Following a meeting with representatives of the Lithuanian Jewish community and Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department, leaders from the municipality of Kalvarija, Lithuania, appear to have agreed to go ahead with plans to renovate the town’s important Jewish communal complex on Sodų Street despite continuing concerns about how to finance the project.
The complex, one of the most intact surviving Jewish sites in Lithuania, it listed a national cultural heritage landmark. It includes three buildings.
The Great Synagogue, or “summer synagogue,” was built in 1795-1803 to replace an 18th century wooden synagogue. Used as a warehouse after World War II, its roof collapsed in the mid-1990s and today the building stands as a ruin.
Standing nearby is the Beit Midrash, or “winter synagogue,” built in 1865; it was also used as a warehouse in the Soviet period and was partially restored with funds from the German Zeit fund and the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department. .
Between these two buildings is a red brick Jewish school (also called the rabbi’s house), that is marked with a star of David dates from the turn of the 19th-20th centuries. Nearby the remains of a mikveh also still exist, near the river. (A remnant of the Jewish cemetery also remains.)
The Lithuanian Jewish community reports on its web site that the Municipality has “decided not to break off an agreement on the utilization of the synagogue complex there as they had planned” after “financing pathways using EU structural funds were presented to municipal leaders at the meeting with discussion of financing from the Cultural Heritage Department as well.”
Under the project drafted by the LJC several years ago, the total cost of work to fix the synagogue complex came to just under 2 million euros, but no funding was found.
The municipality and the LJC signed a use agreement in 2014, under which the municipality pledged to protect and utilize appropriately the buildings until financing was found to begin restoration to adapt the complex for public cultural, educational and academic use, for tourism and other uses.
The article, which also quotes a Baltic News Service report, states that
It was reported in February the municipal administration wanted to withdraw from the use agreement because of lack of funds to restore the buildings. Now the mayor says he’s rethinking the matter because of the possibilities for financing presented.
“Now we’re considering the suggestion of financing from the Ministry of Culture which would allow for fixing up the synagogues,” the mayor said.
According to the web site, Kalvarija’s authorities are considering to install a small museum in the the former Jewish school. It quoted the mayor as indicating that the ruined Great Synagogue could be preserved as a ruin and stabilized to allow visitors to tour it.