Sep 7, 2022

Saving the World’s Synagogues from Destruction

From an article by Lawrence Goodman published in the web site:

In 1827, in response to a czarist decree, kidnappers began abducting Jewish men from their homes for conscription into the Russian army.

Many were boys, some as young as 12, whisked away to military boarding homes, trained as soldiers and then forced to serve for as long as 25 years. It was one of the worst calamities that ever befell the Russian Jewish community, with approximately 75,000 Jews abducted until 1856, when reforms were finally implemented.

After completing their service, a small group of Jews settled in the Siberian town of Tomsk, where, in 1907, they built a wooden temple that became known as the Soldiers’ Synagogue. With three domes, neo-Moorish flourishes and an exterior door shaped like a Torah scroll, it is a testament to the faith and perseverance of the Russian Jewish community in the face of trauma and oppression.

Michael Mail, MA’83, is working to save it from ruin. For decades, the Soldiers’ Synagogue has languished in disrepair and was once even used as a homeless shelter. Many of its windows are now boarded up, and its floor is falling apart.

Mail’s organization, the London-based Foundation for Jewish Heritage, exists to preserve Jewish architectural sites, monuments and places of cultural significance at risk worldwide.

“We have to save these buildings,” he said. “They are often the last testimony to Jewish life in these places.”

The Foundation, which started in 2015 with Mail as chief executive, has created an inventory of over 3,300 historic Jewish sites, many in urgent need of restoration. Among them are:

The list of historic Jewish sites maybe found at: