Great Synagogue of Iaşi
The Great Synagogue of Iaşi is the oldest extant synagogue in Romania and sits today near the center of a city that was once home to more than 100 synagogues, but only two survive. The Synagogue was built in the late 17th century, and constructed from brick and stone, with a fresco decorated interior. The building has undergone various reconstructions and restorations over the centuries, along with enduring the effects of a natural disaster, religious intolerance, and political abuse in the course of its history. Originally surrounded by a manicured garden, today the synagogue is lost behind modern urban development and scaffolding—left in place after a consolidation project was halted in 2008. Exposure to the elements has resulted in structural deterioration and volatile times of religious and political persecution have resulted in physical devastation. Water infiltration and lack of maintenance continue to threaten the building and its cultural traditions.
How We Helped
The beautiful sanctuary is the highlight of the Great Synagogue of Iaşi and dates back to at least 1865. The Aron Kodesh is the focal centerpiece, surrounded by a very elaborate, intricately carved and painted wooden structure. A recent assessment of the condition of the Aron Kodesh found that it is in danger of collapse, and is also infested with mold and pests. A project is currently underway to address the emergency intervention needed, including the stabilization and possible removal of the sculptured wood in order to remove its risk of further deterioration or total loss. Following a biological assessment, treatment of the damage caused by humidity, pests and mold infestation will also be carried out, ultimately allowing the restored Aron Kodesh to be reinstallation in the sanctuary.
Why It Matters
The synagogue’s character is unique among synagogues in Romania. Before the Holocaust, more than half of the city’s population was Jewish and, at one time, there were over 100 Jewish places of worship in Iaşi. As one of only two that remain, the survival of the Great Synagogue of Iaşi holds significance for not only its beautiful design and elaborately sculpted Aron Kodesh, but also for the wider history of Judaism in Romania. Iaşi’s diminishing Jewish community, coupled with the austerity program that emerged from the financial crisis, and anti-Semitic acts such as vandalism toward Jewish sacred sites, all contributed to the decline of the Great Synagogue of Iaşi that has led to its deteriorated state today. The restoration work to be undertaken at the site will help to ensure that this historic, religious, architectural, and artistic site will be recognized once more for its remarkable value.