(JHE) — Good news from Izmir!
Nesim Bencoya reports “meaningful progress” in the rescue of two long-derelict historic synagogues — the Etz Hayim and the Talmud Torah (Hevra).
In addition, in a separate development, he reports that a broad, three-year project to sustain Jewish community and heritage in the city has received a half-million euro grant from the EU.
The grant totals €523,000 — that is, €497,220.98 awarded under the European Commission program “Support to Civil Society Networks and Platforms in Turkey,” with the condition that the remaining 5 percent (€26,000) be provided by the Izmir Jewish Community Foundation.
The project initiated August 1 and is to last 36 months. The funding is to support restorations of synagogues, publication of books, and other activities aimed at strengthening the status of the Jewish Community in Izmir through culture.
“A master plan for the synagogues compound is being designed in these days, and restoration plans will follow the master plan next year,” Bencoya told JHE.
Work has been going on for several years now to revitalize Izmir’s unique complex of nine historic synagogues and develop the complex as a Jewish museum and educational and visitors’ center.
Etz Hayim Synagogue
In the latest developments, Bencoya reports, restoration work on the long-derelict Etz Hayim synagogue, believed to be the oldest in Izmir, is almost completed. “The preservation work is about to end and we expect that by February 2021 the synagogue will be in use as a part of the future Izmir Jewish heritage visitor center,” he said. The restoration, he said, “rescued the Etz Hayim synagogue from a certain collapse.”
Believed to be the oldest synagogue in Izmir, the Etz Hayim may date back to the 14th or 15th century — though it was later rebuilt, with its current appearance from the mid-19th century. It is part of a complex of half a dozen historic synagogues at the core of Izmir’s Jewish quarter that the Izmir Project is working to preserve as part of a planned Jewish museum.
Restoration work began in the summer of 2019, thanks to a substantial grant from the Izmir Development Agency. It entailed full restoration of the walls, roof, wall paintings, and flooring.
“The logic was to preserve every piece of information that the synagogue building had to offer to us.,” he said. An expert team, sponsored by the Tel Aviv-based Kiriaty Foundation, came from Israel to work on the preservation of wall paintings and various other ornamentation in the synagogue.
Talmud Torah (Hevra) Synagogue
Meanwhile, with the aid of a €50,000 grant from the German Foreign Ministry, a first stage of restoration work on the long-ruined Talmud Torah (Hevra) synagogue is also nearing completion. The synagogue is believed to have been built in the 17th century, but was rebuilt in the 19th century, in particular after severe fire damage in 1838 and 1841.
“A thorough removal of junk, and cleaning, reinforcing walls and plaster to preserve the wall paintings, and a temporary roof to protect the synagogue from deteriorating climate conditions have been almost completed,” Bencoya said.
The roof of the synagogue collapsed in 1996, and the ruin had remained untouched until a couple of months ago.
An architectural survey before the restoration began stated that:
The building is dilapidated. There is no roof at all, the pillars have fallen down, the “Aron Kodesh” and the walls are in a very bad condition. The Synagogue is exposed to weather changes. […] The building is of masonry. The pillars, the roof, the ceiling, and the “Bimah” are made of wood. The floors are covered with ceramic tiles. It is not easy to recognize the unique elements in the synagogue, because of the bad condition of the building. “
Bencoya said that next year, with the aid of the EU grant, plans for further work on the synagogue will be implemented.