Thursday, March 26, 2009

Belarus -- Kobrin Synagogue in Danger

Sam Gruber has begun posting material from the Bratislava Jewish heritage seminar, and probably will provide more detail -- or at least different detail -- than I am posting... after all, he was one of the organizers of the meeting.

At the seminar, he was able to speak at length with Bella Velikovskaja, of the Jewish Heritage Research Group in Belarus (and the Union of Jewish Religious Communities) about the serious threats to the former synagogue in Kobrin, a monumental structure built in 1868 which was restituted back to the Jewish commuity in 2004. The building was used for grain storage and a beverage-production plant after World War II. The government threatens to take back the building unless restoration work begins -- and funds are short.

Sam writes:
The situation at Kobrin is now urgent, because the government which returned the large 19th-century masonry synagogue to the Jewish community in 2004 threatens to take it back unless restoration work begins. This is a situation that is also becoming common in Poland. After holding Jewish properties for a half century or more and letting them deteriorate into near-ruins, they are returned to communities - but without any financial assistance to restore them. Communities must not only quickly find a use for the building, but also the funds to make them work. Sometimes years pass and nothing happens. Sometimes governments demand quick action. I frequently say the situation is similar to being asked to make soup. One is given the carrots and potatoes, but not pot to cook them in, and sometimes not even a fire. Consequently communities are overburdened. In Belarus, there is a real plan for Kobrin. But there is not enough money. And the government threatens to take the building back if nothing happens soon.

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