In what was truly a Shehecheyanu moment, a Mezuzah was affixed to the entrance of the partially restored Great Maharsha Synagogue in Ostroh (Ostrog), Ukraine, built in the early 17th century.
Visiting rabbis and pilgrims from the USA, Israel, and Ukraine, as well as local townspeople attended the November 4 mezuzah ceremony, which marked a milestone in the recovery of a building that just three years ago was a roofless ruin.
Restoration is not complete, but is progressing, thanks to the efforts of local activist Hryhoriy Arshynov, a civil engineer who is a member of the Ostroh City Council and member of the Ostroh Jewish community, which owns the building.
Arshynov has spearheaded — and largely funded — the restoration since 2016, and we have followed the process closely — click HERE to access our previous posts.
According to the synagogue restoration project, costs so far have topped $200,000, with some funds also provided by benefactors Louis Kestenbaum and Rabbi Yisrael Meir Gabbay, the founder and head of the organization Agudas Ohalei Tzadikim, which cares for graves of noted rabbis and sages.
In past centuries Ostroh was home to noted rabbis and scholars, among them Shmuel Eliezer Ha-Levi Edels – known as Maharsha – who lived from 1555 to 1631.
Built around 1627, the synagogue is an early example of the nine-bay sanctuary. It was closed by the Soviets in 1939 and damaged during the Holocaust. After the war it was used as a pharmacological warehouse under the Soviets. Plans to create a museum there in the early 2000s fell through and the building was left to crumble.
In December 2015, we published an article about the synagogue by Sergey R. Kravstov, an expert on synagogue architecture from the Center for Jewish Art in Jerusalem. Titled The Great Maharsha Synagogue in Ostroh: Memory and Oblivion. Have we reached the point of no return?, it was first of our “Have Your Say” series of personal essays and opeds.
Kravtsov presented the history and architectural importance of the building and wondered whether it might not be too late to save it. Arshynov has said that he was spurred to act by what Kravtsov wrote.
During the Mezuzah event, Arshynov mounted an exhibition inside the synagogue, showing guests the history of the renovation project and laying out his further plans for the building.
He told JHE that he hopes to rebuild and install an ark with a Torah scroll next year, the 80th anniversary of the closure of the building as a house of worship. He would like to see the synagogue used for religious purposes and also to house a Jewish school.
Watch a new video — with English narration — that traces the history of the synagogue and also the ongoing restoration.
Watch a video that compares how the synagogue looked before the renovation and now (August 2018)