Monday, January 02, 2006

Eighth Day Home Again and an Explanation

We are home now. This is one of our menorahs and my favorite.

Originally uploaded by Teckelcar.

It is titled “The Synagogues of Europe” Hannukia and was created by Maude Weisser in loving memory of lost communities. It came with a little booklet and I will reprint it here in verbatim.

Artist Maude Weisser is proud to introduce her “Synagogues of Europe” Hannukia. Inspired by the long history and great struggles of European Jewry, as well as the architectural beauty of these old Synagogues; this Hannukia is sure to become a collector’s heirloom.

“The Synagogue” has always been central to the observance and expression of the Jewish faith. It is also one of Judaism’s great legacies to mankind giving inspiration to the development of both the Church and the Mosque. The Synagogue functioned not only as a house of worship, but was the hub of Jewish community life and the central pillar from which the Jews derived their faith, strength and sheer will to survive.

The Synagogues chosen for this Hannukia reflect the great diversity of architectural styles employed by the Jews of the Diaspora in their respective lands. Each community was influenced by the unique styles of the particular country or city in which they were located. However, underlying these surface differences is the unity and strength of the Jewish faith, common to Jewish communities the world over.

1.) Prague, Czechoslovakia: The Altneuschul or “Old-New Synagogue” (c. 1280) is perhaps the most famous and oldest European Synagogue still in use. Located in the Jewish Quarter of Prague, the facade of this building is unusually impressive for its’ time. The gothic atmosphere of the Synagogue inspired many legends, including the story of Judah Loew, a 17th century rabbi who is said to have created “The Golem” here, a mechanical monster designed to save the Jews of Prague from oppression.

2.) Toledo, Spain: Santa Maria La Blanca Synagogue (c. 1200), this is the oldest of the Toledo Synagogues, a city which was home to a Jewish population of some 15,000. The Christian sounding name, “St. Mary the White” is the name of the convent for repentant women into which this synagogue was converted in the 16th c. The building was confiscated from the Jewish community in the early 15th c. by an angry mob of Anti-Semites. Although the exterior is rather plain and simple, the interior is very lavish and adorned in Moorish style.

3.) Dubronik, Yugoslavia: The Dubrovnik Synagogue was built in the 17th c. on the second story of a narrow ancient building in the Jewish section of the city. The architecture is that of a typical small Sephardi Synagogue and can be attributed to the influence of refugees from Spain and Portugal who arrived in this Eastern European community at the end of the 15th century. The Torah scrolls, which survived the Nazis during World War II were brought from Spain in 1492.

4.) Cracow, Poland: The Rema Synagogue (c. 1550) was one of the first Polish Synagogues built in the Renaissance style. It was burned by the Nazis but reconstructed after the war. This Synagogue was built by the father of the great rabbinical authority, Moses Isserles (The Rema), in honor of his son. It is one of a number of Polish “Family Synagogues” which were built by wealthy men and intended for use by a limited group of worshippers from the founding family.

5.) Vilna, Poland: This gate is located at the entrance to the shulhof on Jews’ Street, in the Jewish Quarter of Vilna. This section of the city housed over 20 Synagogues and was the focus of Jewish community life in the city.

6.) Lutsk, Poland: The Lutsk Fortress Synagogue (c. 1626) like many synagogues throughout Poland was designed to be defended in case of need. The so-called “Fortress Synagogues” were built in monumental scale with thick walls and a parapet which was used not only as a look-out but for active military defense if called for. It was built with loop holes for housing cannons and guns. The tower also served as a look-out in times of emergency but otherwise it was used as a jail for petty criminals. At this time it was common for Synagogues to have cells in their vestibules or cellars to imprison minor criminals.

7.) Zabludow, Poland: The Zabludow Synagogue (c. 1756) was a wooden Synagogue built in the style of the wooden Synagogue in Wolpa. The Wooden Synagogue was an original Polish building style. Timber, usually pine but also oak was in ample supply in the Polish forests and wood was easy and familiar for the Polish builders to work with. Smaller rural communities were unable to afford stone masonry work and wood became the material of choice for these congregations. However, these wooden Synagogues were very vulnerable to fire and wood rot and thus very few survived up until W.W. II. At the outbreak of the War only 100 wooden Synagogues were still in existence and the Nazis destroyed them all.

8.) Budapest, Hungary: The Synagogue in Obuda, built in 1820-21 was designed in the neo-classical style with a clock on the front facade. It was considered the outstanding Synagogue of the Hapsburg Empire in the early 19th century. Although the building still exists today, it is no longer used as a Synagogue.

9.) Florence, Italy: Tiempo Israelitico, completed in 1882 exhibits a strong Oriental influence in architectural style. The domes, turrets, arches and extravagant detailing are derived from Byzantine, Islamic and Spanish-Moorish sources. The Synagogue’s basic plan was inspired by the famous Santa Sofia in Istanbul, and its’ impressive dome stands out prominently even in Florence.

This very special and unique Hannuka was created in loving memory of the many diverse Jewish communities which existed in Europe prior to World War II. Although several of the synagogues still exist today, the communities which once flourished within them for the most part no longer do, but the contributions of these communities to world Jewry today shall never be forgotten.

The Synagoesgues are listed from left to right. I added some links to the text to connect you to some pictures (if they exist) and some more information.

I fully intended to share with y’all pictures for each night of Hanukkah, but I was sandbagged by a nasty case of strep and I had to go on hiatus. I will post the pictures later with a few more stories of our adventures.

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