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In Every Dimension

Libi Astaire

Just as our prayers express every emotion of the human experience, our shuls run the gamut of creative construction. These shuls of record still stand out

Monday, April 09, 2018

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T

he Biggest

The Kosel

It’s the shul of Am Yisrael. Open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, the Western Wall Prayer Plaza has more than 10 million visitors annually. While there are times when attendance is sparse, and a person can get that prized seat next to the Wall, at peak times — such as Bircas Kohanim during Chol Hamoed — anywhere from 50,000 to 80,000 people squeeze into the standing room-only, 21,500-square foot Prayer Plaza.

It wasn’t always so. Before 1948, access to the Kosel was limited to a narrow alleyway measuring just 13 feet wide and 92 feet long. To get there, daveners had to traverse a labyrinth of the even narrower alleyways that comprised the dilapidated Mughrabi Quarter, where hostile Arab residents would often harass the Jewish worshippers making their way through the sewage and rubble. Things became even worse when the Old City came under Jordanian rule and Jewish access to the Kosel was banned for 20 years, from 1948 to 1967.

After the area was captured by Israeli troops during the Six Day War, the Arab slum was demolished (the residents were relocated). The Prayer Plaza was built and today the Kosel is the most visited “tourist” site in Israel. The attraction, of course, is that the Kosel provides a badly needed service for today’s busy and often bewildering world — a place for prayer and time with Hashem.



Belz Beis HaMedrash HaGadol (Belz Great Synagogue)

With a seating capacity of 10,000, the Belz Great Synagogue, dedicated in 2000, is the largest enclosed synagogue in Israel — and probably the world. The aron kodesh, which is almost 40 feet tall and weighs 18 tons, has room for 70 Torah scrolls. And those nine chandeliers — each of which contains some 200,000 pieces of Czech glass — aren’t there just to look pretty. The sanctuary’s amazing acoustics are partly due to the glass, which maximizes sound reflection and minimizes absorption.

The main sanctuary is used only on Shabbos and Yom Tov. During the week, daily minyanim — there is one about every ten minutes — are held in shtiblach located on the floor below.

The Smallest

Szanto Jewish Memorial House and Synagogue

Located in Szentendre, Hungary, the one-room Szanto Synagogue claims to be the smallest synagogue in the world. It also was the first synagogue built in Hungary as a memorial to those who perished in the Holocaust.

Before the war approximately 220 Jews lived in the town, which is near Budapest. Only 25–30 Jews survived and returned to Hungary. One of the survivors, Gyorgy Szanto, dreamed of building a Holocaust memorial in the courtyard of his parents’ home and dedicating it to their memory and the memory of the other Jews from Szentendre who were murdered. His dream was fulfilled by his son, Andras, and the tiny shul was dedicated in 1998 by Professor Jószef Sweitzer, the chief rabbi of Hungary.

The shul’s interior may be small, but it’s striking. The walls are painted an eye-popping electric blue, and the aron’s paroches is a similar color. On one side are shtenders and benches to accommodate a minyan. The opposite wall is lined with display cases, which hold documents and ritual items that tell the story of the once-vibrant community.

(Excerpted from Mishpacha’s Sanctuary Theme Section, Pesach Mega-Issue 5778)

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