International Survey of Jewish Monuments
ISJM News
--ISJM Assists Restoration of Warsaw Cemetery Ber Sonnenberg Monument
--ISJM-backed Conservation Team Assesses Condition of Endangered Subotica Synagogue
--ISJM Members Helen & Abe Sirkin Carry out Reconnaissance Survey of Kerala Jewish Sites
--ISJM Sponsors Research on Afghan Synagogues: A Preliminary Report
--Suriname Jewish Cemetery in Danger: ISJM Begins Fund-Raising, Documentation

ISJM Assists Restoration of Warsaw Cemetery Ber Sonnenberg Monument

One of the finest funerary monuments in Europe is the tomb of Berek Sonnenberg, also known as Dov Baer Shmulovitch, the son of Shmul Zbytkower (d. 1822), the founder of the Bergsohn family in Warsaw, and ancestor of French philosopher Henri Bergson. The tombstone, situated in Warsaw's Okopowa cemetery, contains two remarkable bas-reliefs created by the Jewish artist David Friedlander. One relief depicts a river and cargo boats that signify the trade of the deceased. The same relief also depicts a walled city with towers, houses, including a synagogue, bet midrash (study house) and windmill. On the horizon is a palace; the palace was a gift to the ancestors of the deceased from the last king of Poland, Stanislaus Augustus, with whom they traded. The district of Warsaw represented was known as Szumulowizna. Prominently displayed is the Jewish cemetery of the district, where Zbytkower is buried.

The other relief on the reverse side of the tomb shows the Tower of Babel and a grove of trees, on whose branches are hung musical instruments, recalling the passage from Psalm 137, "By the waters of Babylon, where we sat down, we wept, when we remembered Zion."

The Sonnenberg monument was sorely neglected during the post-War years and under Communist rule. The Citizen's Committee for the Protection of Jewish Monuments organized repairs for the structure in the late 1980s. Raising the needed funds (approximately $44,000) was slow, but progress was made. Funds came from the Remembrance Foundation, from the regional conservator of monuments and from a few foreign donors.

Jan Jagielski of the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw stands next to the Ber Sonnennerg Monument. Photo: Samuel Gruber

Prior to conservation work, the monument was fully documented and photographed and a plan was made for dismantling the structure. Stone and paint samples were taken and analyzed. Then, the structure was dismantled. All the rotting iron and lead elements were removed, and the old crumbling brick foundation was replaced.

The elements were reinforced before cleaning and salt was removed from the stone. Cavities in the stone were filled and missing pieces of stone were replaced. A new reinforced concrete foundation was laid; upon this foundation, the structure was reassembled. Restoration work includes introducing horizontal insulation; joining the elements with brass braces and bolts; filling up the remaining cavities; and installing anchors to hold the wooden roof.

An arsonist's fire, however, further damaged the structure in September 18, 1993, causing the need for further repairs. The fire caused extensive cracking, particularly of the marble. The desk, which carried the inscription, was impossible to repair and had to be replaced. The wooden roof had to be removed. All the stone elements were weakened and needed reinforcement. The stone elements had to be mounted anew, fixing the brass joints once again. An entirely new roof had to be made.

Now, over a decade since work began, and almost six years since the fire, the work is nearing an end. To speed the process, the International Survey of Jewish Monuments has contributed $800 for repairs to the roof in this final phase. Jan Jagielski of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, who has been the force behind the project, says that an additional $2,000 is still needed to complete all the repairs to the monument. Scores of other important monuments await conservation in the Warsaw Jewish Cemetery.

ISJM gratefully acknowledges support from the US Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage abroad for this project.

U.S. tax-deductible donations may be sent to ISJM, 123 Clarke Street, Syracuse, NY 13210. Checks should include the note "Sonnenberg Monument."
 
 

ISJM-backed Conservation Team Assesses Condition of Endangered Subotica Synagogue

The former Synagogue in Subotica, Yugoslavia, located in the Vojvodina, a formerly autonomous region of Serbia, near the Hungarian border, continues to deteriorate despite extensive efforts at repair undertaken by the municipality in the 1980s, and more recent international recognition of the building's importance as an architectural and cultural landmark.

The magnificent Secessionist style synagogue, built in 1902, is listed in accordance with a decision of the Parliament of the Republic of Serbia as a cultural property of extreme importance - the highest designation and level of protection possible. The Jewish Community deeded the building to the Municipality in 1976.

The Secessionist (or Jugenstil) architecture in Yugoslavia is still relatively unknown and unexamined. Architectural historians have just begun to discover the wealth and variety of new engineering achievements and architectural forms of this period. In Vienna, the style was an alternative to the heavy 19th-century classicism preferred by the monarchy. Throughout the Austro-Hungarian empire, the style was used to express reviving national awareness, often incorporating elements recalling national, or regional, folk traditions.

The buildings of Subotica rank among the best examples of Secessionist architecture. Foremost among these is the synagogue. The Budapest architects Marcel Komor and Dezso Jakab submitted the design in 1899 for the Szeged (Hungary) synagogue design competition, in which it placed second. The plan was rushed into construction be the Jewish community of nearby Subotica, and the synagogue was dedicated in 1902. Jakab's niece, Ms. Estera Votaw of Washington, D.C., has helped lead the campaign to save the structure.

Architecturally and Technically Inovative

The basic functional conception of the building is expressed in its exterior architecture. The building has five domes with the central dome dominating in its exterior appearance and the interior space of the synagogue. The interior dome looks like a bell and it was made of light concrete following the system of shell construction, not common until the second half of the 20th century. As such, it is a forerunner of the development of the constructive systems of the 20th century architecture at the time when reinforced concrete was in its experimental applications. The main entrance leading to the ground floor and the balcony is from the west. There are two side entrances - north and south for men on the ground floor. An east entrance for women also leads to the balcony.

The central plan is determined by eight steel columns distributed inside the synagogue in a circle and serving as starting points for the formation of the dome. These columns bear the weight of the outer dome with an interior wooden skeleton on which the inside dome membrane, made of Rabitz wire netting, is suspended. The dome is the primary aesthetic and structural feature of the building. The Rabitz net membrane forms a tent-like canopy over the central part of the synagogue. The height of the inside dome is 23 meters and it spans 12.6 meters. The static safety of the central part enabled the outer wall jackets to be carried without additional supports. Instead of bearing the weight of the dome, as is typical in classic construction, they lean onto the central steel columns. This feature gives the building a sense of weightlessness.

The whole structure is complemented by exquisite decorations: mural paintings, stained glass windows and woodcarvings inspired by Hungarian folklore and Secessionist floral ornaments. The Zsolnai ceramics from Pécs (Hungary) adds special beauty, splendor and character to this building. The exterior walls were made of a combination of red bricks and decorative elements of mold-made relief tiles of Zsolnai. The roof cover was made in colorful decorative glazed tiles (Zsolnai as well). The tops of the domes are made of copper (originally in zinc). The interior polychrome wall decoration joins with stained glass windows of the same style. The window design took into account the sun's movement throughout the day.

Building is Now Deteriorating

A ruined economy, due to war and sanctions imposed against Yugoslavia, has hit the country hard, even in places such as Subotica, situated far from the conflict centers. Since 1990, there has been no money to continue restoration of the synagogue, a project begun by the in the 1980s. No work has taken place in the past two years.

In September, 1998, however, local individuals and organizations organized events in the building hoping to revive interest in its restoration, with the immediate goal of securing the structure against further deterioration. The synagogue was slightly cleaned for the opening of the first program organized by the recently formed "Synagogue Chain" designed to focus attention on a number of former synagogues in Central European countries including synagogues at Subotica (Yugoslavia), Nagykanizsa, Gyor, Szeged (Hungary), Somorja (Slovakia) and Kolozsvar (Romania). Other events have been organized in the past few months and more are planned.

Synagogue in Subotica, Yugoslavia. Photo courtesy of WMF.

The building is worse than two years ago. The water handling system is seriously compromised. Missing roof tiles allow water penetration into the building. Snow was inside the roof, directly on the vault. Cupola windows are broken so water penetrates into the walls, deteriorating recently repainted decoration. The roof over the building entryway has holes, with wood beneath the tiles decayed, and vaults in bad condition, with holes. There is danger of collapse above the entry between the exterior and interior main doors. Gutters have been removed allowing water infiltration. Doors at the building corners are almost falling out. Unprotected stained-glass windows have holes. The drum walls have loose and falling bricks. Decorative and floor tiles removed during earlier work have not been replaced. The gallery ceiling is in bad condition, plaster has fallen off exterior walls and the exterior wall of south-east staircase has a fissure.

The immediate need for the building is repair and restoration of the building envelope and exterior water handling system to prevent further deterioration due to water penetration. Roof, gutters, drains, windows, and doors all need attention.

ISJM Helps Send Conservation Team

Working with the World Monuments Fund, which in 1996 placed the Subotica synagogue on both its list ten Jewish Heritage Preservation Priorities and on its World Monuments Watch list of 100 Most Endangered Sites, and ICOMOS/Hungary, ISJM helped organize a team of conservators from Budapest that visited the site in February of this year. Funding was provided by a grant from the Samuel H. Kress European Preservation Program of the World Monuments Fund. The team, led by Dr. Andras Roman, head of ICOMOS/Hungary, included Dr. Tamas Fejerdy, an expert in structures; and Ms. Klara Deak a wall painting conservator. The team was accompanied by Subotica architect Viktorija Aladzic. Their report may provide the basis for an international effort to save this remarkable structure.

WMF dropped the synagogue from its 1998 list of endangered sites not because of improvement on the site, but because no progress has been made. ISJM president Samuel Gruber and Subotica Mayor Jozef Kasza have, at WMF's invitation, nominated the building for re-listing for the year 2000 in the hope of qualifying the site for grants.
 
 

ISJM Members Helen & Abe Sirkin Carry out Reconnaissance Survey of Kerala Jewish Sites

In December of 1998, a survey of important Jewish sites in Kerala, India was undertaken on behalf of ISJM. The following is a summary of the report submitted.

Introduction to the Synagogues:

All the synagogues visited in Kerala - Chennamangalam, Mala, and Ernakulum - have similar traditional architectural features: a central bimah of brass or silver metal on a concrete or stone base, an ark on the western wall, a balcony above the eastern entry to the sanctuary that is used by the reader on certain holidays. Behind the balcony is the women's gallery, with a stairway leading up to it, usually from outside the building.

Parur:

The Parur synagogue was used for worship as late as May/June of l998. Almost every member of the community emigrated from Kerala to Israel in 1954. The synagogue dates back to 1615 and is built on the ruins of a synagogue that, tradition claims, was built in 1165. The synagogue is approached turning from the main street of Parur onto Jews' Street. At the entrance to this street, two 10' tall granite pillars still stand on either side of the street. They announced, in the old days, that only Jews entered here; Jews lived in a self-imposed ghetto.

Synagogue in Parur, Kerala (India). Photo: Helen Sirkin

The synagogue architecture is attractive; there's a pillared entryway that leads from the two rooms at the entrance from the street to the main entrance door of the synagogue in the small courtyard beyond. The wood doors are interestingly and gracefully curved at the upper side of closure point. (This style is also found in Mala.)

The original bimah and ark were taken to Israel in 1995 and reconstructions of the originals have been installed in their place. The floor and benches are in need of repair and restoration. The balcony and its decorated and gilded supporting beams are painted and currently in good condition. The stairs to the balcony have unusual flat, shaped supports for the railing. The roof tiles have deteriorated allowing water to leak into the building. The exterior base, the windows, and the doors all show damage from the monsoons, from dampness and from lack of maintenance.

Mr. Joseph Simon looks after the synagogue and he and his small family live in the front entrance rooms.

Chennamangalam:

The synagogue in Chennamangalam was built in 1614. At the time that the surveyors visited the synagogue, no one with a key was present. They were unable to enter the synagogue. Much repair and restoration is visibly needed around the exterior of the building, including the clearing of overgrowth and weeds. The synagogue is located in a peaceful wooded area. I.S. Hallegua reports of the tomb of a lady, dated 1264 C.E., in the courtyard.

Cleaning and restoration are both needed given the interior's appearance from outside through windows. The bimah is gone and few repairs and little maintenance have been offered. The ceiling has typical carved wooden rosettes in rows running east and west. The old Ark remains, with traditional Malabari carved entablature. It has, however, broken sections that are in need of repair and restoration. The entrance door is surmounted with a carved and painted half-moon wooden decoration of a menorah and olive trees, previously documented by the Center for Jewish Art in Jerusalem. There are also some damaged benches and a dusty circumcision chair. The synagogue was closed when the entire community migrated to Israel in l955. The trustee is Aaron Aron of Synagogue Lane in Cochin.


Synagogue in Chennamangalam, Kerala (India). Photo: Helen Sirkin

Mala:

Located at the intersection of two bustling small-commercial streets, and set now behind a row of shops, up a narrow unkempt alley, the Mala synagogue is a handsome stretch of yellow building with three traditional upper windows looking out from the main sanctuary. An outside balcony on the second level looks out on the intersecting streets below. Corners of the building, plaster over stone and brick, are broken and walls on the sides show the usual need for maintenance typical of this tropical climate. Inside the sanctuary, everything belonging to the synagogue has been removed-most of it taken by the community to Israel. Local authorities now use the space for meetings and events. Exterior steps lead to what was the women's gallery, two stories up, looking down on the courtyard well and broken roofs.

Ernakulum:

Thekkambagham Synagogue (1580, rebuilt in 1939): This large, denuded synagogue has lost both bimah and Ark, the latter being replaced by a characterless yellow brick tile structure. It is, however, the one synagogue in Ernakulam that is sometimes used for services if former members of the community visit from Israel. The Ark and bimah were taken to Israel (along with the Torah scroll), on the assumption that everyone in that community would come. Five families, members of this synagogue, still remain in Kerala or in Madras.

Kadavumbagham Synagogue (1200, restored 1790s): Members of this community feel that they might have been the original recipients of the copper plates which legend dates to the 4th century as the Paradesi synagogue was not established until the 16th century. There was a minyan here until 1972. In 1973, the Torah scrolls were all taken to Nevatim, Israel. The 161 members of this community had already emigrated in 1953 - but in the '30s and '40s there had been as many as 2000 members!

In 1985, Josephai Elias, now the trustee/caretaker of this synagogue, set up his nursery "Cochin Blossoms" at the entrance to the synagogue which is now on Market Road, a few stores down from Jew Street. Today, one reaches the synagogue through a lane of blossoms and plants, into Josephai's office on the first of two floors of what was a yeshiva, a structure added on to the original synagogue building as a place for children's education and adult study of Torah and mishnah. This lane makes an attractive approach to the synagogue and the nursery provides livelihood for the only member of the one family community who can care for and protect the synagogue.

Walking across the contemporary construction of a roof over a side alley leading from the synagogue courtyard, the Cochin architect Jacob Cherian speculated that this alley would have been the primary entrance off Jew Street into the courtyard and the main entrance to the synagogue. The synagogue thus would have been the central imposing structure from Jews' Street, flanked by the simple pitched roof houses of the Malabari community.

The Ark is handsome, with two steps leading to the platform; there is entablature in the pediment area, carved, gilded, with dark red background and white paint highlighting the two columns on either side of the doors to the ark. A few lamps remain, hanging from the wooden rosette-decorated ceiling and in the arc of a window or two. The bimah, of the traditional Sephardic style and made of a silver-tone metal, was stolen. One red glass chandelier hangs over the denuded base of the bimah, and crystal pieces of another chandelier are stored in wooden boxes.

Kadavumbagham Synagogue, Kerala (India). Photo: Helen Sirkin

The walls are approximately 18 inches thick, and there are generous windows, not only the three along each side at the floor level of the sanctuary, but also two large, shuttered windows on either side of the ark. All the windows on the floor level are tall and arched. Attractive wooden benches with simply carved backs cry for cleaning and polish. The main structure of the balcony is intact, with need for floor repair and the reconstruction of posts for the interior balcony of the women's section. The ceiling, wider and more handsome than the ceiling of the Paredesi synagogue, is decorated with gilded carved wooden rosettes, typical of most of these synagogues, but here more striking and well-preserved. There are brass pillars that serve as the entrance supports to the balcony. The inner aspect is spacious; there are a few lamps and one candelabra still hanging. A multitude of long metal hooks hang from ceiling rosettes, waiting for lamps and the second candelabra to be re-hung. Belgian glass lamps are behind benches and could be dusted, washed and reassembled if brass holders could be made and/or reconstructed. The main gate was stolen in 1979. While the roof has been kept in basic repair, more work is needed.

The Kadavumbagham Synagogue building (1554-59) in Cochin, Jew Street, south end, is now a warehouse. The community moved to Israel in 1955 and the building and grounds were sold to local Indians.

Cemeteries:

Chennamangalam/Parur: The surveyors were unable to uncover any tombs or markers, though there may be some under heavy growth on the hillside area out from Chennamangalam.

Mala: Marked as a Jewish cemetery with a clear sign over the entrance gate in English and Malayalam, the site is protected by the townspeople; a framed black sign inside the gate lists the three trustees of the cemetery, from Chennamangalam and Ernakulum, who deeded and handed over the cemetery to the Mala Panchayat on April 1, 1955. There is currently no Jewish community left in Mala. The cemetery is in two sections of land; in the first, there were three tomb stones - two were in the first section of open field, one was partly hidden under a cashew tree. The second section - at least twice as large - lies beyond the first on higher ground that is separated from the first by a stone wall, has no graves or tombstones. A court edict, brought about by petition from the Ernakulum Jewish community, has kept the town from using this spacious part of the cemetery area for a soccer/play field. The cemetery is located in a central residential area of Mala and is flanked on either side by attractive residences.

Ernakulum: The cemetery, surrounded by compound walls on all four sides, lies in an open space across from St. Teresa's College and Convent and a newly constructed shopping mall. It is registered in the name of the Kadavumbagham Synagogue and the Thekkumbhagam Synagogue. Overgrowth of vines and weeds makes it almost impossible to locate graves, although mounded areas probably indicate tombstones and one is barely visible

Cochin: Little is left of the Malabari cemetery in Mattancherry, now located in the compound of a (non-Jewish) family house. It consists of a collection of gravestones set within a tomb-shaped concrete structure about 6'x 8', used by the family to spread out wet mats or other items to dry. This compound is on the corner of the Brown Jews' Cemetery St. and the side road that leads to the tomb of Nehemiah Ben Abraham, a revered local prophet whose tomb (early 17th century) - the last intact and well maintained remnant of the oldest Jewish cemetery in Cochin - brings worshippers of all religions to pay their respects.

The Madras Cemetery: This cemetery is on Lloyd's Road, a poor market area of the road west of the Marina Fish Market, and contains stones moved from the old Mint Street Cemetery (Isaac Abendana Sardo, Madras Hebrew Merchant, d. 10 May 1709; Abraham Salomons, beloved merchant etc., d. V June, MDCCXLV; Salomon Franco, Merchant from Leghorn, d. 26 Yiar A.M 5523º). It is adjacent to the Chinese cemetery and both cemeteries have clusters of vendors and squatters with vegetables displayed on the road itself at the entrances. Esther Cohen was buried here in l964 and Isaac Joshua's wife Miriam in l998.

The wall of the cemetery is in need of repair and construction: some deteriorating base areas need to be reconstructed and the intrusion of a tree growing into a section of the wall needs to be dealt with; the wall itself needs to be raised to match the height of the Chinese cemetery wall in order to prevent intruders from climbing over. The gate of the cemetery is rusted and insubstantial and needs to be replaced with something more dignified.

Guarded in the past with the help of Walter Wolff (deceased) and Sally Solomon, now of London, England, the cemetery is in the trusteeship of Isaac Joshua, resident of Madras, member of the Thekkumbagham synagogue and president of the Association of Kerala Jews.
 
 

ISJM Sponsors Research on Afghan Synagogues: A Preliminary Report

ISJM was able to assist financially and administratively in the collection of information concerning the status of former synagogues in Herat. The information given below is part of a larger study of the historic architecture and urban fabric of Herat prepared by an art historian who visited the city in 1998. While the writer prefers to remain anonymous, legitimate questions and comments related to this project will be forwarded on by ISJM.

The city of Herat, in West Afghanistan, was once an important stop along the Silk Route and the capital of Central Asia's Timurid civilization (1393-1507). It is also the site of some of the world's most spectacular medieval Islamic architecture as well as of a distinctive vernacular building tradition. Tragically, after the ravages of some twenty years of civil unrest, natural disasters and neglect, much of this unique heritage has been lost. Yet, over the past few years, as the local situation has stabilized, Heratis have started to rebuild their city. The construction boom, however, has created a new challenge to Herat's heritage buildings, as materials from many sites, both Islamic and non-Islamic, are recycled for new structures.

I traveled to Herat in January 1998 as part of a non-governmental organization ("NGO") delegation conducting a survey of women's programs. As a art historian, however, the mission also provided a rare opportunity to get an update of the condition of the city's historic and vernacular buildings and to determine what future preservation action, if any, might be possible. During the course of surveying the city's Islamic buildings, I came upon two artifacts with Hebrew inscriptions in the storage room of a tile manufactory, and this discovery was the catalyst for the following preliminary survey of Herat's Jewish monuments.

The two objects with Hebrew characters were a large foundation stone and a smaller stone tablet. When I asked about the origin of these objects, I was told that they came from the "mosque of the Jews," masjid-i musahi. Apparently, both artifacts had been brought to the workshop for safekeeping after the Jews left Herat (at some time after 1978) and after their synagogue collapsed due to lack of maintenance. I was assured that both objects would be given back to the Jews when they returned to Herat. We were then informed that although there were previously "several" synagogues and other buildings used exclusively by the Jewish community, none remained.


Herat, Afghanistan. The former Yu-Aw Synagogue, main prayer hall, west wall, detail of painted decoration and Torah Ark. Photo: ISJM

Later, I noted that in Samizay's 1978 survey of Herat, four synagogues were listed-as well as a Jewish bath, or Hammam-e yahudiha. The buildings were located in the Bar Durrani and Momanda sections of the old city which is an area previously known as the mahalla-yi musahiya, the "neighborhood of the Jews" and which is located in its northwest and southwest quarters. The names of the synagogues were given as Mulla Ashur, Yu Aw and Gul; the fourth was unnamed. The bath was labeled as the Hajji Muhammad Akbar Bath, or Hammam-e Yahudiha.

The adaptive use of these buildings mirrors the cultural transition that the former mahalla-yi musahiya has undergone over the past twenty years. The Hamman-e Yahudiha now serves the Muslim males of the quarter. The Mulla Samuel synagogue is currently used as a maktab, or primary school, for boys. The building, formerly known as the Gul synagogue, has been converted to the Belal Mosque. The once magnificent Mulla Ashur/Mulla Garji building which, when intact, featured elaborate painted stucco decoration, lies in ruins, the result of disuse and neglect. Its front courtyard is now used for housing, and bricks from the synagogue are being recycled for this accommodation. The ground floor of the Yu Aw synagogue is also being used for housing.

Of these buildings, I decided that it would be preferable to document Yu Aw, as its current state is closer to its original function than any of the other three former synagogues. Furthermore, other than the four rooms now used for housing, it does not presently serve any other purpose and its documentation would not interfere with the routine of the neighborhood. I therefore requested and received permission for a plan and section as well as details of its painted stucco interior to be drawn.

The Yu Aw synagogue, located in the Momanda neighborhood of the old city, is entered through a low passageway, through a wooden door, and courtyard. Like the other three synagogues I viewed in this area, this building, built of mud brick with a baked brick foundation, is two stories in height, with an interior courtyard. The Ark is built into its western wall. The remains of this building are in precarious condition.

The central courtyard, which was once paved, has been reduced to the ground, as its brick pavement has been recycled for other construction. The remains of the building on the east, north and south sides of the courtyard are now used as family housing. Moreover, a room in the basement of the structure on the west side of the courtyard is now used for housing by one of the employees of the Herat Department of Historic Monuments Preservation.

Although the foundation of the building west of the courtyard appears intact, two rooms are completely ruined. Parts of the mud brick roof have collapsed and there is water damage to the remaining ceiling and walls. The east facade is partially open, and the main prayer hall on the second story is exposed from this side and on the north side, where the roof over the stairway has collapsed.

The main prayer hall still has much of its painted stucco decoration, which is primarily floral, with a strong Persianate influence, e.g. the flowering "trees of life" and the butas, or paisley motifs, set to either side of the Torah Ark on the western wall. Painted stucco decoration with multiple floral medallions on a sky blue ground is also featured on the underside of arches on the east facade.

The Ark is elevated and is reached by stairs. The room itself is octagonal in shape. To either side of the ark are air vents with lattice screens. There are also recessed niches with shelves to either side of the ark. Pre-1978 photo-documentation shows that these were used for the storage of prayer shawls, books and other ritualistic objects.

On the south side of prayer hall is a partitioned arcade with small decorative openings that served as the women's gallery. The low open tevah is placed below the central dome and is intact. There is a smaller low platform between the tevah and the south wall. There are three Hebrew inscriptions on the north wall above the stairway. Two are scratched into the wall; the third is in pencil. A fourth inscription, also in pencil, is written in one of the recessed niches on the south wall of the hall. The fact that the penciled inscriptions are clearly legible suggests that they are recent, and that there may still be Jews living in the area - or that there have been Jewish visitors.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Herat's Jewish monuments offer a study in microcosm of the state of the city's historic and vernacular architecture, not only in their destruction and neglect but also in their current recycling and re-adaptation. As noted above, for example, the adaptive use of the Jewish Bath and the Mulla Samuel and Gul synagogues mirror the cultural transition of the former mahallat-i musahiya. They also demonstrate the present realities of rebuilding Herat, where the expense of importing concrete and the (until recently) absence of a local brick manufactory necessitated either mud brick construction or the recycling of historic building materials.

The Mulla Ashur/Mulla Garji building, on the other hand, exemplifies the new, post-war threat faced by Herat's remaining architectural heritage, as materials from historic buildings are either recycled or demolished for new construction in the present "boom." Moreover, while there are heritage protection laws on the books, they are not enforced. As a result, sadly, Mulla Ashur/Mulla Garji seems fated to disappear through cannibalization of its structure for new buildings.

In contrast, Yu Aw presents an opportunity for rehabilitation and communal re-adaptation. The successful implementation of its rebirth would depend on a number of factors, e.g. the extent to which its foundation is sound; stated community wants and needs (a school, clinic, etc.); the issue of access, as the building adjoins private housing, present ownership of the building and of the land; and so forth.

Workshop for Heritage Planning Needed in Herat

There are a variety of players involved in construction and architectural rehabilitation in Herat - local and international NGOs, UN agencies, municipal authorities, individual citizens. At the time of this survey there was, however, little coordination between these groups, which often resulted in replication of efforts and funding as well as in misinformed restorations. As pressure to repatriate Afghan refugees from Iran and elsewhere increases, and as the demand for housing and other services by Heratis and others returning to the area grows, the urgency of this situation makes heritage planning a timely issue. The formulation of a Master Plan for the city, coordinating community wants, needs, capabilities and resource with the international and local actors involved in building and construction in Herat, and which would incorporate heritage into the urban plan, is key to the survival of Herat's remaining historic monuments. The city's non-Islamic buildings are in particular need of this type of planning, as there are no local advocates for their protection.

It is recommended that, prior to the formulation of any plan, a local languages professional development workshop is needed. Local awareness of these issues would increase the success rate for the re-adaptation of Yu Aw and other abandoned or under-utilized buildings in any plan devised for Herat. Now that expatriates are returning to the field, it is hoped that such a workshop may be realized. Additional details are available from this writer, through ISJM.

Further Research & Dissemination

Given that the community that built and used the monuments described in this survey no longer survives in situ, it is necessary to look outside of Herat for additional contextual information about the city's Jewish monuments. For example, the decoration and layout of Herat's synagogues is related to those in Iran, whence most of the city's Jewish community originated. A detailed survey of Iran's Jewish monuments, including their history and present use, could provide additional insights and information about the material culture of the Jewish community in Herat and in Afghanistan generally.

In addition to publication, another form of dissemination could involve a "virtual" exhibition of the buildings examined, with illustrations from 1998 and pre-1978 that would offer greater public access to this data. Furthermore, as Herat's Jewish community is now dispersed, placing this material on the Internet would allow for a wider range of feedback on its customs and material culture before such information is lost forever.

ISJM thanks the following members: Jack Lutz for photographs of the restored synagogue in Lancut, Poland; Sally and Abe Magid for their slides of Jewish sites in Romania, Hungary and Ukraine; Bentley and Barbara Kassal for their photos and publications from Australia and New Zealand; Mark Gordon for photos pf the synagogue in Cumberland, Maryland; Michele Vishny for photos of synagogues in Lithuania and Illinois; SaraBeth Canaday for regular reports and photos from her many travels, and Abe and Helen Sirkin for their photographs and preliminary report of Jewish sites in Kerala and for the additional funds they have contributed to begin preservation planning.

Suriname Jewish Cemetery in Danger: ISJM Begins Fund-Raising, Documentation

In November, 1998, ISJM announced the start of an emergency effort to save the oldest Ashkenazi cemetery in Suriname (South America). The cemetery, founded in the early 18th century, is prominently situated in the capital city of Paramaribo and retains about 400 large gravestones. Much of the burial ground faces likely destruction if action is not taken soon.

According to Adriana van Alen-Koenraadt, who is coordinating preservation efforts for the Suriname Jewish community, "we face the loss of one of the oldest Jewish burial places in the Western Hemisphere. The cemetery is overgrown and in disrepair, and half is now used as an illegal sand quarry with holes as large as swimming pools."

ISJM President Samuel Gruber urges that, "work must be carried out immediately to secure the site and to clear it of overgrowth which hides illegal activities from public view. In the process, the first ever systematic documentation of the site and the gravestones (which date at least to 1727) can begin."

ISJM, which has recently funded research on Jewish sites elsewhere in Suriname, has offered to help the small Suriname Jewish community to protect the cemetery. Because labor costs in Suriname are low, ISJM estimates that only $5,000 can get this work done, and done quickly. Some funds will go toward site protection, and some to documentation. It is imperative that ISJM raise this money soon! If not, this cemetery will be lost to posterity.

According to Gruber, "some will immediately recognize a collective, communal responsibility to protect this Jewish burial site. By Jewish law, cemeteries are inviolate, and need to be cared for. We hope that others, too, will respond, recognizing the need to protect a valuable historical and artistic resource." ISJM is also working with the Suriname Jewish community and architect Rachel Frankel to develop a Master Plan for the protection and preservation of all of the historic Jewish sites in the country.

ISJM asks for contributions of any amount. Even a small gift can make a difference. All gifts to ISJM are tax-deductible. Checks, to be made out to ISJM, should include the message 'Suriname cemetery' and mailed to 123 Clarke Street, Syracuse, NY, 13210.


 

International Survey of Jewish Monuments
c/o Jewish Heritage Research Center
Box 210, 118 Julian Pl.
Syracuse, New York 13210-3419, USA

tel: (315) 474-2350
fax: (315) 474-2347

 
                                                                                  http://www.isjm.org/jhr/IInos3-4/news.htm
Last updated: January 5, 2003