Discover the Historic Synagogues of Europe project from Foundation for Jewish Heritage

Discover the Historic Synagogues of Europe project from Foundation for Jewish Heritage

The Foundation for Jewish Heritage, Member of FRH, has commissioned the Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to use its extensive knowledge and expertise to provide an inventory of all the historic synagogues of Europe.

The Jewish presence in Europe goes back over 2,500 years and this is reflected in a rich and remarkable cultural legacy stretching right across the continent – north to south, east to west.

The most emblematic feature of the Jewish communities in the cities, towns and villages of Europe has been the synagogues they built, many of them displaying real artistic and architectural accomplishment. These buildings are portals into the Jewish life that they nurtured and sustained, and it is to these sites – and their communities – that the mapping project is dedicated.

The mapping project inventories 3,318 synagogues, mostly pre-dating World War Two, in 48 countries all across Europe. The buildings have been catalogued based on their artistic, urban and historical significance and their condition rated – the aim being to focus preservation efforts on the most important sites at risk.

Of the 3,318 synagogues identified, the findings have highlighted 160 which the Foundation believes urgently need attention if they are to be safe-guarded for future generations, so this rich cultural history is not lost for ever.

Backing the project, more than 40 high-profile supporters including historian Simon Schama; TV presenter Natasha Kaplinsky; Downton Abbey creator Lord Julian Fellowes; authors Linda Grant and Howard Jacobson; architect Daniel Libeskind; sculptor Sir Anish Kapoor; journalist Robert Peston and former ministers Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Tristrum Hunt, have signed a letter calling on European goverments and heritage agencies to support all efforts to save and preserve the most at-risk synagogues. The Foundation also has support from many members of the Heritage world within Europe and beyond.

The project was launched on 7 February during a high-profile event held at Britain’s Parliament. Michael Mail, founder and Chief Executive of the Foundation for Jewish Heritage, said: “Prior to World War Two there were some 17,000 synagogues in Europe. Of the 3,318 now left, less than one quarter are functioning synagogues. The rest are either abandoned, in ruins or turned into buildings for other purposes. While other religious buildings have suffered during the 20th Century, with many of these synagogues it was the catastrophic loss of their communities of users during the war which makes the challenge of preserving Jewish cultural heritage so much harder.

“We commissioned the Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to carry out this extensive research of all Europe’s historic synagogues so that we could address this challenge from a comprehensive and strategic perspective,” Mr Mail explained.

“Now comes the call to action. This is not just Jewish heritage, it is Europe’s cultural and historical heritage and we are in a race against time to save it. This inventory allows us to focus our efforts on the most important sites at risk, starting conversations with local stake-holders and interested parties, encouraging them to address the problem and to work with us to find solutions which will preserve the sites.”


More information on the Historic Synagogues of Europe project.

More information on the Foundation for Jewish Heritage.

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