Romania’s Great Synagogue of Iaşi Is Saved
The Great Synagogue of Iaşi is one of two synagogues left in Iaşi and the oldest existing Jewish religious architectural monument in Romania. When Romania’s Ministry of Culture (MC) began to work on the synagogue—a registered historic landmark—the building was in an advanced stage of physical deterioration due to natural aging, prolonged exposure to weather conditions, neglect, and devastation during times of racial, religious, and political persecution. In 2007, the contracting company in charge of restoring the site filed for bankruptcy. During the legal verification of the payment claims, the MC canceled the construction agreement and halted work at the site, and the synagogue was left to deteriorate behind scaffolding for nearly five years. Work at the site restarted in 2013, at a slow pace due to insufficient financing allocated by the MC. Subsequent to the inclusion of Great Synagogue of Iaşi on the 2014 World Monuments Watch, particularly after the unbeleivable success of the Watch Day event held in June 2014 and the constant pressure from the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania (FEDROM), government funds for the conservation work started to flow. It is no longer just wishful thinking to expect that the conservation project may be completed by this fall. It is also with great joy that we see the synagogue standing without the scaffold that had become an intrinsic part of the building for so many years. This is also the time to commend the wonderful work done by IASICON LTD, the new contractor for the coservation of construction work. We enjoyed immensely their cooperation, their dedication, and their being there for us. The building restoration work started by the first contractor had seriously affected conservation conditions. During the original restoration interventions and during the five years when the work was discontinued, elements of the building suffered deterioration as the building remained abandoned—the roof was stripped and precipitation penetrated the walls and the building’s structural components. This caused the severe deterioration of the Aron Kodesh (the Holy Ark) and the sculpted and painted wooden elements around it. The assembly, an exceptional unitary and original piece of art of significant size, dating from 1865, is a religious and artistic component of incommensurable historical value as part of the landmark. Thanks to the support of WMF, restoration experts Pia and Mihai Stinghe are currently working to salvage the Aron Kodesh. The work involves urgent conservation intervention to stop the evolution of active phenomena of degradation due to massive water infiltration and biological and chemical attack. The progressively diminishing Jewish community in conjunction with the austerity program generated by the financial crisis, intensification of anti-Semitism, and increased acts of vandalism toward Jewish sacred sites, could have condemned the Great Synagogue of Iaşi, this heritage site of remarkable historic, religious, architectural, and artistic value, to forgetfulness. Its inclusion on the 2014 Watch has helped bring the attention of the national and international audience to this important site, and has also helped in raising the necessary resources to preserve it for future generations. We are proud of ourselves for not giving up on this synagogue, in spite of the hardships along the way. We are grateful to the many friends who stood by our side during this difficult task, and we are so very grateful for WMF’s unconditional support throughout this project.