Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Rebirth of the Mainz Meor Hagolah Synagogue

Posted by Ann Rabinowitz


Meor Hagolah Synagogue, Mainz, Germany, 2010
(Courtesy of Frederik Von Erichsen/epa)

During Kristallnacht in November, 1938, the destruction of the Jewish community of Mainz, Germany, and its institutions began. At that time, the city had over 200 synagogues and the greatest of them was the Mainz Neue Synagogue which was destroyed.

After World War II, there was a resurgence of the Jewish community in Germany which has resulted in approximately 900-1,000 Jews in Mainz and the surrounding area, many coming from the former Soviet Union. This resurgence has helped in the rebuilding of the institutions of Jewish life which includes the Neue Synagogue.

Now called the Meor Hagolah Synagogue, it is named in memory of Mainz’s most famous son, Rabbeinu Gershom ben Judah, who was known as Me’or HaGolah, “the Light of the Exile”. It was Gershom ben Judah (born circa 960 and died circa 1028 or 1040) who founded a great yeshivah in Mainz. It became the leading torah academy of its time in Europe. His disciples were many and they spread their learning to other scholars who became well-known torah luminaries such as Rashi. The impact of Gershom ben Judah was so great in both his teaching and his rabbinic pronouncements that one might consider him the father of Ashkenazi Judaism.

The new Meor Hagolah Synagogue was dedicated on November 3, 2010, and in attendance were many individuals including survivors and their families and former residents of Mainz. For those interested in learning more about actual families who came from Mainz, there are 154 entries in the JewishGen Family Finder of those researching their roots in Mainz. These include the families of long-time JewishGen researchers Arlene Sachs (Kahn family) and Dick Plotz (Schwab family).

The Meor Hagolah Synagogue was designed by Jewish architect Manuel Herz, who took a modern tack rather than a rebuilding of the structure in the old formal design. The design features the utilization of new materials and colors and contains 2,500 square meters of space which encompass a community center, lecture halls, offices and public spaces. One can see the difference when one compares the present building as shown above with the old one seen in the post card below.


Mainz Neue Synagogue, 1916

The only part of the synagogue to survive the destruction which occurred in 1938 is the portico in front which can be seen below.


Remains of the Mainz Neue Synagogue
(Courtesy of Quinn Jacobson, 2008)

The beauty of the new building can also be seen in the religious symbolism reflected in the unusual feature of Hebrew lettering which is found on the interior walls. This represents quotations from a number of 10th Century Mainz rabbis of the past. In addition, this symbolism is found in the exterior and elevations of the new synagogue which are based on the shape of the Hebrew letters for the Kedusha, , the third blessing of the Amidah prayer as seen below:


The Kedusha Design of the Meor Hagolah Synagogue
(Courtesy of The Forward)

Apart from the beautiful new synagogue, the town of Mainz itself is a veritable historical museum for Ashkenazi Jewry with the first Jews coming there with the Romans and a well-documented history during the Crusades. Further, the first written sentence in Yiddish has been found there in a listing of Jews who were killed in the First Crusade of 1095 AD; it is also known for the Rosh Hashanah piyut “Unesaneh Tokef” which has been attributed primarily to Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, and for so many other things such as the development of moveable type by Johannes Gutenberg, a native of Mainz, which enabled the widespread publication of books and documents.

For those wishing to learn more about Mainz (known as “Magenza” in Hebrew/”Mayence” in French), you can visit this site, which provides a number of very helpful links to resources for information about the town and its Jewish population.

Additionally, for further information on the synagogue and the Mainz Jewish community’s history, please watch the following YouTube segment:





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