Iasi Aron Kodesh detail
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Restoration at the Great Synagogue of Iaşi Nears Completion

Iasi Aron Kodesh detail

As Jewish communities around the world prepare for the Passover holiday, World Monuments Fund is reflecting on some of the accomplishments of our Jewish Heritage Program. Today we’re happy to share updates and new images from the restoration efforts at the Great Synagogue of Iaşi, in the city of Iaşi, Romania.

For the past three years, World Monuments Fund has been supporting the challenging restoration of the aron kodesh – the “holy ark” where the Torah Scrolls are kept – at the Great Synagogue of Iaşi. After the synagogue’s inclusion on the 2014 World Monuments Watch, the local government and the ministry of Culture renewed their support to complete the restoration of the seventeenth-century synagogue—a project that had been stalled for years—thanks to the tireless advocacy efforts of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania (FEDROM). With support from our Jewish Heritage Program donors, we were able to collaborate with FEDROM in this unique restoration project, one that presented many challenges and interesting discoveries. As the completion of the project draws near, we wanted to celebrate the work carried out by our local partners.

Project director and architect Lucia Apostol of FEDROM, describes the amazing work carried out by expert restorer Pia Stinghe and her team to bring back the nineteenth-century aron kodesh to its original glory—a feat many thought impossible.

As the work progressed and the team of restorers removed decades of cobwebs, dirt, and organic growth, it became apparent that several pieces of the aron kodesh had been lost—perhaps stolen or detached due to age—but masked in previous interventions with layers of bronze veneer.

The team discovered that underneath the bronze veneer lay gilded surfaces with many missing parts; what was initially thought to be low relief sculpted elements turned out to be an impressive alto-relief. The team was able to recover some of the missing pieces and integrated them to the ensemble. Where original pieces could not be found, the lead restorer recreated them after carefully studying the history and geometry of the decorative elements that make up the aron kodesh, ensuring the visual continuity of the ornate design.

A little over two years ago no one thought the crumbling structure with its vivid decorations could be salvaged. Now, as the restoration nears completion, the aron kodesh, in all its splendor, will once again become the centerpiece of the Great Synagogue of Iaşi. Restoration of the ark is one of the last remaining steps necessary for use of the building. And it is exciting to think that the Jewish community of Iaşi will soon be able to access and use their synagogue after many years of absence.

WMF’s support for the stabilization, treatment, conservation, and restoration of the aron kodesh of the Great Synagogue of Iaşi 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. Founding support for the Jewish Heritage Program came from the Ronald and Jo Carole Lauder Foundation.

Pictured above: Reconstruction of the missing sculpted elements of the floral rosette.

Scroll through for more pictures of the remarkable restoration.