Good news on the decade-long project to restore the wooden “Green Synagogue” in Rezekne, Latvia.
Latvia: Rezekne Green Synagogue Restoration Update
by Samuel D. Gruber
(ISJM) David Michaelson has provided me with an update and links on the long hoped for/planned restoration of the Green Synagogue of Rezekne, Latvia, a project which he first brought to my attention almost ten years ago. David’s great-grandparents were from Rezekne, a town which had the substantial Jewish population of around 20,000 people before 1900. At the time of the Second World War only 10,000 Jews lived there, and now only small number – a few dozen Jews at most – still live there. He and his wife first visited Rezekne in 2003 and were shown the closed and dilapidated (Green Synagogue, built 1845) by Rashel Kuklya, head of the small Jewish community. The building was last used by the Jewish community in the early 1990s.
David, however, was not to be put off. With some assistance from the International Survey of Jewish Monuments and Meier Melers of the Jews of Latvia museum in Riga, David was able to submit an application to the World Monuments Fund, which WMF approved for funding of a preservation plan. At first, the hope was the EU funding would become available for the restoration. Eventually, however, a Norwegian team adopted the project and after several attempts received funding. It appears that the WMF-funded plan is still the basis for the project, which will begin this spring.
Norway is not a member of the European Union, but to have access to the European markest, the country is required through the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA Agreement) to support projects in “new” EU countries. The Green Synagogue project is one of these, costing 711 000 EURO (close to one million US dollars). 85% of the funding come from Norwegian grants, 10% is from the Latvian culture ministry, and 5% from the Rezekne municipality.
According to the project website the synagogue was chosen because the wooden construction is similar to that in Norway from the beginning of 18th century (the synagogue was built around 1845), it is not privately owned, and it is the only surviving wooden synagogue in the area.
The Green Synagogue is one-and-a-half story square-plan building with a shallow four-slope roof. The facade is modest; the windows of the ground floor have semicircle lintels, and above them are “blind windows”. Inside, benches, bimah and Ark are still intact, but these may not be original to the building. A one-and-a-half story glazed gallery is above the main entrance. The building suffered significant water damage until the roof was repaired with government funds a few years ago. The interior painted ceilings are in bad condition with sections missing and the interior walls also are damaged. Overall, the exterior is in better condition but also shows signs of damaged timbers including some damage that may be the result of vandalism over the years.
After restoration (which should take 18-24 months) the synagogue will be a part of the Latgale (which is the region of Latvia Rezekne is in) Cultural Museum. It will be available for use as a synagogue upon request. It is not clear how this work, but militarism arrangements have been made at restored historic synagogues in other countries.
Here is the Norwegian website describing the project: (Google Translate does a good job with it)