Simon Schama backs calls to protect Europe’s oldest and vulnerable synagogues

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Simon Schama backs calls to protect Europe’s oldest and vulnerable synagogues

Renowned historian urges MPs to help safeguard more than 3,300 shuls across the continent, including two on British soil

Simon Schama
Simon Schama

Historian Simon Schama is backing calls for MPs to help protect Europe’s oldest and most vulnerable synagogues, after research showed 160 were at “high risk”.

TV presenter Schama, whose five-part BBC series presented ‘The Story of the Jews’ to a national audience in 2013, is presenting the case to save 3,318 historic shuls in Parliament on Thursday.

Most of the synagogues are in central and eastern Europe, but some are in the UK, and attention will focus on those in the highest-risk category.

These are shuls that are deemed to be of national or international importance and whose condition is rated as poor or very bad.

Of those most at-risk, two are in the UK, including the gothic revivalist Merthyr Synagogue in Merthyr Tydfil in Wales, built in the 1870s, and the art deco Sunderland Synagogue, built in 1928 to a design by Marcus Kenneth Glass, a Jewish architect.

Merthyr is the oldest shul in Wales but closed due to a declining Jewish population in 1983. It now stands in disrepair, with a hole in its roof. Likewise Sunderland Synagogue fell out of use ten years ago, and is now occupied by squatters.

“They will deteriorate further and could lose their listed status,” said Michael Mail, chief executive of the Foundation for Jewish Heritage, which is applying for Lottery money to help salvage the buildings.

“They are vulnerable to damp and rain and vandalism and there is the risk that ultimately they may have to be torn down. It’s not just about saving the bricks and buildings, but they are a portal into the communities and people that lived there.”

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