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 The Jewish Heritage of Joniskis
The influence of Jewish tradition in Zagare and Joniskis can still be felt today and visitors can acquaint themselves with Jewish history.

european institute of cultural routes
Povilas Batavicius
30 August 2010
Joniskis and the Joniskis synagogue complex


Joniskis, a town of approximately 12,000 people, is located 250 kilometers north of Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, and 20 kilometres south of the Latvian border.


It is the administrative centre for a district of approximately 445 square miles.

In the 19th century, Jews accounted for over half of the town’s population.

Unfortunately, only two synagogues in the centre of the town now remain to remind us of the period before World War II when the Jewish community was a significant presence here.


Map of Lithuania


Red and White Synagogue


The Joniskis synagogue complex was built in the middle of the19th century.

In 1970, the complex was declared a cultural heritage site.

The two synagogues, pictured in the accompanying material, were built right next to each other. While the architecture of the two synagogues differs, they may both be considered as typical of the architecture of their time.

Furthermore, despite their different architectural styles, the two synagogues succeed in complementing each other. In addition, the positioning of the two synagogues adjacent to each other is a very rare occurrence in Europe.

The White Synagogue


The White Synagogue was built in 1823, in the late classical style, and was later remodelled using features from the romantic era.

It is the only remaining synagogue where these two styles have been merged together.

There used to be an interesting interior space and a covered wooden cylinder arch but, during the Soviet era, the building was used as a sports hall and until 1987 was used as a gym.

Therefore, nothing remains today except for the walls and roof.

In 1986-87, the worsening state of the building led to the development of a restoration plan, and work began to restore the synagogue and to alleviate the crisis situation.

However, finances for this effort were cut off and so the problem was not resolved.

The synagogue complex was not used for any activity after that date. In 1992, the synagogue complex was given to the Lithuanian Jewish community, but the community’s inability to restore the synagogue meant that it was given back to the town council in 1998.

The poor condition of the roof, which could have collapsed at any time, led the town council to begin looking for different sources of funding to restore the building.


The White Synagogue


The White Synagogue
The Red Synagogue


The Red Synagogue was built in 1865. It is made from red bricks and was constructed in the neo-gothic style, with smartly ornamented façades.

The original Jewish ornaments and inscriptions on the walls and ceilings can still be seen. There is a Star of David on the western façade and inside the Aron Codesh, as well as the ornaments that remain on the walls and ceilings.

Only three synagogues remain in Lithuania with an Aron Codesh, and all of them are very different. Until recently, the Red Synagogue had been used for the storage of worn-out furniture, television sets, tires etc. During the Soviet era, additions were made to the building in an inappropriate wooden design.



The Red Synagogue


The Red Synagogue
Because of the destruction...


The synagogues have not been used since before World War II due to the destruction of the Jewish community in Joniškis and throughout Lithuania. They are now in a state of disrepair, with the White Synagogue, which is in particularly bad condition, being in great need of immediate repairs.





These buildings represent a fantastic opportunity to preserve Jewish heritage, but they are in great danger of being completely destroyed, with the situation becoming increasingly precarious with each passing day.

Restoration work began in 2001, with the top priority being the reconstruction of the roof of the white synagogue. However, there is only sufficient funding to begin the work and not to see it through to its conclusion. If the disintegration of the holy place is not stopped, the most outstanding signs of the existence of the Jewish community in Joniskis will be entirely destroyed.

Žagarė


There is Zagare town in Joniskis district in which in the middle of XIX century lived about 72 percents of Jewish people. During the World War II were killed about two thousand Jewish. We still have two places of genocide left.

Nowadays we have a lot of Jewish buildings in Zagare. We have also one synagogue and the ruins of six synagogues in Zagare. There are very big and interesting Jewish cemeteries in Zagare too.



 
 
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