10 impressive synagogues to inspire prayer

For several days a year, the People of the Book become the People of the Synagogue.

September 17, 2007 07:42
budapest synago 88 224

budapest synago 88 224. (photo credit: )


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For several days a year, the People of the Book become the People of the Synagogue. In honor of the High Holy Days, when Jews the world over fill their houses of worship to capacity, we celebrate a minyan out of scores of remarkable synagogues known for their beauty or their place in history. Paradesi Synagogue Cochin, India The Paradesi Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the world. Located on the southwest coast of India, it was built in 1568 - just 70 years after Vasco da Gama first discovered India for Europe on the very same stretch of shoreline. One of the Torah crowns is solid gold, a gift from a maharajah. An annex houses a mural gallery depicting the community's history. Praying here really gives the worshiper the sense of the timelessness and ubiquity of the Jewish presence in the world Old-New Synagogue Prague, Czech Republic The Old-New Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in the world still serving its original purpose. Built in the second half of the 13th century, the structure truly evokes the atmosphere of the Middle Ages and recalls the famous legend of the golem, which has now been adopted by the city as a whole. A note of caution to female visitors: The women's section can seem quite oppressive. http://www.prague.cz/old-new-synagogue Wilshire Boulevard Temple Los Angeles, California Wilshire Boulevard Temple, which began its existence as Congregation B'nai Brith in the 19th century, is the oldest congregation in Los Angeles, which is now the city with the fourth largest Jewish population in the world - greater than Jerusalem's. This majestic building, crowned by an immense Byzantine dome, features a richly ornamented interior decorated with black marble, gold inlay, fine mosaics, rare woods and biblically-themed murals (a gift of Hollywood mogul Jack Warner). The synagogue entered the United States Register of Historic Places in 1984. http://www.wbtla.org Princes Road Synagogue Liverpool, England This gem of Victorian architecture from 1874 is classified Grade II* - "particularly important buildings of more than special interest" - by English Heritage. It is considered possibly Europe's finest example of the Moorish Revival style of synagogue architecture, combining Gothic and Moorish architecture. The spectacular interior, dressed up in marble and gold, has a stunning Byzantine ark and a columned bima. If you can't make it to northwest England, check out London's English Heritage-listed New West End Synagogue in Bayswater, designed by the same architects who conceived its Liverpool antecedent. http://www.princesroad.org Central Synagogue Sofia, Bulgaria The synagogue of Bulgaria's capital city is the third largest in Europe (after Budapest and Amsterdam). What separates it from every other synagogue in Nazi-occupied Europe is not only did the building survive, but - thanks to the humanity and courage of the Bulgarian people - so did its congregation. As evidence of long-standing good relations between Jews and non-Jews, Bulgaria's Tsar Ferdinand and Tsaritsa Eleanora (as well as the country's prime minister) attended the synagogue's dedication in 1909. The building - comprising Spanish Moorish, Venetian and Austrian Art Nouveau elements and modeled after Vienna's Sephardic Synagogue - houses a sanctuary lit by a two-ton chandelier hung from the huge octagonal dome and decorated with multicolored mosaics, Carrara marble and wall ornaments. No matter what one thinks of its style, the synagogue is the most joyous in Eastern Europe. http://www.sofiasynagogue.com Congregation Rodeph Shalom Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Founded in 1795, Rodeph Shalom is the first Ashkenazic synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. A charter member of the Reform Movement since 1873, its current home, inspired by the great synagogue of Florence, Italy, is one of the few synagogues in the United States built in the Byzantine-Moorish style. Its cavernous sanctuary seats 1,640 people below starburst skylights, while gleaming bronze-and-enamel doors grace the ark. The magnificent building also houses the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art and the Leon J. and Julia S. Obermayer Collection of Jewish Ritual Art. http://www.rodephshalom.org Congregation Mikve Israel Emanuel Willemstad, Curacao Mikve Israel, founded in 1674 and built in its current incarnation in 1732, is the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Americas. The lovingly maintained sanctuary reflects the Spanish-Portuguese style as it was transplanted to Amsterdam (during the Inquisition) and thence to the Caribbean. The island also has a well-preserved Jewish cemetery that dates back to 1659 and the days when, remarkably, fully half of the white population of Curacao was Jewish (1,500 Jewish souls). http://www.snoa.com Great Synagogue in Dohany Street Budapest, Hungary This synagogue, which was completed in 1859, is the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world; remarkably, its nearly 3,000-seat capacity is divided virtually equally between the men's and women's (upper) sections. It combines Moorish architecture, Byzantine onion domes and striated stone on the exterior (very similar in style to Siena's cathedral). Its history is even more spectacular than its architecture: Composers Franz Liszt and Camille Saint-Saens played the synagogue's 5,000-pipe organ. It was used as a stable by the Nazis during World War II. The campaign to restore it was led by two prominent Americans with Hungarian Jewish backgrounds, Tony Curtis and Estee Lauder. Temple Emanu-El New York, New York Just off Fifth Avenue, Temple Emanu-El is the world's largest Jewish house of worship. The building breaks with the Byzantine tradition of synagogue architecture and incorporates Romanesque elements of medieval Western European churches, including a rose window and campanile. Completed in 1929, the edifice is also stylistically of its time - Art Deco. The sanctuary comes alive through the use of vibrant colors, captivating mosaics, warm stone and tiles and dazzling stained glass. Its congregation is virtually a who's who of influential Jews of the 20th century. http://www.emanuelnyc.org Choral Synagogue Moscow, Russia The history of Moscow's Choral Synagogue reflects the turbulence and triumphs of Russia's Jewish population: as it was being built in 1891, Moscow's governor-general expelled the city's Jews. They returned in 1906, when there was a brief flowering of religious freedom. Ironically, the architect who rebuilt and finished the synagogue in 1906 was one of the czar's favorites, Roman Klein, who also designed what is now the famous Pushkin Museum. The synagogue exterior is in traditional yellow with white highlights. Its Neoclassical dome resembles a small version of Berlin's original Reichstag dome. Buzzy Gordon is an international travel writer with a regular column in USA Today. Prof. Barry Goldsmith, who teaches architectural history at NYU, hosted the BBC television series Lost Palaces of the World and leads tours of the Lost Palaces of the Czars.

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