16 February 2018 / 1 Adar 5778
The Foundation for Jewish Heritage has just completed the first-ever study of Jewish houses of worship in Europe. They have identified some 3,318 remaining Synagogues in Europe. Before World War II, Europe had some 17,000 Synagogues!
The results of the study, which took a year and a half to complete, can be viewed on the foundation’s website www.foundationforjewishheritage.com. The map’s database includes a detailed classification for each registered Synagogue, including such categories as its current condition, its significance as a monument. Beyond providing researchers an overview, the study also aims to serve as a reference point for philanthropists who wish to contribute to restoring and maintaining the Synagogues.
Unfortunately many of the Synagogues mapped are disused or have been converted to serve for other community purposes, including a police station, mosque, garage and funeral parlor, a swimming pool and gym.
The Foundation is now embarking on preserving the Synagogues in Syria and Iraq. Synagogues have always been an integral part of Jewish life.
In this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, the Jewish people are commanded to erect the Mishkan, the Tabernacle wherein Hashem’s presence will rest, and the first Synagogue. In its inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies, was the Ark of the Covenant that contained the 10 Commandments, and a special Torah that was written by Moshe.
The Ark had four golden rings attached to each corner. Then poles were put into the rings to enable it to be transported atop the shoulders of the Levites. However, what was interesting is that these poles were never removed; even when the Jews were camped in a particular area for a lengthy stay; even after the Ark reached its final destination in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, where it stood for over 400 years; the poles remained lodged within the rings.
Perhaps one explanation as to why the poles were never removed is that the Jews were destined to be a nation of wanderers. The Torah is the spiritual heart of our people, so we always had to be ready to leave with the Torah to our next port of call!
Indeed, so it was as we wandered from empire to empire, country to country and shtetl to shtetl, the first thing we did was go to the Ark and take out the Torah and begin our next journey. Then when arriving, we built a Shule and in doing so we maintained our identity.
Rabbi & Sheyna Riesenberg