There are calls to create a Jewish museum in Wales, and — perhaps — to house it in the derelict Old Synagogue in Merthyr Tydfil — the oldest synagogue building in Wales, and a Grade II listed building.
The synagogue, a neo-Gothic style style building constructed in the 1870s, has not been used as a synagogue since the 1980s and now stands empty, with a bare, deteriorating interior. Already in 2009 planning permission had been granted to convert it into flats.
As we reported in November 2015, the Welsh government awarded a £95,000 grant toward the conversion of the synagogue as part of what was described as “a wider round of £1.2 million of funding for listed historical buildings across Wales [that] include places of historical worship and cultural importance.”
Apparently, not much has gone forward since then.
The BBC reports that “uncertainty remains about the future of the old synagogue in Merthyr Tydfil.” It currently is privately owned and still up for sale (for under £300,000), but there have been “suggestions” that Merthyr Tydfil council could take it over to house a Jewish museum.
The BBC report quoted Dr. Cai Parry-Jones, who has authored a book on Welsh Jewish communities.
“Since devolution, more is being done because Wales is starting to understand and see itself as a multi-faith and multicultural country,” he told the BBC’s Welsh language services, Newyddion 9 and BBC Cymru Fyw.
“In the last decade, a couple of books have been published on the history of Judaism in Wales.
“There have been some temporary exhibitions also, but nothing solid and permanent – so more could be done, I believe.”
In 2009, when planning permission for conversion was granted, the London Jewish Chronicle wrote that the building was already degrading and a target for vandals.
The neo-Gothic building has been used as a Christian community centre and a gym since the synagogue closed in 1983. It is thought to be the only synagogue with a Welsh dragon as part of its architecture.
One of the conditions of planning permission is that the synagogue’s Magen David stained glass windows are repaired but not replaced.