Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney MP, Gerald Jones, recently joined historian Simon Schama and TV presenter Natasha Kaplinsky at the launch in Parliament of a project to map to preserve the historic synagogues of Europe. Simon Schama, a trustee of the Foundation, along with the event host, the Rt Hon Jim Murphy, and Dame Helen Hyde launched the project and its findings last week at the Speaker’s House in the Palace of Westminster.
Of the 3,318 synagogues identified in Europe, the findings have highlighted 160 which the Foundation believes urgently need attention if they are to be safe-guarded for future generations, so this rich cultural history is not lost for ever. Two of these are UK synagogues: Merthyr Tydfil and Sunderland.
In Merthyr Tydfil, conversations instigated by the Foundation have resulted in a feasibility study, which has already begun, to explore plans to restore the building and preserve it as a Jewish Museum of Wales, telling the rich story of the 250-year-old Jewish community here. It would also serve as a cultural centre for the town.
Speaking after the event, Gerald Jones MP said:
“I was delighted to attend the Foundation for Jewish Heritage’s reception in Parliament, where it was excellent to see Merthyr Tydfil’s synagogue on display on their pop-up banner to promote their proposals.
“I know that Dawn Bowden AM has been supporting the proposal at the National Assembly and I have spoken with the Foundation to offer my support to any funding bids that they intend to submit and I am meeting them shortly to discuss if there is any further support I am able to offer.
“We know that the synagogue is of significant historic, religious and architectural importance. The proposals by the Foundation would see this building once again playing a part in the life of our community here in Merthyr Tydfil and the wider community across Wales which is why I am more than pleased to support them.”
Backing the project, more than 40 high-profile supporters including Downton Abbey creator Lord Julian Fellowes who attended the event; authors Linda Grant and Howard Jacobson; architect Daniel Libeskind; sculptor Sir Anish Kapoor; journalist Robert Peston and former ministers Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Tristrum Hunt, have signed a letter calling on European goverments and heritage agencies to support all efforts to save and preserve the most at-risk synagogues.
The Foundation also has support from many members of the Heritage world within Europe and beyond.