Monday, December 7, 2009

Romania: Restored Piatra Neamt Synagogue to be Re-Dedicated on December 14, 2009

Romania: Restored Piatra Neamt Synagogue to be Re-Dedicated on December 14, 2009

The Cathedral or “Baal Shem Tov” Synagogue of Piatra Neamt, Romania has been restored after an eight year effort, and will be re-dedicated on December 14, 2009, according to an announcement by Dr. Aurel Vainer, President of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania (FedRom) and of the President of Jewish Community of Piatra Neamt. The restoration of the historic synagogue is fittingly scheduled for Hanukah.

The oldest surviving part of the synagogue complex was erected in 1766 and is listed as a State Historic Monument in Romania.
It is the only surviving wooden synagogue in Romania, and was built utilizing the stone foundations of an earlier synagogue. There are many stories and legends associated with the synagogue, many of which concern the Ba’al Shem Tov, the found of Hasidism, who local tradition relates lived for a time in the area and sometimes prayed (in the previous) synagogue.

The simple square-plan timber building appears low from the outside, probably in order to conform to the heights of nearby buildings. The sanctuary is reached by descending steps (from a later approximately 100-year old brick annex structure) to a floor 7.5 feet below ground level, allowing a much higher-than-expected interior (about 16 feet high), surmounted by a wooden ribbed dome. A free-standing octagonal bimah, under an oval canopy, is set in the sanctuary opposite the Ark, near the west entrance.

A 2-level women’s gallery, actually a separate room, is on the north wall, and there is a one-level gallery on the west wall, above the entrance stairs. A space on the south wall is said to have been for children.

In 2001 the Federation of Jewish Communities initiated a restoration program for the synagogue, recognizing a number of serious problems including a damp and mold in the walls, a leaking roof, a wall off-axis, and a deteriorated floor and ceiling among other problems.
The masonry synagogue also needed repair. It required the installation of an appropriate water-handling system, including roof replacement, as well a replastering and painting.

According to Ruth Ellen Gruber, who has visited the synagogue on several occasions: “Chandeliers hang from the ribbed wooded dome arching over the dull, brown-green walls decorated by pale stenciled flowers. Carved and gilded lions, griffins, bunches of grapes, and other decorations ornament the compact but elaborate Aron Ha Kodesh, built in 1835 by Saraga Yitzhak ben Moshe" (
Jewish Heritage Travel, 2007, 269).

Very close by is the larger masonry Great of Leipziger Synagogue, built in 1839 and rebuilt after a fire in 1904.

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