Kalvarija Municipality to Renovate Synagogue Complex

Vilnius, April 2, BNS–Leaders from the Lithuanian municipality of Kalvarija have decided not to break off an agreement on the utilization of the synagogue complex there as they had planned and are considering how to continue with renovation, following a meeting with the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department.

Financing pathways using EU structural funds were presented to municipal leaders at the meeting with discussion of financing from the Cultural Heritage Department as well.

Under the project drafted by the LJC several years ago, the total cost of work to fix the synagogue complex came to just under 2 million euros, but no funding was found.

The municipality and the LJC signed a use agreement in 2014, under which the municipality pledged to protect and utilize appropriately the buildings until financing was found to begin restoration to adapt the complex for public cultural, educational and academic use, for tourism and other uses.

“We really don’t have this kind of money, this is a small municipality and we can’t save up such sums or spend that much on synagogues,” Kalvarija mayor Vincas Plikaitis told BNS.

It was reported in February the municipal administration wanted to withdraw from the use agreement because of lack of funds to restore the buildings. Now the mayor says he’s rethinking the matter because of the possibilities for financing presented.

“Now we’re considering the suggestion of financing from the Ministry of Culture which would allow for fixing up the synagogues,” the mayor said.

Using EU funds, the building will be renovated but also adapted for regular use.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said the Jewish community cannot use the synagogues and there are no Jews left in Kalvarija. She believed the Kalvarija municipality would be able to use the buildings for cultural activities.

“By using the renovated buildings cleverly, I think they could become a very big center of attraction. From our side, we will really help with the interior work, with recommendations, we have our own designer, we can direct tourism towards sites which truly are interesting to look at,” LJC chairwoman Kukliansky said.

The Kalvarija synagogue complex is three buildings: the summer synagogue built in the 18th century, the winter synagogue built in the 19th century and the Talmud school also known as the Rabbi’s House built in the 20th.

The mayor said they were considering a small museum in the Talmud school space. He said the summer synagogue, the building in the worst shape, needed to be shrouded in a “sarcophagus” and equipped for visits by tourists. The mayor said the winter synagogue was the best preserved and needed mainly interior work.

Officials at the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture said they were looking for the same kind of success in Kalvarija they had in restoring the synagogue in Joniškis, where a similar Jewish heritage site became the main attraction in the town and was turned into a cultural space for holding all sorts of events.

The Kalvarija synagogue complex is listed on the registry of protected national cultural treasures. Renovation work began in 2001 with financing from the Zeit fund of Germany and the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department.

LJC experts said the best-conserved winter was restored, with its walls rebuilt, windows and doors installed and fencing erected on one side of the yard. They said when the fund withdrew financing all renovation work stopped.

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