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Eldridge Street Synagogue, New York, USA
Rykestrasse Synagogue, Berlin, Germany - Famous Synagogues
148    Dibyendu Banerjee    23/04/2024

Designed by the architect of the Jewish parish Johann Hoeniger and located near Kollwitzplatz city square in the heart of Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin, Rykestrasse Synagogue was built in 1903/1904 and was ceremonially inaugurated on 4 September 1904, ten months after the construction of the building. The beautiful brick-built edifice, resembling a neo-Romanesque basilica, stands off the street alignment and is reached by a thoroughfare in the pertaining front building. Equipped with more than 2,000 seats and considered the second largest synagogue structure in Europe, next to the large synagogue in Budapest, it is the best preserved and largest synagogue of pre-war Berlin.

rykestrasse synagogue berlin

The expansion of the Jewish community in Berlin, comprising the bulk of Jewish faithful of Conservative, Orthodox and Reform affiliation, grew strongly in membership in the second half of the 19th century and with the expansion of Berlin into new areas of the neighbourhoods, the need of additional synagogues within a walking distance became necessary.

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Finally, the Jewish community in Berlin purchased a plot of land for the construction of the proposed synagogue in 1902 and commissioned the community architect Johann Hoeniger to design and supervise the building of the new synagogue. The new synagogue, Rykestrasse Synagogue was officially opened and consecrated on 4 September 1904, along with a Jewish religious school (Religions Schule) in the front building, followed by the opening of a private school for the Jewish community in 1922.

rykestrasse synagogue berlin

Before the onset of the Great War, both the Elementary School of the Jewish School Association, as well as the Religion School of the Jewish community, with its 500 pupils, was located in the street-side building and after 1933, the Jewish School Association made it a priority to prepare its pupils for eventual emigration to Palestine.

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During that time, Lilli Henoch, world-record holder in track and field events, was one of the sports teachers who taught at the school until the Nazi authorities forced it to close. Later, Henoch was killed at the infamous Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

rykestrasse synagogue berlin

Rykestrasse Synagogue survived the November Pogrom on 9 November 1938, termed in history as Kristallnacht or Crystal night or The Night of Broken Glasses, when the Nazis in a pre-planned attack plundered, vandalized and torched the Jewish synagogues, Jewish residential buildings, schools, hospitals and businesses and ultimately took the life of at least one hundred innocent Jews.

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However, although the Nazis demolished the original interior of the Rykestrasse Synagogue and set it on fire, torching Torah scrolls, the police commander of the station quickly ordered the fire to be extinguished, due to its nearness of the residential apartment buildings. Later, in April 1940, the Wehrmacht, the united armed forces of Nazi Germany, confiscated and desecrated the building, turning it into a stable and warehouse. After that, the synagogue also survived the Second World War bombing raids without any lasting damage.

rykestrasse synagogue berlin

After the completion of the first post-war attempt to repair and renovate the entire building complex of the synagogue during the Communist rule in East Germany, Rabbi Riesenburger re-inaugurated Rykestrasse Synagogue on Sunday, 30 August 1953, naming it Friedenstempel or Temple of Peace. But the new name did not prevail, as an arson attack on the day before cast a pall on the re-inauguration. Nevertheless, much later, architects Ruth Golan and Kay Zareh, along with the Office of the Preservation of Historical Monuments, restored the structure, including its interior, to its pre-war grandeur, culminating in a ceremonial re-dedication on 31 August 2007, which saw rabbis bringing the Torah to the synagogue, in a ceremony witnessed by political leaders and Holocaust survivors from around the world.

rykestrasse synagogue berlin

Withstanding the test of time and the Great War, the grand structure of the Rykestrasse Synagogue still stands, retaining much of its ornate interior. Today, the former wedding chapel of the building, with its priceless Yemenite ner tamid or eternal lamp is used for the weekday prayer services, while the street-side front building houses a religious school administered and conducted by the Ronald Lauder Foundation, which moved into the premises following the fall of the Berlin wall. Interestingly, the Prenzlauer Berg Museum, which stands nearby, on Prenzlauer Allee 227, has a permanent exhibit, covering the history of several Jewish schools that dotted the district, before their forced closures in 1941.

Eldridge Street Synagogue, New York, USA
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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