Belarus Jews ask Minsk for restoration of synagogues
By The Associated Press | Aug.28, 2002 | 12:00 AM
MINSK - Jewish leaders in Belarus yesterday urged the government to restore synagogues and other sacred sites, after repeatedly accusing the authorities of failing to respond to anti-Semitism.
In a letter to the administration of President Alexander Lukashenko, 18 Jewish communities and organizations said "the restoration of Jewish holy places would be the best proof of the leadership's relationship to Jews in Belarus," said Yuri Dorn, president of the Jewish Religious Union of Belarus.
Citing a series of attacks in which Jewish graves were desecrated, Jewish leaders last month accused the government of turning a blind eye to growing anti-Semitism.
President Alexander Lukashenko responded by saying there was no anti-Semitism in Belarus.
The Jewish groups lamented the destruction of a 19th century synagogue in Minsk, the capital, that was torn down late last year with the sanction of the city government and the Culture Ministry, and the construction of a parking facility on the site of a ruined 16th century synagogue whose foundation still exists.
However, Dorn said since it was unlikely those synagogues would be rebuilt, the Jewish leaders urged the government to restore a 17th century synagogue in Slonim, 100 kilometers north of Minsk, or a yeshiva in Volozhin, 20 km west of the capital.
Belarus was home to a substantial Jewish minority before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Of the 6 million Jews who died in Europe during World War II, Nazis killed 800,000 in Belarus.
Soviet discrimination prompted many Jews to hide their background and many fled to Israel or the West after the 1991 Soviet collapse. About 27,000 Jews remain in the country of 10 million.
Jewish activists say the government is reluctant to turn over synagogues closed during Soviet times to Jewish groups. Lukashenko has run Belarus with an iron hand, suppressing dissent and cracking down on the media - policies that have made him a pariah in the West.