MOSCOW, Dec. 21 (JTA) — Authorities in Orel are holding the Russian city’s only synagogue for ransom. In a letter to Orel’s small Jewish community, Vitaly Kochuev, the deputy governor of the Orel region, said the synagogue building is federal property. The building, which now houses a technical college, was erected in 1912 and confiscated by the Bolsheviks in 1922. While authorities have agreed to return the building, they have been demanding that the 3,000-member Jewish community help pay for the construction of a new building for the college, a suggestion reiterated by Kochuev in a letter sent to the Jewish community last week. He was responding to a letter sent last month to Orel Governor Egor Stroev by the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations, an umbrella group for Orthodox and Reform synagogues in Russia, urging the synagogue’s return. Jewish community leaders have said they would be unable to raise even one-tenth of the estimated $1.8 million needed for the construction project. Semyon Livshitz, leader of the Orel Jewish community, recently said in an interview that the synagogue should be returned to the Jews, noting that all other faiths “were given back the property formerly belonging to them with no compensation for the city.”
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