It’s good to see the mainstream media pick up on Jewish heritage concerns and the difficult issue of how to deal with and use surviving synagogues in towns where Jews no longer live.
The Slovak Spectator newspaper runs a lengthy article on this topic, “Old Synagogues Find New Life.”
The article mentions the current state and use of synagogues in several cities. (Oddly, though, it does not mention Maros Borsky’s work, with the Slovak Jewish Heritage Route and the Slovak Jewish Heritage web site).
More than 100 synagogue buildings still stand in Slovakia, only half a dozen used for religious purposes. Aside from those still used for worship, writes Carmen Virágová:
Slovakia’s synagogues fall into two categories: dilapidated or used for other purposes. In Trstená, the old synagogue is a shopping centre. Komárno’s synagogue is a squash centre, Zlaté Moravce’s houses a climbing wall, Tvrdošín’s a bar, and in Revúca the building has been converted into a Jehovah’s Witnesses chapel.
“Synagogues should be used for cultural purposes but when there’s no opportunity to use them this way, it’s better to use them for commercial purposes than to let them become abandoned or fall into decay,” said Pavel Frankl, the head of the Jewish community in Žilina. “If there’s no tabernacle with a Torah in the synagogue, it’s not a sacred place anymore.
“The still sacred places for us are old Jewish cemeteries where our ancestors are buried,” he continued. “Even when the gravestones are demolished, it is most important that there are still their bones in the soil.”
The article highlights the situation in Lucenec, where the huge synagogue — designed by the Hungarian architect Lipot Baumhorn — stands is seriously dilapidated state. The synagogue got at least a partial new roof in the 1990s, but restoration plans have been stalled for years because of lack of funds.
The synagogue was not the property of a Jewish community, but owned by private firms. The last owner went bankrupt, and lacked the funds to launch a renovation. As of May, it is back in the hands of the town.
“Because it wasn’t possible to pay the renovation from the town’s budget, we were looking for other ways to save this monument,” said Mária Bérešová, spokesperson for Lučenec City Hall. “The town is trying to get finances from the European Union.”
A plan calls for the renovated synagogue to become a multicultural centre, hosting concerts, festivals, exhibitions and balls.