American and Moldovan Groups at Odds Over Property

By Marissa Brostoff

Published February 28, 2008, issue of March 07, 2008.
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A piece of land in Kishinev, Moldova, that was once home to a synagogue and is the place where a Jewish community center now sits has become the focus of a legal battle between American and Moldovan Jewish organizations.

According to officials at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Moldova obtained help from the JDC in purchasing the property from the Moldovan government in the late 1990s. These officials say that the Moldovan Association then signed over the property to the JDC. The JDC proceeded to tear down the crumbling edifice, which was known as the Woodcutter’s Synagogue, and turned the site into a community center. Now, the Moldovan Association, which is under new leadership, wants the property back.

On February 25, a federal judge in Moldova ruled in favor of the Moldovan Association. The JDC plans to appeal the decision.

The court case is just one example of an ongoing dispute between the JDC, which has been a major force in the development of post-Soviet Jewish communal life, and Jewish organizations based in Eastern Europe.

An opinion piece by a Moldovan Jewish community leader that ran in a Kishinev Jewish newspaper in February argued that the JDC squanders funds on “petty functionaries” and that it has concentrated power and resources in its own hands. The community leader, Lev Bondari, wrote that the JDC’s “incompetence, cynicism, and boorishness…have finally exhausted the patience of local Jewish leaders.”

The JDC has professed confusion in response to the Kishinev property case.

“What they asked for in court was the return of the Woodcutter’s Synagogue, and that doesn’t exist anymore,” said Steve Schwager, CEO and executive vice president of the JDC.

Schwager added, “We have an obligation to our donors to protect the property they paid for.”

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