Synagogues and history

Untitled presentation (59)

The New Synagogue in Berlin Germany, was once the largest and most magnificent Jewish place of worship in Germany and, at the same time, it showcased the confidence of the established Jewish middle class of Berlin. The Moorish-style building was built between 1859 and 1866 based on plans by Eduard Knoblauch. With its refined steel construction of the galleries and roof and clever interior design, it represented an important engineering and architectural achievement. In the great nave and the galleries, there is room for up to 3,000 worshipers. A highly visible large golden dome crowns the building and the front entrances which is magnificently deco-rated with ornamental brick front is flanked by two towers which also have gilded domes. During the pogrom night of 1938, the synagogue was spared from major damage due to the courageous intervention of the district’s police superintendent but it was severely damaged in World War II by Allied bombing. When they blew up the synagogue’s main room in 1958, the only things that remained were the parts of the synagogue located closest to the street. In May 1995, the synagogue was reopened along with the permanent exhibition “Open the the gates.” []


For over 800 years, a luxurious synagogue in port city of Molfetta Italy, waited for Jewish worshippers’ return. But church refused to give up so easily on building it appropriates after Jews’ expulsion in Middle Ages. For hundreds of years filled with anti-Semitic rulers, the synagogue was converted into a church with the aim of expelling, assimilating and annihilating the most thriving Jewish community in southern Italy, which generated religious authorities like Rabbi Moshe Yosef from the city of Trani and had up to 2,500 members. Poetic justice can be found behind the doors of the Santa Maria di Scuola Nova church, which resumed its activities as a synagogue six years ago. Avraham Zhilo, a Jew born in the area, provides a personal testimony on the site’s reincarnation. As a child, he would accompany his grandfather who prayed at the Scuola Nova. He remembers that when they entered the church, his grandfather would kiss the lintel, where the mezuzah was meant to be. He says that when one of the community’s Jews had his eldest son, they would gather 30 days later in front of the church’s door and the priest would mumble secret blessings at them. Over the years, it turned out that the priest was actually a Jew who was forced to convert, but later returned to Judaism. His four children live in Israel today. In 2006, after 800 years, the Scuola Nova synagogue returned to its original mission in an emotional celebration. The Trani bishop visited the place and gave it his blessing, and the Jewish community of Molfetta and its surroundings returned home – but only symbolically. Most of the region’s Jews – Holocaust survivors – left the area on ships carrying illegal immigrants to Palestine, and they live in Israel now.  Once every few weeks, a rabbi arrived in the area from Rome to hold ceremonies and teach girls and boys ahead of their bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah ceremonies. According to Holzer, it’s very hard to find a quorum in the area these days. [,7340,L-4100992,00.html]


The Great Synagogue in Florence Italy, was built between 1874 and 1882. The architects were Mariano Falcini, Professor Vincente Micheli, and Marco Treves who built the structure in the Spanish-Moresco style. During World War II Fascist troops used the synagogue as a vehicle garage. In August 1944 retreating German troops worked with Italian Fascists to destroy the synagogue, but the Italian resistance managed to defuse most of the explosives. Only a limited amount of damage was done. The synagogue was restored after the war. It was restored again after damage by massive flooding in 1966. The synagogue has been widely admired, and the 1892 Eutaw Place Temple of Temple Oheb Shalom in Baltimore, Maryland, represents a replica. []


One of the oldest synagogues in Europe; the original structure of Sinagoga Mayor in Barcelona Spain. It was built in the third or fourth century. King James I visited the synagogue in 1263 at the conclusion of the Barcelona Disputation. Shlomo ben Aderet served as the rabbi of the Sinagoga Major for 50 years. On Ash Wednesday 1391, a series of Church-led riots broke out across the country. The riots reached Barcelona in early August, during which time thousands of Jews were murdered or forcibly converted. After the expulsion of the Jews, the building was used for many things – even as a store room – and in the 17th century apartments were built on top. The Sinagoga Major was restored and finally opened to the public in 2002


Gemiluth Chessed Synagogue in Port Gibson Mississippi,  although not a large building, is the finest and most purely articulated Moorish Revival building in Mississippi. The cornerstone for Gemiluth Chessed was laid on January 3, 1892 and the synagogue served Port Gibson’s Jewish community until 1986, when the congregation dwindled down to two individuals and closed. Gemiluth Chessed Synagogue, despite its architectural and historical significance, was almost demolished for a gas station parking lot in 1987, until an eleventh-hour save by Bill and Martha Lum (not Jewish) who spared the building from the landfill.



The Abuhav Synagogue in Zafed Israel,  was built in the sixteenth century and its southern wall contains three Arks. The bima is in the center and the benches for the congregation are arranged around it, as was customary in ancient synagogues.The interior of the synagogue dome is decorated with depictions of musical instruments that were used in the Temple in Jerusalem, symbols of the tribes of Israel, and four crowns, representing the Torah crown, the priestly crown, the royal crown, and a crown unique; to Sated: “the crown of impending redemption.” in keeping with the numerological tradition of Kabbalah, the design of the synagogue has numerical significance: one bima, two steps to it, three Arks, and so forth. The works of well-known Israel artist Ziona Tagger adorn the walls. The scroll housed in the Abuhav Synagogue is the oldest in Safed and many traditions and legends are associated with it. It is kept locked up in the Ark and is only taken out for reading three times a year: Yom Kippur, Shavuot, and Rosh Hashanah. Another Torah scroll in the Abuhav Synagogue is the scroll of Rabbi Solomon Ohana, a Kabbalist from Fez, Morocco, who moved to Safed in the sixteenth century. For generations, the Jews of Safed gathered in the synagogue on the eve of Shavuot to celebrate the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. It was also customary at weddings to bring the bride to the synagogue accompanied by music, dancing, and singing.



The Great Synagogue in Szeged was the result of a design competition held in 1898. The synagogue survived the war.  It is a 1907 building designed by the Jewish Hungarian architect Lipót Baumhorn, whose work is considered to contain the finest examples of the unique fin de siecle Hungarian blending of Art Nouveau and Historicist styles sometimes known as Magyar style.The Szeged Synagogue is the second largest in Hungary after the Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest, and the 4th largest in the world.


Untitled presentation (60)

The Jewish community of Rome goes back to the 2nd century B.C when the Roman Empire had an alliance of sorts with Judea under the leadership of Judah Maccabeus. At that time, many Jews came to Rome from Judea. Their numbers increased during the following centuries due to the settlement that came with Mediterranean trade. Then large numbers of Jews were brought to Rome as slaves following the Jewish–Roman wars in Judea from 63 to 135 CE. The present Synagogue was constructed shortly after the unification of Italy in 1870, when the Kingdom of Italy captured Rome and the Papal States ceased to exist. The Roman Ghetto was demolished and the Jews were granted citizenship. The building which had previously housed the ghetto synagogue was demolished, and the Jewish community began making plans for a new and impressive building. On 13 April 1986, Pope John Paul II made an unexpected visit to the Great Synagogue. This event marked the first known visit by a pope to a synagogue since the early history of the Roman Catholic Church. He prayed with Rabbi Elio Toaff, the former Chief Rabbi of Rome.This was seen by many as an attempt to improve relations between Catholicism and Judaism and a part of Pope John Paul II’s programme to improve relations with Jews. In 2010 Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni hosted a visit from Pope Benedict XVI. []



Temple B’nai Israel in Natchez, Mississippi stands as a proud legacy to the town’s Jewish heritage. Today, fewer than fifteen Jewish people live in Natchez, though over two hundred and fifty people filled Temple B’nai Israel’s sanctuary when it opened in 1905. The temple houses the oldest Jewish congregation in Mississippi. Its stained glass windows and ark of Italian marble make this synagogue one of the loveliest and most historic in the region. Temple B’nai Israel is open to the public with the support of local docents from the congregation and through its preservation agreement with the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience.


The Touro Synagogue is a 1763 synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, that is the oldest synagogue building still standing in the United States,the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue building in North America, and the only surviving synagogue building in the U.S. dating to the colonial era.


Untitled presentation (49)

In the west Siberian city of Tomsk, the historic synagogue has been completely restored and it has been crowned with a new dome. The Jewish community of Tomsk has been awaiting the rejuvenation of their synagogue for nearly a decade. Several years ago, the synagogue was returned by the government to its original owners – the Jewish community. The return of the building and its restoration has generated much excitement within the Jewish community. The building, which has been restored to its historic original look, contains a prayer hall and community center, including classrooms, a library, children’s playrooms, as well as a mikvah. Most of the funds invested in the synagogue’s restoration were contributed by Jews of Tomsk. The list of donors includes dozens of names. For them and for all Jews of this Siberian city, the long-awaited completion of this construction project is genuine cause for celebration. []


Rodeph Shalom synagogue in Philadelphia is dated back to 1795. It is the first Ashkenazic congregation in the Western Hemisphere. When Rodeph Shalom outgrew its first house of worship, the congregation razed the building, designed by Frank Furness (1867–1959), and built the present-day temple on the site. Inspired by the great Synagogue of Florence, Italy, the temple is one of the few in the United States that retains its distinctive Moorish-Byzantine style.


The Great Synagogue in Allenby Street in Tel Aviv, built in the 1920s, can’t be missed. This very imposing building with its huge dome was renovated in 1970s and contains very beautiful stained-glass windows that are replicas from European synagogue that were destroyed.


The Golden Menorah was constructed by the Temple Institute and based on extensive research, this golden menorah is appropriate for use in the Third Temple.  Over two meters in height and plated with 43 kg (95 lbs) of gold, this menorah is the first such constructed since the destruction of the Temple.  This menorah is on display in the Jewish Quarter. []


The Hurvah Synagogue in Jerusalem was the most prominent synagogue in the Old City until it was blown up by the Jordanians in the 1948 War of Independence.  Because of disagreements the Israelis did not rebuild the synagogue in 1967, instead re-erecting one of the arches in memory of the house of prayer. In 2010 the synagogue was rebuilt and dedicated. []


The Hechal Yehuda Synagogue in Tel Aviv, was built in memory of the Jewish community of Thessaloniki that was almost completely destroyed during the Holocaust. It is named after Yehuda Leon Recanati, an important benefactor; acting around the world.The construction of the synagogue was completed in 1980. Today most worshippers at the synagogue are Greek-Sephardi Jews originating from Thessaloniki. []



The “Ohel Yaakov” Synagogue is the main synagouge in Zichron Yaakov Israel. It was built in 1886 by the Baron Rotchild in memory of his father James Yaakov Rotchild. The main synagogue in Zichron is the most unique synagogue in the entire area at the time and was preffered by all the different settlement Rotchild founded. At the synagougue Rothcild used to speak to the people of Zichron Yaakov. The synagogue was built during the Ottoman regime in Israel; the Ottomans had a law about destroying housing: It is not permitted to destroy a building if the roof is built. The jewish settlement took advantage of this law and in the middle of the night crept out and built the synagogue. Every time the officers came over and asked what they were building the responded that they are building a stable. At the end, over one night they built the roof and opened the synagogue to the Ottoman’s astonishment that instead of a stable the built a marvelous synagogue.



Ohel Leah Synagogue has served Hong Kong Jewry for over a hundred years. The Hong Kong Jewish Community was established in the 1850s. The construction of Ohel Leah Synagogue began in 1901. The initial structure was completed in early 1902 and formally dedicated by Sir Jacob Sassoon in commemoration of his mother Leah. OLS has been in continuous use since its completion with the exception of a short period during World War II when Hong Kong was occupied by the Japanese. During that time all formal Jewish activities were temporarily suspended as the Japanese had seized control of OLS and many community members were interned. []



Ohel Rachel was one of old Shanghai’s six synagogues, only one of two still standing today. The synagogue, considered one of the world’s 100 most endangered monuments, has been occasionally used over the past decade by the Shanghai Jewish community for holiday services, but it was no longer a consecrated synagogue. It was only with the arrival of the Expo that the Chinese government allowed the Jewish community to renovate and re-open the synagogue on the weekends (Shabbat) when the Education Ministry is closed. “Ohel Rachel has been a complicated issue because physically it is situated within the Shanghai Ministry of Education,” explains Israeli Consul General Jackie Eldan. “Ministries are secluded sites where usually non-officials cannot approach. So there is a special effort here by Chinese authorities on Friday and Saturday when the ministry is closed to open the premise for Jewish practice. This is truly highly appreciated by Israel.” []


Jews have not been in Japan for very long.  The first confirmed contact between the Japanese and Jews was during the 16th century when Dutch and Portuguese merchants and travelers visited Japan.  Many of these early travelers were Sephardic Jews. The first Jewish settlement in Japan did not occur until the 1850’s after Japan’s “closed-door” foreign policy was finally lifted following the Convention of Kanagawa. In 1861, 50 Jewish families settled in Yokohama and built Japan’s first synagogue.  After the great Kanto earthquake of 1923, this community moved to the port city of Kobe where it still exists today.  During the 1880’s, 100 Jewish families settled in the port city of Nagasaki.  They built the Beth Israel Synagogue in 1894.  The community thrived until Russo-Japanese War in the early 20th century.  After its decline, the community’s Torah scroll was given to the community of Kobe.  During the first half of the 20th century the Kobe community continued to grow, attracting settlers from Russia, Iraq, Syria, and Central Europe.  At the same time a Jewish community developed in Tokyo comprised of immigrants from the United States and Western Europe.  The Tokyo community is now Japan’s largest boasting approximately 600 families. []



One of the historic landmarks located in Prague’s Josefov quarter, the Old-New Synagogue is one of the earliest examples of Gothic architecture and is the oldest active synagogue in Europe. Many visitors to the city choose holiday apartments in Prague to stay within easy reach of this remarkable Gothic building, completed in 1270.  The synagogue was originally referred to as the New or Great Shul, as there was an even older synagogue that remained in Josefov until it was demolished in 1867.  It became known as the Old-New Synagogue as other houses of worship were erected throughout the 16th century. The synagogue has been an active worship centre for Prague’s Jewish community since its completion nearly 750 years ago.  The only time services were not held there was during the Nazi occupation from 1941 to 1945.  Regular services and Jewish ceremonies are still held at the Old-New Synagogue today. []


The Great synagogue of Paris. Also known as « La Victoire synagogue », it is the largest synagogue in France, and impresses every visitor by its spectacular dimensions and sheer magnificence. Built in 1874 by the chief architect of the city of Paris, Alfred-Philibert Aldrophe, with the financial support of the Rothschild family, the synagogue provided Parisian jews with a place of worship that reflected the community’s tremendous demographic, economic and cultural development at the end of the 19th century.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined thousands of people who have penned letters in a Torah scroll commissioned by Chabad-Lubavitch of the Dead Sea in an ancient synagogue on Masada. The synagogue, which dates back 2,000 years, was discovered more than 50 years ago by Yigal Yadin, the well-known Israeli archeologist, politician and second chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces. There, in the course of archeological digs, he found portions of the ancient documents collectively known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, including chapters of Deuteronomy and Ezekiel. Rabbi Shimon Elharar, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Dead Sea, conceived the idea of having a ritual scribe write a Torah scroll at the synagogue. Together with Masada National Park director Eitan Campbell, his dream came to fruition. [ ]


Untitled presentation (61)

Plzeň , Czech RepublicAs the third largest in the world, the great synagogue is one of Plzeň’s most notable architectural landmarks.  The synagogue was built in the late 1800′s. The Czech lands were still part of the Austro-Hungarian empire at that time, but the reforms of new Emperor Franz Josef in the 1870′s gave the Jewish communities the security and confidence necessary for such grand community building projects. In this period of optimism and unprecedented freedom the first stones of Plzeň’s great synagogue were laid in 1888. The original plans for the synagogue were for a great and impressive building to rival even St Bartholomew’s cathedral. It was to be a huge construction in the northern Gothic style with a steep high roof and two soaring 65 metre spires, but precisely because it would compete with the church, the city officials refused permission for the project unless it was redesigned. The new plans were approved in 1890. The new design preserved the original ground plan but shortened the towers by a third and dismissed the Gothic style in favour of a skillful blend of neo-renaissance columns and arches decorated with Oriental elements. The synagogue was completed in 1893 and served its community until the Second World War. With only a fraction of the pre-war Jewish community returning to Plzeň after 1945, the synagogue was used less and less and fell further and further into disrepair until eventually being closed for safety reasons in 1973. After the fall of communism, Plzeň’s small Jewish community set about raising money to restore the synagogue and with support from the Czech Ministry of Culture and the city of Plzeň it was reopened in 1998 and welcomes visitors from April through October every day of the week except Saturday. The synagogue is also used as a venue for evening concerts and other cultural events, and the corridors are used to display exhibits of photography connected with Jewish culture. Prayer services are held regularly in a small rear section called the winter synagogue.



The Grand Synagogue and JCC of the revived Jewish community of Nizhny Novgorod, Russia – built at 1881 – 1883 by the city’s first generation of Jews.
The laws of the Russian Empire prohibited Jews from living in the center of Russia, allowing them land only in the Pale of Settlement. Only merchants of the top guild and retired soldiers of the imperial army could live there. Nevertheless, the high trade and industrial development of Nizhny Novgorod attracted people, and Jews started arrive at Nizhny Novgorod from western regions of the empire.


Untitled presentation (57)

One of the oldest temples of worship in Washington, D.C. the 6th & I is part synagogue, part community center and part concert and exhibition hall. It was only recently, in 2004, that the historic building was returned to the Jewish community, after being used as a church for over five decades. With heavy participation by Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin, a team of architects recreated the aesthetic of the original structure from old wedding photos.


Beth Sholom Congregation is located in the Philadelphia suburb of Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. It is the only synagogue designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Beth Sholom is a new National Historic Landmark because of its significance in the history of American architecture. The glazed glass pyramidal tower, built in the 1950s, reflects two dominant metaphors—the tent and the mountain—to convey the sense of a collective sacredness. It is nationally significant as one of Wright’s most important commissions during his long and productive career.


The Chabad of West Boca started its Capital Campaign for this new building in January of 2011, with construction beginning in January of 2014.  The new building is a community center and not merely a synagogue. Chabad’s purpose is to create a vibrant community center which will be a home to every Jew in the community.  [ May 2015 SunSentinel ]

Click on the links below to read related stories:

About a Synagogue 

Our old Synagogues: What happens to synagogues when no one is left?