Hungary restores two synagogues

ROME, June 21 (JTA) — Hungary is restoring two synagogues, both of which have stood empty or were used for other purposes for decades.

Plans call for the buildings to be used for general cultural purposes. The Jewish character of the buildings will be maintained as memorials to Jewish communities destroyed in the Holocaust.

The synagogue in the town of Kunszentmarton, south of Budapest, will be used as a cultural center, including a concert hall and gallery.

The baroque synagogue in Mad, in northeastern Hungary, is expected to be used as a memorial, museum and educational center.

The Kunszentmarton synagogue, built in 1911-12, combines traditional Jewish symbolism with Hungarian folk designs and Art Nouveau style.

The synagogue functioned as a house of worship until 1964, when Hungary’s official Jewish community organization sold it. It was then used as a furniture warehouse and subsequently left vacant.

In 1987, the National Institute for the Protection of Monuments declared the synagogue a protected historic site.

Restoration work was initiated by municipal authorities at the end of the 1990s. Exterior work is now nearing completion and funding is being sought for further work.

The synagogue of Mad, erected in about 1795, is one of the finest surviving examples of Baroque synagogue architecture and is one of the oldest synagogues still standing in Hungary.

Mad is close to several villages where revered Chasidic rabbis are buried.

The synagogue has stood empty since the town’s Jewish community was deported to Auschwitz in 1944. Damage to the synagogue has been extensive, but much of its rich decoration remains intact, and it forms part of a complex that includes the former yeshiva and rabbi’s residence.

A plaque inside the synagogue commemorates the hundreds of local Holocaust victims.

In recent months, the Hungarian government pledged money to begin a full restoration of the synagogue.

A recent study of the building by Hungarian conservators organized by the International Survey of Jewish Monuments indicated that restoration costs for the synagogue building alone are around $250,000.

(The World Monuments Fund — www.worldmonuments.org — is collecting donations for the restorations.)

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