Grapevine: Great Synagogue reopens

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

The Great Synagogue (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Great Synagogue
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
 Months before COVID-19 forced the closure of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, Zalli Jaffe, who was then acting president and is now deputy president, announced that the Great Synagogue would be closed for about half a year for renovations. Last year, for the first time since its opening in 1958, the synagogue was closed for the High Holy Days. This was understandable, given the severe limitations on tourist travel at the time. In previous years, a large proportion of the congregation at High Holy Day services comprised visitors from abroad, a factor that played a very important role in the synagogue’s income.
The Sephardi congregation, which has its own small, exquisite synagogue on the ground floor of the Great Synagogue, conducted prayers in the large plaza at the entrance to the building.
Last week, the Board of the Great Synagogue sent out a notice that the synagogue will reopen for Passover with the aim of returning to the services enjoyed by congregants before the advent of the coronavirus.” 
“However, the synagogue will do so both in accordance with restrictions to be determined by the government, as well as criteria that will exist in order to ensure the health of all who enter the sanctuary,” the notice stipulated.
As overjoyed as some people may be at the prospect, the opening is accompanied by considerable bureaucracy plus a pay-to-pray policy.
 Anyone wishing to come to pray at any time will be required to send an email to [email protected], up to three days before Passover. The email will include a copy of the individual’s ID card as well as a copy of his or her “green passport.” Each applicant will be registered and the list of those registered will be deposited with the guards at the entrance to the building so that a proper check can be made of those allowed to go inside.
 Because the synagogue been closed for more than a year, donations have been considerably reduced, and the Board will have to spend money in order to reopen. Therefore “each worshiper for Pessah will be required to donate a minimum amount of NIS 500 per person and the donation must be made before Pessah. The number of worshipers will be limited in accordance with government guidelines to be announced.” Prospective congregants are therefore urged to make their reservations as soon as possible with the use of credit cards. Reservations should be made at
 In the event that the government reverts to the situation that existed at Passover last year, or if COVID risks escalate and the synagogue will be forced not to reopen, there will be no refund on the NIS 500 per seat. This could come to a significant loss if a whole family planned to attend services.
Should services be held as hoped, congregants are asked to wear masks which must cover mouth and nose, and to bring their ID cards and their green passes. Without these documents, they will not be permitted to enter. 
Foreign residents will be required to present the results of a COVID-19 test taken no later than 48 hours from the date of taking such test or a formal document confirming vaccination [twice] as this document is recognized by The Ministry of Health in Israel. 
■ NOW THAT live concerts have resumed, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra will present a festive program for Passover at the Henry Crown auditorium and online. On Friday, March 19, at 11 a.m., Dr. Astrith Balsan will introduce a new concert series under the title of “Rhapsodies.” The focus will be on Rachmaninoff, Enescu and Liszt.
On Wednesday, March 24, at 8 p.m., there will be a concert of popular Passover songs conducted by Elli Jaffe, with soloists Shimon Elbaz, Avremi Weiss, Simon Cohen, Yaki Lauer and Avraham Kirschenbaum. To get the link, click on WWW.JSO.COP.IL or call 1-700-70-400.
■ THE ANNOUNCEMENT that France Square, frequently referred to as Paris Square, is about to get a NIS12 million Facelift, a new fountain, trees, flowers and outdoor seating, is very much in line with Mayor Moshe Lion’s policy of urban renewal. The work will be carried out simultaneously with the infrastructure of the Blue Line light rail, which will run from Ramot through King George and Keren Hayesod Streets with the final terminal in Gilo. France Square has for approximately 10 months been the site of major anti-Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrations. The construction work in France Square does not necessarily mean that demonstrations will cease should Netanyahu remain prime minister after the elections. Residents of Rehavia and Talbiya will not get much of a respite from noise, pilfered parking space and other inconveniences. The demonstrators will in all probability move to Wingate Square at the intersection of Balfour, Jabotinsky and Marcus Streets, which will make life difficult for President Reuven Rivlin as well as for people wanting to attend events at the Jerusalem Theater and the Van Leer Institute. Then again, if life goes back to normal, those demonstrators who came to Jerusalem for a weekly social outlet, may prefer to go out to dinner or the theater or a concert closer to home.
■ THE DRAMATIC growth of Jerusalem’s population is in no small measure due to the haredi sector, where more often than not, families are blessed with many children. This creates a greater demand for housing and community facilities such as kindergartens, schools and commercial areas. In this context, Deputy Mayor Eliezer Rochberger, who heads the property development licensing unit of the municipality, has authorized the construction in Neve Yaakov of 112 housing units designated for the haredi public. The overall project will include two kindergartens and a large commercial center. The housing units will be of varying size. Some will be for young recently married couples, and others for large families. The people currently living in HaRav Ravitz Street, where the new housing project will be constructed, have had to do their shopping on the other side of the neighborhood for lack of shops in the immediate area. It is estimated that when the commercial center is completed, more than 500 families will be among the regular shoppers.