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Zagreb Photo: Uri Berkovitz
Zagreb Photo: Uri Berkovitz
 
 

Zagreb Jews seek new synagogue

Old synagogue demolished in 1942 by Croatia's Nazi-allied Ustasha regime. Now Jewish community wins government approval to rebuild it

Reuters
Published: 10.04.06, 11:53 / Israel Jewish Scene

Zagreb's tiny Jewish community will celebrate its 200th anniversary this year with a mixed blessing. It has won government approval to rebuild the capital's only synagogue, but infighting is slowing it down.

 

The old synagogue used to decorate the very heart of Zagreb until it was demolished in 1942 by Croatia's Nazi-allied Ustasha regime, which killed three-quarters of Zagreb's 11,000 Jews, many of them in the notorious Jasenovac concentration camp.

 

Only three out of 41 synagogues that existed in Croatia before World War Two survived, and none of them in Zagreb.

 

"Rebuilding of the synagogue has an invaluable significance against the injustice committed during World War Two. But it also has a practical meaning as Zagreb's Jews will at last get a place for their religious activities," said Dean Friedrich, a leader of the Jewish Community Zagreb (ZOZ).

 

The 64-year-long struggle to get a new synagogue was much more uphill than could have been expected after the defeat of Croatia's Nazi puppet state in 1945.

 

Communist Yugoslavia confiscated the land where the synagogue had stood for 75 years and used it first as a location for a warehouse, later destroyed in a fire, and a parking lot.

 

Croatia gained independence in 1991 and the government decided in 2001 to return ownership of the ground to the Jewish community. But it took another five years, and a new government, to decide on rebuilding the synagogue.

 

Disagreements

But even now, for reasons going beyond urban planning, costs or financing, it remains difficult to predict when the synagogue will be erected.

 

The local Jewish community, which numbers some 1,500 members, ran into friction last year, when 16 members defected to set up their own group, Bet Israel. One of the contentious issues was how to approach the rebuilding of the synagogue. Extending the tenure of the local rabbi was another.

 

The ZOZ denies the legitimacy of Bet Israel and its ambition to participate in the project, although the government included both in a working group in charge of the synagogue.

 

The ZOZ wants an international tender for architectural design of the synagogue, but Bet Israel deems it unnecessary.

 

"We think the synagogue should be a symbol of negation of the Holocaust and in that regard it should include at least some elements of the old one. It would be a pity if our disagreements undermined the initiative after 64 years of hope," said Jasminka Domas, a journalist and spokeswoman for Bet Israel.

 

In addition, she said, the building of a Jewish center in Zagreb, which would incorporate the synagogue, would be very interesting and welcome for thousands of Israeli tourists who visit the Croatian capital each year.

 

City hall keen on synagogue

Preliminary estimates put building costs at some 170 million Croatian kuna. The government and the Zagreb municipal authorities have pledged to finance the costs for a building of up to 4,000 square meters, while urban planning allows an object double that size.

 

"We are awaiting an offer comprising organizational and financial details. Then we can start searching for architectural solutions. As it seems, we'll have to secure some 60 percent of funds," Friedrich said.

 

The Zagreb city authorities said they were keen to launch the project as soon as possible.

 

"It would be perfect if we could kick off the project immediately. We're waiting for the Jewish community to present their idea of the new object and we'll do our part of the job. It's not up to us to arbitrate if there are different views within the community," Zagreb mayor Milan Bandic told Reuters.

 

According to the city officials, preparations for the actual building could take up to a year and a half.

 

"We have adjusted our plans to what the ZOZ wants to achieve and we'll be absolutely cooperative in the process," said Slavko Dakic from the municipal urban planning office.

 

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