The New Great Synagogue in Novoselitsa Ukraine

Introduction

Novoselitsa is situated in Chernivtsi region of the Ukraine. Because of the large emigration of Jews to Bessarabia in the first half of the 19th century, it developed from a rural into an urban community.  Novoselitsa synagogue was built in 1919 and became famed for its unique art works.

Of the 4,000 Jews living in Novoselitsa in 1939, only 200 survived the World War 2.  In 1959, the Soviet authorities closed the synagogue and converted it into a ‘Pioneers Club’.

The Challenge

The value of the building of the former Novoselitsa synagogue is especially the presence of the wall paintings which are considered one of the largest and most fully preserved in Europe today.  This preservation was only possible because the internal walls of the synagogue after the War had been covered with a lime mortar that protected the paintings from physical damage.

In the post-Soviet era, the Pioneers Club was closed and the building was left without proper maintenance which means that it is today in a parlous state, and the wall paintings are now in special danger.

The Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine (the VAAD) managed to secure ownership of the building and, on the initiative of its Chairman Josef Zissels, a group of restoration specialists removed the later layer of lime mortar, opening the paintings for inspection - but also to possible damage.  This has made it all the more urgent that immediate repairs are carried out and a wider preservation plan implemented.

The Plan

The VAAD is responsible for the Synagogue restoration initiative.  There is firstly the need for emergency works to stabilise the building, including the laying of a new foundation in the basement and a complete replacement of the ceiling.  Once the building has been secured, the project will move on to implementing the broader vision of creating a new cultural space that will contain a museum of the history of Jews of Novoselitsa and the surrounding area, a display of the synagogue paintings of Bukovina, a gallery for permanent and temporary exhibitions, and a place for artistic and cultural events, as well as a targeted schools programme.