Watch Day as the Catalyst
A Watch Day celebration in 2014, organized by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania (FEDROM) and supported by WMF, drew additional attention and government support for the site, after which the stalled restoration efforts resumed in earnest. In 2015, scaffolding that had covered the building for almost a decade was finally removed.
The Synagogue Revealed
Hidden in the former Jewish quarter of Iaşi near its historic center, the Great Synagogue is a remnant of a time before the Holocaust, when more than half of the city’s population was Jewish. Prior to 1940, the number of synagogues and houses of worship in Iaşi was over 100. The Great Synagogue is one of only two synagogues extant in the city and the oldest surviving synagogue in Romania. It was built in the late seventeenth century from brick and stone, with a fresco-decorated interior.
The Aron Kodesh
The beautiful sanctuary has always been the highlight of the synagogue, with a large, wooden aron kodesh, or torah ark, as its centerpiece. Sculpted of wood and painted, it dates to around 1864. The aron kodesh was deteriorating quickly from water infiltration and its location in an active building site.
Undertaking the Restoration
The painstaking effort that went into the ark’s restoration was led by renowned local conservation experts Pia Stefania Stinghe and the late Mihai Stinghe, with the participation of a team of young apprentices, and architect Lucia Apostol, who heads the Sacred Heritage Preservation Section for the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania (FEDROM).
Restoring the Aron Kodesh
The first phase of work included in situ research and tests, including studying the degradation and loss.
A condition assessment from 2015 showed it was an advanced state of decay, infested with mold and termites. Some sections had suffered irreversible deterioration and others had become detached and lost, posing significant challenges to its restoration.
The second phase of the project was the restoration of the disassembled pieces and the reinstallation of the aron kodesh. Work on each section included filling the gaps in the polychrome layer, full restoration of the missing pieces, and finally, mounting and reassembly.
The third and final phase of the project was the creation of an illustrated publication that thoroughly documents the restoration work on the aron kodesh.
Thanks to generous support from the David Berg Foundation and WMF’s Jewish Heritage Program Endowment, World Monuments Fund partnered with FEDROM on the stabilization and emergency treatment of the aron kodesh in 2015, completing the restoration and reinstallation of the ark from 2016 to 2018 thanks to the additional commitment of The Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust.