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Great Synagogue

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Israel, Tel Aviv, 110 Allenby Street, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Israel

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Those for whom the architecture of Israel is associated with synagogues should visit at least one. Of course, there are many of them in Tel Aviv, but if you want to see something unusual, you should go to the Great Synagogue.

The synagogue is located in the center of the financial and business district, on one of the central streets of Tel Aviv - Allenby, east of the Shalom Tower.

Built only in the 20th century, the synagogue cannot boast a rich history. But in terms of architecture, this place deserves attention. Firstly, the Great Synagogue is really impressive for its size and massive dome. Secondly, here you can see the most beautiful stained glass windows, which are typical for European synagogues and remind of those that were destroyed during the Holocaust. This design decision is quite unusual for local architecture.

Today, the synagogue is popular among tourists rather than locals, which can be seen here mainly on Saturday or on holidays.

Photo and description

The Great Allenby Street Synagogue is located in the heart of business Tel Aviv. It looks unusual - if a tourist is next to her, not from the facade, but from the side, he may not realize that this is a temple. Once the synagogue was the true center of a small town, today, being in the midst of a noisy metropolis, it is going through hard times.

The competition of projects of the largest Ashkenazi synagogue in Palestine took place before the First World War, but the first stone could only be laid in 1924. To raise funds for the construction of a huge building, the city authorities introduced a special tax, according to tradition, many private donations were received, but there was always not enough money. The situation was saved by Baron Rothschild, who made a major charitable contribution. The synagogue opened in 1925.

The architect Yehuda Magidovich erected a magnificent building, the appearance of which, however, has fundamentally changed over the decades. Magidovich’s project was created in the traditional style of synagogues in Eastern Europe - strict facades with arches, a huge dome. At the end of the thirties, the architect Zeev Rechter built wide staircases to the facade, the entrance turned up high above the ground. And in the seventies, the building was radically reconstructed: it was surrounded by a forest of not too graceful concrete columns in an international style, it began to resemble a giant centipede.

The main facade, interior lighting, and interior details were changed in the same style. On the main facade there is a bas-relief depicting the Jerusalem Hurva synagogue, destroyed by Jordanian soldiers in 1948. The stained-glass windows are magnificent: these are copies of the stained-glass windows of synagogues destroyed in Europe during the Holocaust. On the Ark there is an inscription: “Lord, your enemies will be scattered, and those who hate you will flee from your face” (Num 10:35).

The history of the synagogue is the history of the country. In 1946, a Jewish underground organization, Irgun, blew up a British headquarters located in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Searches began around the country, in the basement of the Great Synagogue the authorities found the weapons stored here, the temple keeper was arrested. After the formation of Israel, during the years of religious ascent, the huge temple with 1,100 seats on Saturday was crowded with worshipers.

But Tel Aviv developed as a predominantly secular city, believers in search of spiritual life left the business center of the country. Over time, dozens of temples in the central quarters became empty. It often happened that in the Great Synagogue there were not enough men for a minyan, a group of worshipers of the required number (the Talmud sets the minimum number of men over 13 years old, necessary for public worship, - ten people).

In recent years, the temple is gradually returning to life thanks to local community activists and youth. Weddings are held in the Great Synagogue; Saturday lunches, holidays, and Torah classes are organized here.

Building stories

In 1913, the foundation stone of the Great Synagogue was laid on Yehuda Halevi Street. The construction was not started for various reasons, and in 1914 an open competition was held for architectural projects for the construction of a synagogue already on Allenby Street.

Excerpt from the foundation pit for the foundation of the synagogue in 1922 Zvi Oroshkes, Public Domain

Architect Richard Michael won this competition and put forward a synagogue construction program, but at the beginning of World War I, Michael was drafted into the German army and forced to leave the country, so the construction of the building did not end.

Tel Aviv Great Synagogue, 1930s unknown, Public Domain

Michael's successor was a German architect of Jewish descent, Alexander Berwald, who authored the Technion buildings in Haifa (1912), the Jewish Real School (1912), and other private and municipal buildings in Tel Aviv.

Celebrating the first anniversary of Independence at the Great Synagogue, May 4, 1949 PINN HANS, CC BY-SA 3.0

In 1924, the foundation stone of the synagogue on Allenby Street was laid, in accordance with the project of the architect Yehuda Magidovich. Nevertheless, the construction of the synagogue building was postponed for some time due to lack of funds until a donation from Baron Rothschild was received.

Construction was completed in 1925 by designer Samuel Nathan Wilson. The dome of the building was designed by engineer Arpad Geuthe.

Great Synagogue Tfeliz, CC BY-SA 3.0

In 1969, in order to revive the synagogue and adapt it to the new era, the building underwent significant reconstruction by the architect Arye Elkhanani, who added arches and cement supports, thereby giving the building a modern Art Nouveau style. Similar changes were made to the facade, furniture, synagogue ark and lighting.

Interior Katrin Zirkel, CC BY 2.5

The building has a huge dome, sophisticated lighting and magnificent stained glass windows. Glass windows are replicas of synagogue windows that were destroyed in Europe during the Holocaust.

History of the building

In 1913 a cornerstone was set in preparation for The Great Synagogue to be established on Yehuda Halevi Street. The construction was not accepted because of various reasons, and in 1914 the Committee for The Great Synagogue conducted an open competition for architects for planning The Great Synagogue on Allenby Street. Architect Richard Michael won this competition, and also advanced the program for the synagogue. With the outbreak of World War I, Michael was drafted to the German army and forced to leave the country, and therefore did not complete the building plans for the synagogue building. He was replaced by Jewish German architect Alexander Baerwald, who was also the building planner for the Technion building in Haifa (1912), the Hebrew Reali School (1912), and other private and municipal buildings in Tel Aviv.

In 1924 the cornerstone of the building was set in Allenby Street, as per the plans of the architect Yehuda Magidovitch. Construction of the synagogue building was delayed due to insufficient funds, until receiving a donation from Baron Rothschild, which brought the building to completion in 1925 by the constructor Samuel Nathan Wilson. The dome of the building was planned by the engineer Arpad Geuthe.

In 1969, with the intention to revive the synagogue and adapt it to milieu of the time, the building underwent drastic renovation by the plans of the architect Aryeh Elhanani, who added arches and cement supports to the building, thereby transforming the building into the style of modernism. Similarly, changes were made to the facade of the building, the furniture, Torah Ark, and lighting.

The building features a huge dome, elaborate lighting fixtures, and magnificent stained glass windows. The glass windows are replicas of windows of synagogues that were destroyed in Europe during the Holocaust.

Building periphery

The planning for the building's periphery was crafted by architect Ze'ev Rechter at the end of the 1930s. Rechter planned an Italian-style plaza to wrap around the northern and eastern side of the building. The plaza would wrap around a row of houses, elevated above the landline by oriental arches which would create space for commercial shops.

This plan was only partially carried out, and amongst the planned houses only Beit Manny was built as planned.

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