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Joniškis Red Synagogue

The synagogue complex in Joniškis, Lithuania, features two immediately contiguous synagogues that served as a center of Jewish life in the town until World War II. The Red Synagogue, a Neo-Gothic brick building built in 1865, and the White Synagogue, which dates to 1823, were abandoned following the war and reused for various purposes which had left them in a state of serious disrepair. The Red Synagogue was used as a warehouse and an apartment was built into one corner of the building, while the White Synagogue was converted into a gymnasium. WMF became involved at the site through our Jewish Heritage Program, and supported initial restoration works at both buildings. 

Cliff Marks, a retired urban planner that was involved in the restoration of the synagogue complex, describes the completed works as well as the ongoing efforts at the Red Synagogue.

After I retired as an urban planner in 2003 I was looking for volunteer opportunities. I found a British charity called LithuaniaLink that was involved in helping the northern Lithuanian town of Zagare, whence my grandfather emigrated in 1901. They connected me with the regional Municipality in nearby Joniškis s where I helped with their strategic planning prior to Lithuania joining the European Union. I also got involved in their effort to restore two former synagogues in Joniškis, a red one and a white one. When I first entered the Red Synagogue I was amazed to see the Hebrew letters of the 10 Commandments still intact after decades of the building being used as a storage facility during Soviet times. In spite of later obtaining a grant from World Monuments Fund to repair the roof of the Red Synagogue, the building collapsed in 2007. Amazingly the Joniškis Municipality obtained funds from several European countries to rebuild the synagogue and restore the interior but not the Hebrew letters. I am now in contact with the Jewish Community in the nearby town of Šiauliai, and they have received approval from the Joniškis Municipality to re-install the tablets of the 10 Commandments if outside funding can be obtained. This would truly complete the restoration.


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