Just hours after six American students arrived in Surabaya, Indonesia, on Friday evening, media reported that one of the country's last remaining vestiges of its Jewish community had been reduced to a pile of rubble.
The students — visiting from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and the University of Michigan — were in the country under the US-Indonesia Partnership Program for Study Abroad Capacity. Surabaya was their last destination to focus on religious pluralism and democracy.
Beth Shalom, Java's only synagogue, was demolished in May after being sealed off by Islamic hard-liners since 2009, Freddy Istanto, the director of the Surabaya Heritage Society (SHS), told the Jakarta Globe on Saturday. He said it was uncertain who destroyed the building.
"In mid-May, I was informed by a member of the SHS that the synagogue was destroyed. In disbelief, I went over there and it had been flattened," he said. "It was designated as a heritage site by the agency on April 16, 2009. It should have been protected. There were many artifacts in the building that can't be found anywhere else."
Sachiroel Alim, a city council deputy speaker, told the Jakarta Globe that the council summoned the Surabaya Tourism Agency to officially report the case to the police because the demolition was in direct violation of the Law on Cultural Heritage.
Soemarsono, the head of the National Unity and Society Protection Agency of Surabaya, claimed that the synagogue was an illegal structure because it did not possess proper building permits, the Jakarta Globe reported.
Indonesia's last surviving synagogue is located in Manado, North Sulawesi.
Diah Ariani Arimbi, dean of Airlangga University's School of Literature, said all was not lost on the trip, because the students were still able to learn "about how the residents form a pluralist and democratic community."
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