Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ukraine -- latest on the Golden Rose

Golden Rose ruins, December 2010. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Archeological excavation near Golden Rose, December 2010. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Misleading reports that suggested that the preserved ruins of the historic Golden Rose synagogue in L'viv were being destroyed to make way for a hotel went viral this past week, triggering an uproar. The G. R. ruins themselves are not under threat -- the envisaged hotel is on a nearby site. There are also archeological excavations going on around the Golden Rose site, which could be misconstrued as preparation for construction. Nonetheless, a longterm strategy for what to do with the Golden Rose is still not in place -- although I am glad to learn that plans for the implementation of the "Synagogue Square" memorial that includes the G.R. ruins and the place in front of them where another synagogue and a prayer house once stood seem to be moving forward.

I was on the international jury for the design competition for this and two other memorials marking Jewish sites in L'viv, and have reported on them in this blog.

Here is the story I ended up doing for JTA on the Golden Rose situation, based on numerous phone calls and email communication with various parties. Most people I know who have anything to do with L'viv Jewish heritage are happy that the controversial hotel plan has now come under scrutiny. But they are rather taken aback at the way a misleading and mis-headlined report can go viral and ignite such a firestorm.
Ukrainian mayor says synagogue ruins are not threatened

September 9, 2011

WARSAW (JTA) -- The mayor of the Ukrainian city of Lviv denied reports that the preserved remains of the historic Golden Rose synagogue were being destroyed to make way for a controversial hotel.

"I want to reassure everyone that no construction has ever taken place at the site of the Golden Rose," Lviv's mayor, Andriy Sadovyy, said in his statement.

"Construction of a hotel in the neighboring Fedorova Street, which has drawn criticism from some civic organizations’ representatives, has nothing to do with the site of the former Synagogue,” he said.

The mayor also said that plans were going ahead for new memorials to Lviv Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

The Golden Rose synagogue was largely destroyed during World War II; what remains are its foundations and a wall bearing arches.

On August 19, a Lviv district court ordered the Ukrainian Investment Company, the hotel's builder and investor, to "stop any preparatory and construction works on the plot" on Fedorova Street and "vacate building machines from this territory."

The site of the envisaged hotel does not directly touch the Golden Rose ruins. But critics charge that it could compromise a mikvah, the foundations of a former kosher butchery and other buildings in the old Jewish quarter.

“It is a disgrace,” said Meylakh Sheykhet, the Ukranian director of the Union Council of ex-Soviet Jews, in a statement. “They are building the hotel over the very places where there are Jewish artifacts buried and where the mikvah once stood.”

The mayor's press office said that his statement had been issued in response to an article by Tom Gross published by The Guardian newspaper and other international media outlets. Gross' article was headlined "Goodbye, Golden Rose."

In The Guardian, Gross wrote: "Last week I watched as bulldozers began to demolish the adjacent remnants of what was once one of Europe's most beautiful synagogue complexes, the 16th-century Golden Rose in Lviv."

Although the "adjacent remnants" to which Gross referred apparently did not mean the actual preserved ruins of the synagogue building, many readers were left with the impression that the synagogue itself was threatened. Other media outlets picked up the story and reported that the synagogue was being destroyed. Even Wikipedia at one point stated, "It [the Golden Rose Synagogue] was illegally demolished by the government of Ukraine in 2011 to build a hotel."

“After the publication of this information we have received inquiries from various countries of the world about the situation of the ruins of the Golden Rose Synagogue," Sadovyy said.

Sadovyy's statement noted that Lviv staged an international architectural competition last year for memorials to mark three sites of Jewish history in the city. Winners, announced in December, came from Israel, the United States and Germany.

One of the sites, the so-called Synagogue Square, includes the ruins of the Golden Rose and the space in front of it where another synagogue and a beit midrash once stood. Sadovyy said that an international group of experts "is at work" on this project. JTA has learned that Jewish representatives and city officials will meet in Lviv next month to discuss how and when to implement construction of the memorial there.

"It is extremely important to us, that, together with the Jewish community, civic organizations and everybody concerned with the fate of Lviv heritage, we resolve the issue of Synagogue fragments’ conservation as well as the issue of their worthy setting," Sadovyy said.

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