Dignity restored to 1700-year-old European synagogue, thanks to concerned visitor

“This is a beautiful thing for tourists and locals alike, and finally gives the dignity due to this important Jewish site,” says Dave Gordon, who advocated for repairs to signage at the ruins of the 1,700-year-old synagogue.

By World Israel News Staff

When Canadian-Jewish writer Dave Gordon visited the ruins of an ancient synagogue in Saranda, Albania, in September 2022, he was shocked by what he discovered.

The Saranda synagogue site, which dates back over 1,700 years, is both an archaeological treasure and an important piece of Jewish history.

But the signage at the site was “terribly faded” and had clearly been “neglected over the years,” Gordon told World Israel News (WIN).

Saranda synagogue

Faded signage before the restoration at the Saranda synagogue ruins (Courtesy: Dave Gordon)

In order to understand the significance of the site and its features, “one would have either had to hire a tour guide or known what they were seeing in advance,” Gordon explained.

“Otherwise, there would be no way to know what this site was about, never mind anything about the beautiful mosaic on the floor, the mikvaot [ritual baths], any of the history or background information,” he said.

“So I was deeply disappointed, heartbroken, and frustrated that the sign was allowed to fall into such disrepair.”

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Gordon sprang into action, emailing a local official in December at the Saranda municipality with a photo of the faded sign and explaining that the neglect was both disrespectful to the site and a lost opportunity for tourism.

The official replied that the responsibility for the site lay with the Ministry of Culture, not the municipality, and that his complaint would be forwarded to the relevant authorities.

About two weeks later, Gordon sent a follow-up email to the body responsible for signage at the site. To Gordon’s surprise, within the same month, he received pictures of new signage that had been installed.

Saranda synagogue

Updated signage at the Saranda synagogue ruins (Courtesy: Dave Gordon)

“It was heartwarming to see the care with which they responded after my follow up email, and I was deeply grateful for the extent Saranda officials ensured that not one – but two – signs were erected at the site,” Gordon told WIN.

He was particularly impressed that the signs were replaced “within 30 working days, which included the Christmas holidays.”

Gordon said he believes that Albania’s support for Israel and the Jewish people is among the reasons why they prioritized restoring the signage, noting that Albanians had rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

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“I am quite proud that I put my voice forward to enact change, and did my part to preserve Jewish history in my own little way,” Gordon said.

“This is a beautiful thing for tourists and locals alike, and finally gives the dignity due to this important Jewish site.”