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Future Plans

Chananel Shapiro

Architect Yechiel Komet has designed some of Israel’s most impressive hotels and skyscrapers, but when asked to plan a shul, he returned to his family’s legacy

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

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METEORIC RISE This year the Komet family is marking 100 years of architecture, beginning with Yechiel in Vienna, continuing with his son Yisrael, who moved to Eretz Yisrael in 1933 and was one of the architects in the period of the founding of the state, and Yisrael’s son Yechiel — born into the line in 1950 and partnering with his father until Yisrael’s passing in 1985. As part of his job in pre-state Palestine and in the early years of the state, Yisrael Komet was responsible for planning private buildings, public buildings, yeshivos, educational institutions — and dozens of shuls (Photos: Ezra Trabelski, Komet Family Archives)

I t was the beginning of the 20th century, and as the gusty winds of war were blowing through Europe and the Austro-Hungarian Empire spread its wings over broad swathes of the continent, thousands of Hungarian Jews — at least those with the means and ability — migrated to Vienna.

While the Austrian capital was a large and prosperous city, it still couldn’t provide the needs of all the new arrivals. Soon, more than 8,000 Jews were concentrated in one neighborhood without shuls or mikvaos to serve them, and no one to take responsibility for their basic religious needs.

Well, almost no one. Reb Yechiel Komet, affectionately called Reb Zeideh, was an affluent real estate magnate who had moved to Vienna, surveyed what the community was lacking, and got right to work. First, he used his own funds to convert the cellar beneath his home to a mikveh. He then set his sights on building a proper shul, and having extensive knowledge in the field of construction, he personally oversaw the process until it was complete. This was the first shul to be built in the Viennese Prater Quarter.

When World War I broke out with many Jews called up to battle, Reb Zeideh worked to establish kosher kitchens in the army. He also visited every hospital in the region in order to install kosher kitchens for the Jewish patients. He raised his children with the understanding that any Jew who came to the house was deserving of assistance. 

Word spread of Reb Zeideh’s tremendous hospitality, and soon, rebbes of various chassidic courts who passed through the region stayed there as well. That’s how Reb Zeideh himself became close to the Rebbes of Sadigura and Vizhnitz. 

“The shuls are an integral part of our family,” Yechiel explains from his Haifa office. One look at the walls, and no more need be said. They bear the story not only of multigenerational architecture, but also the story of the establishment of Torah institutions and shuls that look so familiar — because they are everywhere in Israel and around the world

For the wealthy Reb Zeideh, money was never a prohibitive issue when it came to fulfilling his dreams — the primary one, his yearning to go to Eretz Yisrael and to build Torah institutions there. He actually sent huge sums earmarked for Jews who had made the journey and settled in Palestine, but according to records, for some unknown reason, that money never did reach its destination. 

Despite his plans and dreams, Reb Zeideh never made it to Eretz Yisrael. A short time after celebrating the bar mitzvah of one of his sons, he suddenly passed away. His mother, though, managed to go in his place. With her last vestige of strength, elderly and frail Mrs. Devorah Komet boarded a ship and set out. Upon arriving at the Jaffa Port, she purchased a donkey and rode to Tzfas. Not long afterward she passed away there, meriting to be buried in the soil of the Holy Land.

Clean Lines

Reb Zeideh never did make it to the Holy Land, but today, a century after he put the Viennese kehillah on its feet, his grandson, an architect bearing his name, is still propagating the family legacy of shul design — in Eretz Yisrael.

This year the Komet family is marking 100 years of architecture, beginning with Yechiel in Vienna, continuing with his son Yisrael, who moved to Eretz Yisrael in 1933 and was one of the architects in the period of the founding of the state, and Yisrael’s son Yechiel — born into the line in 1950 and partnering with his father until Yisrael’s passing in 1985. As part of his job in pre-state Palestine and in the early years of the state, Yisrael Komet was responsible for planning private buildings, public buildings, yeshivos, educational institutions — and dozens of shuls.

“The shuls are an integral part of our family,” Yechiel explains from his Haifa office. One look at the walls, and no more need be said. They bear the story not only of multigenerational architecture, but also the story of the establishment of Torah institutions and shuls that look so familiar — because they are everywhere in Israel and around the world. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 669)

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