restarted the project which was stalled after the primary contractor went bankrupt in 2007. Now, according to FedRom representative and architect Lucia Apostol, one of the best preservation contractors in Iaşi, IASICON LTD, has been selected to complete the conservation work. New work began in the second half of 2013 and emergency conservation work, including roof repair and removing dampness from the foundations, was completed at the end of 2013.
The contractors estimate that the entire project will cost 2.34 million lei (approximately US$700,000). In 2013 the Ministry of Culture (MCP) allocated about 650,000 Lei, about 27% of the project cost. Assuming similar allocations continue for the next few years, the restoration would be completed in about three years from now. Future allocations, however, are not certain, and costs can rise. In addition, there is needed work not included in the MCP project, which must be financed by FedRom. This includes all provisions for religious use, including restoration and provision of a functioning ark, bimah, and chandeliers. In recent months roof work has been completed, including replacement of the metal covering the synagogue dome. Additional funds, most likely from international donors, will certainly be needed.
In October 2013, The World Monuments Fund (WMF), placed the Iaşi synagogue on its 2014 Watch list of endangered cultural heritage sites, on of 67 sites worldwide so-designated. Launched in 1996 and issued every two years, the Watch List is the flagship advocacy program of WMF, aimed at focusing attention on key threatened sites (I was glad to write a recommendation for the listing on behalf of FedRom’s application). To arrange contributions to the project contact WMF.
The synagogue’s age, distinctive form, and the fact that it has continued to serve a small but active Jewish community, are all remarkable in Romania and have made the synagogue widely known internationally. Unfortunately, the building needs serious repair and restoration – work that was stopped five years ago – and deserves greater recognition (with the history it represents) within Romania itself.
Attempts to restore and preserve the Iaşi synagogue stopped for many years. Restoration of the building, funded by the by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage of, began in 2006 but stopped in 2007 when Remicon Ltd, the construction company that was carrying out the work went bankrupt. Since then, the synagogue was left in a perilous state since then; closed to the Jewish community and public, surrounded by scaffolding, with walls uncovered and its dome unprotected. Now, in addition to its earlier structural problems, exposure to the elements has resulted in further deterioration.
The Jewish community in Romania is very small and poor, with very limited political and cultural influence. Despite the a relatively large Jewish population of Romanian origin in the United States and Israel, the plight of Jewish heritage sites in Romania has not received the attention and support given to Germany, Poland, Lithuania and some other countries. The Romanian Jewish Community carries responsibility for a very large number of extant synagogues and other sites, but has very limited resources and staff to monitor, maintain and restore them. Architect Lucia Apostol described the challenges facing of Jewish heritage preservation in Romania in her presentation at the April conference in Krakow on Managing Jewish Immovable Heritage in Europe.
Iaşi is the capital of Moldova and as such is one of the major cultural centers of Romania. For centuries the city was an important center the Jewish culture and religion for Northern Moldova and Bucovina. The city once supported a large Jewish population, though this was devastated during the Romanian Fascist period and the Holocaust. Before World War II the Jewish community of the city probably was half the total city population – and there were over 100 synagogues and prayer houses. During the Iasi Pogrom of June 29-July 6, 1941, and its aftermath, about 14,000 Jews were killed or deported - about half the Jewish population of the city. The history of Jewish Iaşi, its destroyed synagogues and its devastated and dispersed Jewish population, now resides in the surviving Great Synagogue.