11 June 2009

Guidelines: Preserving historic Jewish property

Sam Gruber's Jewish Art Monuments blog is always interesting. On June 10, he published the final statement of Principles and Procedures of the Bratislava Seminar (March 17-19, 2009), covering care, conservation and maintenance of historic Jewish property. Immediately after the event, he posted a review.

Sam has been president of the International Survey of Jewish Monuments (ISJM) since 1997, and on the board of the Preservation Association of Central New York (PACNY) since 1996.

The conference was organized by IJSM, the Joint Distribution Committee and the Slovak Jewish Heritage Center and sponsored by the World Monuments Fund, the Rothschild Foundation (Europe), the Cahnman Foundation and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). Sam served as co-chair of the event.

The final statement has implications for all countries and Jewish communities concerned with historic Jewish property.

Seminar on Care, Conservation and Maintenance of Historic Jewish Property
Bratislava, March 17-19, 2009
Final Statement Adopted By Participants

The participants in the Seminar “Care, Conservation and Maintenance of Historic Jewish Property,” meeting in Bratislava March 17-19, 2009, agree on the following principles and procedures which guide their work.


The ongoing struggle for property and resource restitution has often overshadowed the practical issues of how to manage community properties already held, or those returned.

Proper care of these properties; often involving substantial costs, difficult planning and use issues, and demanding historical and architectural preservation concerns, have preoccupied many Jewish communities for years. In many cases, and especially for smaller Communities, the needs of these properties continue to stretch professional and financial resources. Everyday community needs often delay or prevent the attention that properties require.

Each Jewish community faces its own specific situations, and has unique needs, but there are many shared problems and needs that can be addressed collectively. Importantly, there are also solutions - many of which have been pioneered by Communities themselves - that can be shared,

Jewish Properties and Jewish Heritage

Jewish heritage is the legacy of all aspects of Jewish history – religious and secular.

Jewish history and art is part of every nation’s history and art. Jewish heritage is part of national heritage, too.

Documentation, planning and development of sites benefit and enrich society at large as well as Jews and Jewish communities.

Jewish historic sites and properties should also be developed where possible within the context of diverse histories – Jewish, local, national, art, etc.

Jewish tourism and tourism to Jewish sites should be part of every country’s tourism strategy.

Inventories and Documentation

All past and present Jewish communal properties, and all Jewish properties and sites deemed to have historic, religious and/or artistic significance, should be documented to the fullest extent possible.

Inventories must be made and maintained of all properties in each country, and more substantial documentation should be made of historically and architecturally significant properties, especially all synagogues, institutional buildings, cemeteries, monuments, and Judaica and archival materials.

Jewish communities and institutions should cooperate and collaborate in this process to the fullest extent possible, and should welcome the assistance of other public and private institutions and individuals in pursuing these documentation goals.

Information on Jewish sites is most useful when it is most widely available. Efforts should continue and expand to make documentation available in publicly accessible research centers and through publications and on-line presentation, all the while considering safety, security and privacy concerns.

Materials relevant to Jewish history and properties in public, state archives and Jewish community archives should be open for everyone for historical and legal research.

Good documentation must be accurate and complete in its description, and it must be historically informed so that it presents something of the significance of what is recorded.

Synagogues and Former Synagogues

Synagogue and former synagogues should retain a Jewish identity and or use whenever possible, though each one does not necessarily need to be restored or fully renovated.

Former synagogues, no matter what their present ownership or use, should be sensitively marked to identify their past history.

As part of the effort to restitute communal and religious property, when a property of historic value - such as a synagogue - in disrepair or otherwise in a ruined condition (while in the government's possession) is returned, States should help either by modifying laws which impose penalties for not maintaining properties in reasonable condition, or by providing financial and material assistance to undertake necessary repairs and restoration.

Cooperation and Trust

Honesty and transparency are Jewish values and should be especially apparent in the handling of all matters concerning Jewish property, which is held as a communal trust.

Jewish communities should manage their properties to maximize their use for present and future generations.

Jewish communities and institutions should work together as much as possible to share existing information, methodologies and technologies, and they should work together to develop new and compatible goals and strategies to optimize the care and management of historic Jewish properties.

Regular meetings of Jewish community leaders, members, staff and expert professionals to discuss property issues is encouraged within single communities, and between communities. Regional, national and trans-border meeting are useful for the exchange of information and ideas, and for effective planning purposes.

Any sale or development of communal property must be to meet identified community needs.

Wherever possible, proceeds from the sale or development of some properties should be allocated to the care and maintenance of other properties including, but not exclusively, cemeteries.

Jewish communities and museums should work together to develop historic, descriptive and exhibition materials that can be shared.

Jewish communities and local heritage, cultural and tourist bodies should work together to develop regional, national and trans-border heritage routes.

This final statement was well-developed and should be widely disseminated.


  1. I wrote a column about the conference (in which I took part as an expert) and previewing the guidelines, back in March -- http://ruthless-cosmopolitan.blogspot.com/2009/03/ruthless-cosmopolitan-jewish-heritage.html

    It includes links to the web sites of some good-practice restoration projects.

    Ruth Ellen Gruber

  2. Thank you, Ruth. Your columns are always so useful! It is always good for genealogists and family historians to know more about this very important topic.