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Sunday, December 2, 2012

J’lem to rebuild iconic synagogue destroyed in 1948

Anonymous donor donates money to rebuild Tifereth Israel, located near Western Wall.

The Jerusalem Municipality awarded initial approval to a plan to rebuild the iconic Tifereth Israel synagogue in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, a magnificent domed synagogue from the 19th century which was destroyed in the 1948 War of Independence.
The project will recreate the three-story-tall synagogue as well as the iconic dome on the top, with only minor changes to the original, such as the introduction of an elevator to make the building more accessible. On Tuesday, the municipality’s Local Planning and Building Committee approved the plan for the next step of the process, where it must receive the approval of the Interior Ministry. An anonymous donor who has been active in previous rebuilding projects in the Old City donated nearly NIS 50 million needed for reconstruction, said Shlomi Attias, the Old City project manager for The Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem Ltd. (JQDC). The JQDC is a public company under the auspices of the Ministry of Construction and Housing. The synagogue is located just a few hundred meters from the Western Wall Plaza, in the same plaza as the Hurva.
Ashkenazi hassidim bought the land for Tifereth Israel Synagogue in 1843, though the building wasn’t inaugurated until 1872. The synagogue is also known as the Nissan Bek synagogue, after its founder. The prominent white dome on top of the building was informally known as “Franz Joseph’s cap,” after the Austrian emperor who visited Jerusalem in 1869. On a tour of Jewish sites, Franz Joseph inquired as to why the unfinished synagogue had no dome, to which one quick-thinking rabbi replied, ”Your majesty the Emperor, the synagogue has doffed its hat for you!” The emperor donated the sum needed to finish the roof.
During the Independence War in 1948, the building was used as a Haganah defense position, similar to the nearby Hurva synagogue. Arab League forces demolished the synagogue with explosives at 1 a.m. on May 21, just a few days before the Hurva met the same fate. Following the Six Day War, the city decided to leave the ruins of the synagogue as they were.
“The municipality sees great importance in preserving and rebuilding Jerusalem’s heritage sites,” Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat said in a statement released by his office. “The Tifereth Israel synagogue was a symbol of the Jewish “Yishuv” (settlement) in Jerusalem and we are proud to bring it back and rebuild it anew.”
Attias of the JQDC, which is overseeing the project, said that the required archaeological excavations can begin soon, even before the project receives the final approval for construction. Actual construction will take at least three years as the site is difficult for construction vehicles to access.
The Jerusalem Post first reported plans to rebuild the Tifereth Israel Synagogue in June. A UNESCO report expressed apprehension over the project due to the possibility of wide-spread rioting. In March 2010, riots broke out across east Jerusalem and the Old City with the dedication of the Hurva Synagogue, located in the same plaza.
The Hurva synagogue, which stood since the early 18th century, was also destroyed in the 1948 Independence War.
As the dedication neared, Palestinians called for a “day of rage,” stoked by Muslim extremists who said the rededication was the first step towards building the Third Temple and destroying the Dome of the Rock. Police arrested sixty people, and more than 100 protesters were injured, as well as 15 policemen.
A municipality spokeswoman said the city is unconcerned about the possibility of a resurgence in violence sparked by the reconstruction project. “The synagogue is a symbol of the Jewish Quarter and is not controversial,” she said.