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China restores shuls

by: SJ Reporter - Last updated: 2004-06-13

Harbin synagogue

Harbin synagogue

The Chinese city government of Harbin, located in the Heilongjiang Province, has earmarked around £1.3m to restore the original look of several Jewish buildings in the city.

Jews first started arriving in Harbin in the late 19th century after fleeing Russia and other European countries where they experienced anti-Semitism and the community grew to 20,000 during the 1920s.

Renovation of two synagogues and a middle school formerly attended by Jewish children will begin soon and are expected to be completed within the year, according to Li Shuxiao, deputy head of the Jewish Studies Center affiliated to the Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.

The newer synagogue, built in 1921, had space that could accommodate 800 worshippers at one time and is the largest synagogue in the northeast region of China, which consists of three provinces - Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning.

Once completed, the synagogue will be built into the Harbin Museum for Jewish History and Culture.

The other two Jewish buildings, the old synagogue in Harbin and a middle school attended by Jewish children, were built in 1909 and 1918.

The facelift project will cover interior and exterior decoration and restoration of some parts of the buildings. Residential buildings and office buildings near the synagogues will be demolished for planting trees and grass as part of the efforts to improve environment around the Jewish buildings, according to Li.

Li said more than 100 Jewish people come to Harbin each year to find their roots.

As well as the old synagogues in Harbin, the city is home to a Jewish cemetery which consists of about 600 tombs.