Aron Kodesh, Great Synagogue of Iaşi
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Progress at the Great Synagogue of Iaşi

Aron Kodesh, Great Synagogue of Iaşi

In celebration of Rosh Hashanah, we’re thrilled to share an update about the conservation work currently taking place at the Great Synagogue of Iaşi, in Iaşi, Romania —an important part of WMF’s Jewish Heritage Program, and a success story that grew from the 2014 World Monuments Watch.

Inclusion of the Great Synagogue of Iaşi on the 2014 Watch spurred renewed support from the local government and the Ministry of Culture, with significant engagement from the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania. Restoration of the synagogue, which had been stalled for years, resumed, and a scaffolding that had covered the building for almost a decade was removed. That year, an assessment found that the aron kodesh—an ornate nineteenth century construction of carved and painted wood—was in an advanced state of decay, the wood infested with mold and termites.

Since then, World Monuments Fund has supported the challenging conservation of the aron kodesh. The ark was in such a severely deteriorated condition that many conservators balked at the scope of work. Thankfully, an expert husband-and-wife team, Mihai and Pia Stinghe, signed on for the task. Together with a number of apprentices, they disassembled the fragile aron kodesh, which includes many distinctive zoomorphic figures, and began treating and restoring the crumbling pieces, using the synagogue itself as a studio.

Preservation projects like the one at the Great Synagogue take time. While the results are dramatic, the process itself unfolds slowly and with many small steps that can make it hard to see progress. At long last, WMF has finally witnessed the “Aha!” moment we’ve been waiting for. The restoration of the aron kodesh will be completed in early 2018 and we can’t wait to share pictures of the ark once it is reinstalled in the sanctuary.

All the pieces of the aron kodesh were carefully removed for treatment and restoration (right). Eagle and crown, gleaming after restoration (left).

At this time of year, as Jewish communities all over the world observe Rosh Hashanah, it’s wonderful to celebrate a moment of renewal and return for the Jewish Community of Iaşi. By this time next year, they will be settled back into a restored Great Synagogue—their spiritual home—for the first time since 2006, an important step for a small but vibrant community living in a place with a long Jewish heritage.

With the 2018 World Monuments Watch just around the corner, it’s also meaningful to reflect on this success from 2014 as an example of the catalytic power of the Watch program when joined with strong local advocacy. We hope that we will continue having this kind of impact at the many cultural heritage sites that continue to be at risk.

WMF’s support for the stabilization, treatment, conservation, and restoration of the aron kodesh was made possible through the dedicated support of the David Berg Foundation, and the Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust; as well as supporters of the Jewish Heritage Program over the past year, including the estate of Jonathan Brodman, Mrs. Joyce Z. Greenberg, and Jane and Stuart Weitzman.