The so-called White Synagogue in Joniškis in northern Lithuania officially reopens as a cultural venue next month after restoration, joining the neighboring Red Synagogue, which reopened for cultural use in 2014, to a unique Jewish cultural and heritage ensemble. The White Synagogue has been hosting cultural events for several months, but the July 8 ceremony will be its official dedication.
The side-by-side synagogues near the center of town form one of Lithuania’s most important Jewish heritage complexes — a complex declared a Cultural Heritage Object by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage in Lithuania in 1970 despite the neglect and misuse of the buildings. Both synagogues are now administered by Joniškis Museum of History and Culture.
The scalloped-roofed White Synagogue (so-called because its brick outer walls are plastered white) was built in 1823 and later remodeled. After World War II it was turned into a warehouse and then a sports hall. The red-brick Red Synagogue, built next to it in 1865, was used as a metal foundry, a youth club and as residential housing, though some of the interior fittings, including the Ark, remained intact.
Renovation of both synagogues was carried out with major funding from the EEA and Norway Grant program, as well as financing from the World Monuments Fund, Lithuanian Heritage Protection Department and the Joniškis municipality.
The EEA states that in the just-completed more than €300,000 work on the White Synagogue:
major repairs have been carried out for internal premises […] and the previously started façade restoration works have been completed. Furniture and required computer, lightning and audio equipment were also acquired, thus providing perfect conditions to organise various events. An interactive exhibition was installed in the synagogue, allowing to get better acquainted with the history of Joniškis.
Work on the White Synagogue carried out from 2004-2006 by the World Monuments Fund including the patching of major holes and openings, the replacement of the roof, restoration of upper facades, and waterproofing of the building’s foundations.