Year after year, we grieve and remember. We tell the story of those who are not able to speak for themselves anymore. This story is going to be told upon the remaining legacy of Europe’s epochal synagogues.
Berlin: The “Neue Synagoge” (New Synagogue) was inaugurated in 1866 as the main synagogue and symbol of the thriving Jewish community in the center of Liberal Judaism. Its magnificent dome remains an eye-catcher in Berlin’s streets. The Interior was completely destroyed by Nazis, but was reconstructed after the war. Today, the “Neue Synagoge” continues to be an important Jewish landmark of Germany.
Vienna: In 1824, the “Stadttempel” (City Temple), a beautifully decorated synagogue, was constructed into a block of houses on a small side street, hidden from Vienna’s dynamic city life. Back then, the Austrian emperor issued an edict that would only allow for Roman Catholic worship houses to face public streets. Later, the “Stadttempel” would be the only Viennese synagogue to survive WW2 – ironically, because of that edict: it could not be set on fire without also destroying the buildings attached to it.
Brussels: During the age of enlightenment, many great synagogues were built to demonstrate that Jews are equal and free citizens. The “Great Synagogue of Europe”, built in 1878, was one of them. However, it got its imposing name just recently, as an act of re-dedication.
Venice: The very first Jewish Ghetto was established in Venice in 1516. Within the ghetto, five synagogues were founded in the 16th century for the different ethnic identities it contained: The Great German Schola, The Italian Schola, The Canton Schola, The Levantine Schola and The Spanish Schola. Today, only the Levantine and the Spanish Schola, whose main prayer room is shown in the picture, are still in service; the other one’s are part of a museum about the most interesting legacy of Venetian Jews.
Prague: Europe’s oldest active synagogue, the “Altneuschul” (Old New Synagogue), dates all the way back to the medieval period: its construction was completed in 1270. The Yiddish “alt-neu” (old new) sounds exactly like “Al tnay”, which means “on condition” in Hebrew. Legends say that angels have brought stones from the Temple in Jerusalem to build this synagogue, but they brought them “on condition” – when the Messiah comes, they have to return them.
Amsterdam: The “Portuguese Synagogue” opened in 1675. Its beauty and size reflects the Amsterdam Sephardic community, which was one of the largest and richest during the Dutch Golden Age. After the Jews were sent to exile from Spain in the 16th century, many fled to Portugal, where they were also unwelcomed. So they continued on seeking refuge in, amongst other places, Amsterdam. Noticeably, they would always refer to themselves as Portuguese Jews – they did not want to be identified with Spain.
London: The “Bevis Marks Synagogue” is also a masterpiece of Spanish/Portuguese Jews. It was built in 1701, and is thereby the oldest synagogue in the UK. It used to be the center of the Anglo-Jewish world and even took care of all kinds of political affairs. The Interior design was strongly influenced by the Synagogue in Amsterdam.
Budapest: The largest European synagogue and the second largest in the world is situated in the capital of Hungary. It was named “Dohàny Street Synagogue”, constructed by a Viennese architect in 1859, and has the capacity to host nearly 3,000 people. The complex of the worship house also consists of a Jewish Memorial and Museum, since the synagogue itself served as a border for the Budapest ghetto during the Holocaust.
We remember. Baruch Dayan Haemet.