It is a small jewel in the heart of Jerusalem. Housed in what used to be The German Catholic Institution near the Jaffa Gate, visitors will find a treasure of Italian Jewish art, the Conegliano Veneto Synagogue and the U. Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art.
In this small museum, the oldest surviving Torah curtain, or parochet, which dates to 1572, is on display, among many other wonderful exhibits.
Conegliano is a small village, located between Padua and Venice, Italy. Apparently the first Jewish family came to live in Conegliano in 1397; they were invited as moneylenders. By the 16th century the Jewish community in the small village thrived and in the 17th century a yeshiva was established. By 1637 the local Jewish population was required to stay within the confines of the ghetto.
The Jews of Congeliano built their new synagogue in 1701. It was in use until World War I. Jewish soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian army held the last service in the synagogue during Yom Kippur, in 1917.
In 1951, the synagogue, which had been abandoned for decades, was taken apart and sent to Israel, where in 1952 it found a new home in the land of Zion. It was rebuilt in the German Compound, also known as the Schmidt Compound (after Wilhelm Schmidt - who for many years headed the German Catholic Society in Palestine).
The Schmidt Compound was built in 1875 as a German Catholic monastery intended to school young women of Syrian-Christian descent. The building also served as a hospice for pilgrims and was at the center of various missionary and philanthropic activities. In the 1940s the monastery moved to a new location near the Old City. For a time the Schmidt Compound was deserted. Later, public offices and the Ma’ale School were located here.
The Italian community was given permission to hold weekly prayer services in the compound in the 1940s. So by the time the dismantled synagogue arrived in Israel in the early 1950s the former Catholic Compound seemed like a logical location to erect the synagogue for the Italian Jewish community.
The synagogue and museum are located on the second floor of the former Catholic compound. As you enter the building, before you turn right to ascend the stairs, turn left. On the left hand side of the corridor you will find a room with a beautifully decorated, painted ceiling.
The hall, which used to serve as a dining room now provides a place to hold concerts and lectures. The ceiling was apparently painted in exchange for room and board by a 19th century traveler.
The Torah Ark in the small synagogue is ornately decorated in gold leaf. On the walls there are stucco bas-relief carvings, which bear inscriptions by an unknown Italian poet. The bas-reliefs in the synagogue of today are replicas of the original inscriptions. The synagogue continues to serve the local Italian community - to this day.
The museum is located just opposite the synagogue and comprises four small exhibition rooms that are packed with the riches of Jewish Italian heritage (as well as some items from neighboring countries).
The collection features doors of a Torah ark, a 15th century stone tablet (the oldest item on display at the museum), brass and silver Hannukkiot (Hannukkah lamps), chairs used by Torah readers, beautiful textiles, ketubot (marriage contracts). Torah crowns, spice boxes and other beautiful items.
- The Conegliano Veneto Synagogue and The U. Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art are located at 27, Hillel Street, Jerusalem.
- T: +972.2.624.1610
Reprinted with permission from Gems in Israel , a Travel and Events in Israel website