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UPDATED: 12:54, June 12, 2004
China to facelift Jewish buildings in NE region
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The city government of Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, has earmarked over 20 million yuan (2.41 million US dollars) to restore the original look of several Jewish buildings in the city.

Renovation of two synagogues and a middle school formerly attended by Jewish children will begin soon and are expected to be completed within the year, according to Li Shuxiao, deputy head of the Jewish Studies Center affiliated to the Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.

The newer synagogue, built in 1921, has a floor space of 1,233.6 square meters and can accommodate 800 worshippers at one time. It is the largest synagogue in the northeast region of China, which consists three provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning.

Upon completion of the facelift project, the synagogue will be built into the Harbin Museum for Jewish History and Culture.

The other two Jewish buildings, the old synagogue in Harbin and a middle school attended by Jewish children, were respectively built in 1909 and 1918.

The facelift project will cover interior and exterior decoration and restoration of some parts of the buildings which were damaged over the past nearly one century period.

Residential buildings and office buildings near the synagogues will be demolished for planting trees and grass as part of the efforts to improve environment around the Jewish buildings, according to Li.

In the late 19th century, large numbers of Jewish people began moving to Harbin to avoid harsh discrimination in czarist Russia and in some other European countries, Li said.

The number of Jewish people living in Harbin once topped 20,000 in the 1920s, forming the largest Jewish community in the far east area. They developed a complete social system of their own and they were called the "Jews in Harbin".

Li said more than 100 Jewish people have come to Harbin each year in recent years to find the roots of their families and worship their ancestors.

Apart from the aforementioned Jewish buildings, there is a cemetery for Jewish people in Harbin. The largest of its kind in the far east region, the cemetery covers 836 square meters and consists of about 600 tombs.

The city government of Harbin has invested 1 million yuan (about 120,900 US dollars) to repair and protect the tombs of Jewish people and established files for owners of the identified tombs.

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