Clerics honor Ukrainian savior of ruined synagogue

KIEV, Ukraine (JTA) — A Ukrainian Christian who saved a dilapidated rural synagogue was honored at an interaith forum in Kiev.

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Boris Slobodnyuk of Satanov received the forum’s 2013 Crystal Noah Tolerance Award on Tuesday at the Kiev Interfaith Forum for guarding the 500-year-old Stanovskaya synagogue in western Ukraine and initiating renovation work there.

For the past three years, the forum has brought together dozens of spiritual leaders from five faiths and 30 countries. 

Oleksandr Feldman, a Ukrainian Jewish lawmaker who founded the forum in 2010, said Slobodnyuk, who is in his 50s, prevented area residents from taking apart the structure and last year secured funding from Jewish organizations to restore the ancient synagogue. He acted out of an inner sense of responsibility and for no pay, according to the committee that gave Slobodnyuk the prize.

With help from Arthur Friedman, a Jewish leader in the Khmelnitsky region, Slobodnyuk plans to help carry out renovation work next year on the rotten foundations of the structure, a former fortress and one of the largest synagogues in Ukraine. Interior repairs are scheduled to begin later.

There are hopes for a synagogue rededication in 2016.

“My message is, if you can’t help, at least don’t destroy,” Slobodnyuk told the crowd of 500 Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Muslims and Buddhists who attended the two-day gathering on “Faith’s Role in State, Government and Politics.” The participants are scheduled to visit the Ukrainian parliament on Wednesday.

Slobodnyuk received the award, which was given out for the first time, along with philosopher Miroslav Popovich and radio journalist Sergey Korotaevskiy.

A few dozen Orthodox Christians picketed outside the riverside hotel hosting the conference.

“There is no hate among us, but we cannot make common council with Muslims and Jews, this is heresy,” protester Dmitri Kroiter told JTA.

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