(JHE) — Due to COVID-19 restrictions on indoor gatherings, the High Holidays have seen services in long-disused historic synagogues in Essen, Germany and Padova, Italy for the first time since WW2.
This adds to the experience of Jewish communities in Naples and Venice that we wrote about last week, where Yom Kippur services were celebrated in historic spaces for the first time in more than a century.
In Essen, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services were celebrated in the monumental Old Synagogue for the first time in 82 years. Owned by the city, the massive building, constructed in 1911-1913, was one of the few major building standing in downtown Essen after WW2. Long used after the war as a technology museum, it is now a House of Jewish Culture with a permanent exhibition and events.
A statement from the office of Essen Mayor Rudolf Jelinek said that the city had allowed the main hall of the synagogue to be used for High Holiday services at the request of the board of the Essen Jewish community. The community uses a small, domed, modern synagogue which would not have been big enough for the congregation due to social distancing measures. As it is, the statement said, the measures allowed 130 people to attend in the Old Synagogue.
The statement, also carried on the Essen Jewish community Facebook page, said Jelinek greeted the congregation at the entrance to the synagogue ahead of Rosh Hashanah on September 18, and “expressed his joy that the city had made the Old Synagogue available to the Jewish community for the celebrations.” He “especially thanked the Essen police for protecting the historic building.”
In Padova, Yom Kippur services were held in the former Scuola Tedesca (or Scuola Grande) synagogue for the first time since the synagogue was torched by local fascists in 1943. The fire devastated the synagogue, which dated from the 16th century. The synagogue was severely damaged during World War II when it was torched by local Fascists. It stood derelict until it was completely rebuilt in 1998 (the ark was transferred to Tel Aviv in 1956). It now hosts the Padova Jewish Heritage museum, which opened in 2015.
“Today in this place […] after 77 years, we have made the poetry and the melodies of our prayers re-echo in this hall,” Rabbi Adolfo Locci told the congregation.
Services were also held in the synagogue normally used by the community, a tiny sanctuary originally dating from the 16th century, with distinctive wood-paneled interiors and fittings dating from the 17th century.
Rabbi Adolfo Locci said some 70 people attended services at one time, during the most crowded services — and the community’s synagogue would not have been able to accommodate them due to social distancing.