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Prague Shul Damaged by Flood Among Recipients of Grant Money

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A flood-damaged medieval synagogue in Prague. A shul in Shanghai used by World War II Jewish refugees. The oldest synagogue in Rio de Janeiro.

These sites were among this year’s recipients of restoration grants from the World Monument Fund.

The fund’s Jewish Heritage Grant Program has announced 14 grants for this year, totaling nearly $236,000.

The biggest grant, $28,000, will go to the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague to help repair damage from the floods that inundated the city in August and left the 16th-century synagogue submerged under 5 feet of water for nearly a week.

Its dais and ark were damaged, and its walls were saturated, partially destroying many of the handwritten inscriptions commemorating, one by one, the 80,000 Czech Jews killed in the Holocaust.

The synagogue was insured.

“But the insurance will not pay for everything,” the museum’s director, Leo Pavlat, told JTA. “And we won’t know until the spring whether the damaged inscriptions can be saved.”

The Jewish Heritage Grant Program is the only private, international, nonprofit initiative to recognize and respond to the loss of Jewish architectural heritage worldwide.

It seeks to leverage additional funding and participation from local governments and cultural agencies on its designated projects. Principally funded by philanthropist Ronald S. Lauder, the grant program has contributed some $650,000 to more than 30 synagogues since it began disbursing funds two years ago. Some were synagogues abandoned after the Holocaust, but others are being restored as active places of worship for reviving Jewish communities.

More than 50 synagogues applied for grants this year.

“The floods in Prague remind us of the vulnerability of historic structures and the importance of protecting our shared cultural heritage,” said the president of the World Monuments Fund, Bonnie Burnham.

This year’s grants go to synagogues threatened not just by natural disaster, but by neglect and lack of local Jewish communal resources.

They include:

Brazil: Tifereth Israel de Nilopolis, the oldest synagogue in Rio de Janeiro. Built in 1928 by refugees from Eastern Europe, it was home to the first Yiddish theater in Brazil. After being preserved, it will become a Jewish community center and functioning synagogue. The $12,000 grant will be matched 5-to-1 by Brazilian cultural agencies.

China: the Ohel Rachel Synagogue, Shanghai, built in 1917-1920. Currently serving the local Jewish community, it was used by the more than 20,000 Jewish refugees who escaped to Shanghai during World War II.

Czech Republic: the Jicin Synagogue, built in 1780 and used as a storehouse after World War II. The original Holy Ark survived along with other rare 18th-century elements.

Georgia: the Tbilisi Synagogue, built in 1910-1903. The synagogue has been endangered for years and was further compromised by a recent earthquake.

Germany: the Voehl Synagogue, built in 1827-1829. The rural wooden synagogue is a rare survivor of the Nazi-era Kristallnacht pogrom and is being restored to serve as a memorial and museum of Jewish life.

Hungary: the Mad Synagogue, built in 1795 and one of the oldest synagogues in Hungary. Grant funds will be matched by the Hungarian state.

Italy: the 18th-century Norsa Synagogue in Mantua.

Poland: the White Stork Synagogue in Wroclaw, built in 1829.

Poland and Lithuana: site analysis of conditions of five historic synagogues.

Portugal: the Shaare Tikva synagogue in Lisbon, built in 1902-1904. The local Jewish community is sponsoring the preservation of this historically significant site, which served thousands of refugees passing through Portugal during World War II.

Russia: the House of the Jewish Society, built in 1881 and the only synagogue in Irkutsk.

Russia: the Tyumen Synagogue, built at the beginning of World War I in western Siberia.

Ukraine: the Zhovkva Synagogue, built in 1692.

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