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17th Century Polish Synagogue to Reopen

House of worship reborn as tourist destination

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They don’t make them like this anymore. Next week, a four hundred year old stone synagogue in Zamość, Poland will reopen after a half century of neglect to become a Jewish cultural center. Zamość, as you already know after a quick Wikipedia search, is the birthplace of I.L. Peretz and Rosa Luxemberg—which means the “Zamość Renaissance Synagogue” is either the synagogue they attended with their families, or the one where they wouldn’t step foot.

After World War II the synagogue served as a carpenter’s workshop and then a public library. Now it will house a Jewish museum and cultural center for the Chasidic Route, “a Jewish heritage tourist trail in southeastern Poland.” It will also be available for religious ceremonies, for those of us that swing that way.

I’m not sure you’d want too though. The building itself is lovely, but the Italian influence and the lack of any Jewish iconography is a little off-putting. The ark looks like a Roman temple to the point that a statue of the Virgin Mary—or mighty Zeus, or Abraham Lincoln—might be a better fit than a Torah. A minor quibble though, nothing that a quick stop at Ikea for some nice drapes won’t fix.

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Steve Stein says:

I see what you mean about the ark. But strange synagogues can sometimes be… strange. I had that experience at Beth Elohim in Charleston – it does look like a Roman temple. But so do most of the churches from the mid-1800s there, and for good reason – they were all designed by the same architect.

Another oddity from that congregation – it conducts services with the ark OPEN. And they sit during the service. It felt MIGHTY odd! But it’s a local tradition, going back to some earthquake that happened in the 1850s that made the ark doors un-close-able. Again, curtains would have worked, but they didn’t do that.

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17th Century Polish Synagogue to Reopen

House of worship reborn as tourist destination

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