Nearly 400 years after it was built, the grand Renaissance-style synagogue in the southeastern Polish town of Zamosc is getting a much-needed facelift.
At the initiative of the Warsaw-based Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, extensive restoration work has begun on the multi-story structure, which had fallen into disrepair and suffered widespread water damage in recent years.
"Our goal is to renovate the synagogue and make it a vibrant center which will serve all the people from Zamosc and its environs," foundation president Monika Krawczyk told The Jerusalem Post.
Zamosc is located in the Lublin district, approximately 70 km. from the Ukrainian border.
In addition to a hall that will be used for prayer services, lectures and concerts, plans call for the structure to house a tourist information center as well as a museum that will celebrate the history of the area's Jews.
The exhibits will utilize advanced multimedia technology, and will incorporate innovative programs such as a "virtual tour" of Jewish shtetls that dotted the region before the Holocaust.
Considered an architectural gem, the Zamosc shul was one of the first properties to be officially returned to the Jewish community by the Polish government nearly a decade ago, noted Krawczyk, whose foundation is responsible for safeguarding Jewish cultural, historical and religious sites throughout the country.
Zamosc's synagogue is believed to have been built between 1610 and 1618. Among those who preached there was the famed Dubno maggid, Rabbi Yaakov Kranz, who passed away in Zamosc in 1804 and was buried in the local Jewish cemetery.
The synagogue was in continuous use until the German invasion of Poland in 1939, after which it was damaged and later used as a carpentry workshop.
Poland's post-war Communist regime turned it into a public library, which was moved to a new location five years ago.
Only a handful of Jews remain in Zamosc, which was home to 12,000 Jews, or nearly half the town's population, on the eve of World War II.
"We have a dream that the Zamosc synagogue will be used for the holy purposes of the Jewish people," Krawczyk said, "but the reality is what it is. I hope that Jewish groups from all over the world who visit Poland will come to see it and use it, as it is specially designed to allow the main hall to be used to hold prayers for interested groups."
The bulk of the funding for the restoration came from the European Economic Area and Norway Grants, which was established by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway to support various social and economic projects throughout Europe, as well as from the World Monument Fund.
Krawczyk is looking to raise additional money to defray the remaining costs of the restoration. "We realize that our organization is only the custodian of these historical sites," she said, "but in fact they belong to all Polish Jews, regardless of where they live, and they are an important part of our people's heritage."