Sunday, Sept. 4, marked the inauguration of the Space of Synagogues, the first completed part of three planned sites commemorating Jewish history and heritage in L’viv, Ukraine.
The project is believed to mark the first time in Ukraine that a memorial commemorating Jews was initiated by city authorities and represents a public recognitiion of Jewish history as local history.
In a recent Have Your Say op-ed by the photographer and writer Jason Francisco wrote:
the breadth of the coalition responsible for the project marks a key turn. That coalition includes the Executive Committee of the L’viv City Council, the city’s Office of Historical Environment Preservation, the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe, the German GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit), plus L’viv’s Chesed Arieh Jewish charity fund, the US-based Gesher Galicia genealogy association, and the Israel-based Association of Commemoration of Lwów Jewish Heritage and Sites.
The site is anchored by the conserved ruins of the 16th century Golden Rose synagogue, and also includes the footprint of the adjacent Beis Midrash, destroyed during the Holocaust, and — between them — a symbolic cemetery with slabs inscribed with quotations from Jews who lived in L’viv before, during, and after the Shoah.
During the preservation process conservators discovered traces of frescoes that date back to the 17th century.
Hundreds of people attended the opening event — a two-hour program moderated by Ada Diamova, of the Chesed Arieh charity that included about 20 speakers: ranging from Mayor Andriy Sadovyi, to Jewish community representatives, Holocaust survivors, Israeli and German diplomats, and others. The ceremony ended with a rabbi reciting Kaddish.
In 2010 the L’viv City Council, in partnership with the L’viv Center for Urban History and the German Society for International Cooperation, launched an unprecedented design competition to mark three sites of Jewish history in the city.
The official brief was “to respond to the growing awareness of L’viv’s multi-ethnic past by contributing to the rediscovery of the city’s Jewish history and heritage through creating public spaces dedicated to the city’s historic Jewish community.” The winning designs for all three sites were chosen by an international jury in December 2010; Jewish Heritage Europe coordinator Ruth Ellen Gruber was on the jury.
As Jason Francisco wrote in his Have Your Say oped, the main obstacles to implementing the commemorative site have come in the form of the angry opposition to the Space of Synagogues project expressed by one L’viv Jew who for years has written caustic letters and emails against the project, filed lawsuits against it, and insisted to foreign journalists and others that the Space of Synagogues project is part of a plot to desecrate sites of Jewish history.
The next stage of work at the Space of Synagogues site is due to include archaeological excavations next year at the nearby site of the destroyed Great Synagogue, an open space now used as a terrace by a local restaurant.
On Sept. 5, experts and Jewish community representatives met with city officials at the office of Mayor Sadovyi to discuss one of the other two commemorative projects that were part of the 2010 design competition. This was the “Besojlam” — or memorial at the one part of L’viv’s old Jewish cemetery that has not been built over by a sprawling marketplace.
The winning design for the commemorative site is by the Israeli architect and designer Ronit Lombrozo.
During the Sept. 5 meeting, Lombrozo gave a slide presentation about her design — which foresees a lattice-like wall around the cemetery site and a raised walkway going through it, incorporating a platform where visitors can pause for prayer or reflection.
Participants then posed questions about the design that ranged from feasibility and engineering issues to matters of Jewish law regarding cemeteries and burial.
Consensus emerged that, as a short-term step in what could be a years-long process, signage should be placed to identify the space as a Jewish cemetery, and the area should be fenced.