004A.jpg (54178 bytes) New York Architecture Images-Upper East Side

Central Synagogue


Henry Fernbach , restoration after 1998 fire Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates


652 Lexington Avenue, 123 East 55th Street New York, NY 10022-3566




Moorish Revival


polychrome brick with stone trim, internal cast iron frame. Basilical plan.




  External view of synagogue burning.


This polychoromatic masonry building is the oldest synagogue in continuous use in New York City. It was executed in an eclectic, rough-hewn Moorish style popular for synagogues of the late 1800s.

Central Synagogue at the corner of Lexington and 55th is the oldest  synagogue in continual usage in New York City. Designed by Henry Fernbach of Germany, the design is loosely called "Moorish-Islamic Revival". The synagogue was built by Congregation Ahawath Chesed, a German Reform congregation meeting under that name on Ludlow street from 1846.

The Exterior:  is dominated by two octagonal towers rising 122 feet. They are meant to be reminiscences of Solomon's Temple. The towers are topped onion-shaped, green copper domes. There is one large rose window accompanied by many smaller arched windows.

The Interior: has beautifully stenciled designs of red, blue, and ochre. Cast iron columns separate the inside into three sections. There is also colorful plates published by the English designer and colorist, Owen Jones.


  • Diamonstein, Barbaralee, The Landmarks of New York, (New York: 1998)
  • Dolkart, Andre, Guide to NYC Landmarks, (New York: 1992)

Amy Nyack

Restoring the Soul

Photos courtesy of Charles K. Bill; Turner Construction Co.; HHPA; Chris Lovi; Bernstein Associates

August 28, 1998: Congregation member Daniel Z. Nelson was celebrating his 43rd wedding anniversary with his family at his home in Amagansett, New York, when he learned that Manhattan's Central Synagogue was in flames. He sobbed out loud as he watched the blaze on television, his family's memories crumbling before his eyes. Livia Thompson, executive director of the synagogue, was preparing to celebrate her birthday in Brooklyn when she was called; she still remembers the oily, sickening smell of smoke that engulfed her as she emerged from the subway at 53rd and Lexington into a surreal evening scene. Peter Rubinstein, the congregation's senior rabbi, was in his office at the community center on East 55th Street, across the street from the sanctuary, when a construction worker informed him that the building had caught fire. Together with the worker, Rabbi Rubinstein entered the burning building, took a hammer, and shattered a glass display case in the lobby that held a Torah.It was a special scroll, pieced together from parchment fragments of Torahsburnt or destroyed during the Holocaust. When he emerged, sacred scroll on his shoulder, onto the street, his mind was flooded with vestigial visions of rabbis fleeing burning synagogues in Eastern Europe. He thought, for a second, that he and his congregation had lost their place of worship.

"But I realized that this was different," Rabbi Rubinstein recalls. "In Europe, when the rabbis emerged from the burning synagogues carrying their Torahs, they were met with jeers and catcalls from the crowd. In our case, we were supported by the entire city, the neighborhood, the mayor, the firefighters, fellow clergy. All of them felt the trauma that this sanctuary, which belonged to all of us, had been damaged. They shared our sense of loss. And in that moment, I realized that we were not going to lose our building."

It is late June, 2000, almost two years since fire destroyed Central Synagogue's roof, choir loft, organ, and sanctuary, sparing only the black-walnut two-and-a-half-story ark, most of the bema, and several wooden pews. Right now, more than seven months from completion, the building is little more than a stripped open-brick and wooden shell. It's hard to picture the ornate, encaustic tiled floor, the opulent decorative plasterwork, and the elaborate wall stencils that once animated this sanctuary. It's difficult to imagine that the space will ever house worshippers again. Yet the 140-foot by 99-foot structure is indeed alive, pulsing with the orange-blue flares of welders' torches and the hopeful sounds of hammers and power drills. Above, in the cleristory level, brand-new wooden rafters frame the new ceiling and wall spaces. Below, between the metal support beams of the sanctuary floor, down beneath the lower level, a backhoe methodically excavates two large spaces that will eventually serve a variety of temple functions. It's still hard to envision the synagogue completed. But it's not hard to believe it will be. "They say they don't build them like they used to," says Hugh Hardy, striding onto the second-floor gallery. In his dark blue suit, gesturing about the site with a rolled New York Times in his hand, he looks like a ringmaster wielding a white-topped cane. "But we do. And we will." Hardy, partner in charge at Hardy, Holzman, Pfeiffer Associates (HHPA), was selected by the Central Synagogue building committee to execute the restoration. The committeewas particularly impressed with Hardy's theory of interpretive restoration a subjective approach to architectural restoration that seeks to reconcile the soul of an historic building with the realities of contemporary design, function, and building codes. Hardy had recently put his theory into practice in Times Square at the New Amsterdam Theatre, and at Radio City Music Hall, with spectacular results. "It's not possible to do a perfect historical restoration," he says, his arms spreading, symmetrically, as if he were about to pirouette on the third-row stair of the gallery. "This synagogue is a national historic landmark. But it's also an incredibly personal structure for each of the 1400 families of the congregation. Each with their own idea ofwhat the building's history was, and what that history should look like."

The search for the soul of a structure is not necessarily the same as the quest for its original state. In the latter, the historian or designer sifts through archive drawings, photographs, eyewitness accounts, and whatever original material remains in an attempt to recreate every brick and board and brushstroke. The soul of a building is more elusive, evolving and morphingover time, while still remaining within the aesthetic and spiritual confines of its original design. It is this soul more than a rigid historical reconstruction that the Hardy, Holzman, Pfeiffer team was asked to seek. "It was our understanding that they could redesign our synagogue in such a fashion that when our congregation returned to our building, they would feel thatthis is the sanctuary that they had prayed in for all these years," says Nelson, a real estate developer and a member of Central Synagogue's building and restoration committees. "We asked them for a representation of something that already existed and not for something new; for the building we knew andloved."

The building known as Central Synagogue was consecrated as the home of New York's Ahawath Chesed congregation in 1872. Designed by Henry Fernbach, a Prussian-born Jewish architect who emigrated to the United States shortly before the Civil War, the synagogue was built along a basilica plan with a tall central nave and two flanking aisles beneath a pair of overhanging galleries. The exterior walls alternated dark New Jersey brownstone with light Ohio sandstone. The gabled roof was tiled with black and red slate laid in bands. In accordance with late-nineteenth-century practice, the sanctuary was oriented towards the west, where the rabbi led the prayer ritual from a bema before the elaborately milled ark. Fernbach integrated Moorish-revival decorative elements into his essentially gothic design. Crenellated metal bands decorated the parapets along the Lexington Street facade, while two gilded-copper onion domes each topped, curiously, with a five pointed star stood above the facade's twin 122-foot towers. The use of Moorish and romanticized Islamic motifs in synagogue design had begun earlier in the century in Europe, where the theme was employed as a reminder of the Jewish "Golden Age" in Iberia during Arab rule.

By 1870, several American synagogues featured Moorish-revival elements. At Central Synagogue, Fernbach created an elaborate and intricate interior with Moorish designs whose contours were stenciled onto the sanctuary walls and then hand painted. For the sanctuary floor, a space of nearly 4,000 square feet, Fernbach ordered more than 20,000 encaustic tiles from England and alternated that pattern with bands of brown quarry tile. The sanctuary was lit with gas-fired chandeliers that hung from arches beneath the galleries, as well as by 12 double-story stained-glass windows. The cost of the original project was $300,000.

"These weren't Episcopalians or Catholics, with a long history and strong community in New York," says Hardy, with characteristic showmanship. "These were a few dozen Jews, recently moved to the East Side, who believed they were going to make something spectacular. This was a time when interiors were lit by gas, when people traveled by horse and carriage and wore a lot morethan they do today. They set out to dazzle with this building. And they did."

The search for the soul of Central Synagogue included both documentary and physical research. HHPA commissioned Dan Peter Kopple & Associates to prepare an archival report. Their research showed that Central Synagogue had suffered a series of traumas and interventions long before the 1998 fire. In 1886, the building was damaged by a fire, during which most of the original decorative stencilings were lost. The gas-fired chandeliers were electrified in 1903, changing their configuration and the intensity of the interior lighting. Large sections of the sanctuary and vestry were repainted in 1937. In 1946, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Ahawath Chesed congregation, Central Synagogue was subject to a $300,000 comprehensive restoration. Directed by architect Ely Jacques Kahn, this Modernist-inspired restoration gave the synagogue improved kitchen and toilet facilities, a new roof, new light fixtures, and an enlarged auditorium. But Kahn, who abhorred historicism,significantly altered the 1886 Moorish-revival wall decorations, which, although not actually original, were thought to be faithful to the original. Kahn also replaced stained-glass windows with windows of abstract design and removed the chandeliers, substituting Art Deco sconces as light sources.

At one point, the slate roof was replaced by metal, with three unsightly airducts. In 1992, the ceilings under the galleries were skimcoated with plaster and painted navigation elements/white. In 1995, the synagogue's building committee elected to launch a five-year restoration plan to improve seating, acoustics, and functionality, and to install air-conditioning. In 1998, three days before the air-conditioning was to be turned on, Central Synagogue nearly burned to the ground.

"One of the many things that makes this job different from others I've been involved with is the substantial amount of demolition," says Jonathan Schloss, a HHPA associate and project manager for the restoration. He stands in the Central Synagogue project room in HHPA's 19th-floor Broadway offices.The shelves and tables around him are packed with synagogue artifacts: encaustic tiles, stencil decorations, fabric samples, a shred of rusted metal from the tower parapet crenellations. Behind him are two enlarged photographs,one an actual 1991 exterior shot of the building, the second a mock-up of the same image as it will appear after the work is done in April. The differences, on the exterior, are subtle.

"The roof was almost entirely burnt, but the original wooden beams survived the blaze," says Schloss, who is working on the building with project architect Nina Freedman. "We were also able to find enough plaster samples to understand how the decorative scheme worked. Then we literally destroyed what remained of the roof, leaving of course the beams. It made for several very interesting months."

Fortunately, there was a substantial quantity of original materials for the architects to study. The 1998 fire spared the ark and the wall-stenciling around it, which is believed to be original and which served as a baselinefor reconstruction. Two original pews also survived the blaze, as did the bulk of the encaustic floor tiles and the rose window on the Lexington Avenuefacade. Yet with all the meticulous archival and physical information available to the restoration team, many decisions were inevitably intuitive. The selection of colors for the sanctuary was based on paint analysis, but also on a wholly subjective interpretation of how those original colors appeared to nineteenth-century worshippers. Schloss points to a photograph in the restoration report, a late nineteenth-century time-exposure taken during an evening service. In it, gas-fired chandeliers appear like bleeding, cumbersome suns, suggesting that despite the bold extravagant interior design, the ambience and atmosphere of the prayer ritual was somber and mysterious.

"We could easily duplicate the exact original colors from existing samples," explains Schloss. "But the effect would be very different from what we believe it was. On average, lighting is 30 percent brighter today than it was a century ago. The identical colors with today's illumination would be farmore vivid than they were when the synagogue was opened. This wasn't the statement that we wanted to make."

The team's decision on the stained glass was also interpretive, dictatedby the availability of original materials and also by a desire to preserve some of the changes over the life of the synagogue. Most of the 1872 stainedglass was replaced in 1949 and in the 1970s. At the time of the fire, the only original glass left was the clerestory roundels all but four of which were destroyed during the blaze and two partial windows found in the storage room and the southeast stair tower. The two surviving clerestory windows will be restored, with the remaining roundels reconstructed after tracings of the 1872 windows. The twelve large sanctuary windows will form a temporal collage, with two restored to their 1872 appearance, and the remaining ten recreating the look before the fire.

Hardy and his colleagues also decided that the ark, its surrounding stenciling, and the eternal light which also survived the 1998 fire would collectively serve as a visual anchor for the entire decorative scheme. "This was the centerpiece of the original sanctuary," says Hardy. "And this will be the centerpiece of our restoration. All eyes must eventually look towards the ark." Inside, the team chose to hang electric chandeliers under the samearches that once were lit by gas. They ordered 800 encaustic tiles that will be glazed to blend in with the historic patina formed on the surviving tiles. New wooden pews are being built based on the original design, with a slightly altered backrest angle for increased comfort. Outside, the team plans to replace the metal roof with black and red slate tiles, to recreate the original metal crenellations along the towers and parapets, and to clean and re-gild the onion domes.

Although it was the most visible part, the historic reconstruction was only part of the job. The building had to be modified to conform to existing building codes and to the needs of its current congregation. "It's a simple job, but it's also very complicated," says Hardy. "Simple because the designitself is very simple. Complicated because we have to integrate modern lighting, audio systems, air conditioning, electric systems, and kitchen facilities all without changing the building's character."

Hardy, Schloss, and Freedman have had ample experience ushering historicstructures into modern times without sacrificing personality or tradition. What was unusual at Central Synagogue was the level of client participation in the design process. "Rabbi Rubinstein was very much involved, both in theconstruction and also in approving the design elements of the building," says Nelson, with admiration. "His knowledge grew exponentially and very quickly. Now, in addition to being a superb rabbi, he probably knows enough to bea member of the AIA." With Rabbi Rubinstein as the point man, the congregation formed steering, design, and restoration committees, all of whom met on a regular basis with the architects. "Our first reaction was to rebuild it exactly the way it was," says Ben Baxt, a New York architect and member of the restoration and building committees. "But then a number of us realized that this was an opportunity to address some items that could improve the facility."

"A lot of the features of this restoration were things we had been trying to accomplish before," says Thompson, who took over as Central Synagogue'sexecutive director in 1993. "We wanted to be able to reflect some of the ways that worship has evolved since the synagogue was first built. But the building always fought us."

"This is a very emotional project," says architect Nina Freedman. "The congregation formed many committees that met regularly with us. All of the people involved have very long memories. They've had their marriages and funerals and bar mitzvahs here. We had to listen a lot. And a lot of the changes in the design came out of those committee meetings."

The congregation committees were almost unanimous in electing to recover theoriginal 1872 interior and exterior design. But with the fire leaving a tabula rasa on the sanctuary floor, they were also free to fantasize and request significant changes that would reflect changes in contemporary worship. One request was a sanctuary floor plan that would accommodate both the large, formal services of the high holidays, and the more intimate, informal sabbath sessions of the summer months. Rabbi Rubinstein was already accustomedto taking his microphone, stepping down from the bema, and walking down thecenter aisles. But the congregants, seated in their fixed pews, couldn't see him. Accordingly, the HHPA team designed an adjustable bema that could be lowered and extended with its reading table onto the floor level. They also created lighter half-length pews for the first 13 rows to facilitate alternative configurations. The creation of the free space at the front of the sanctuary also required that the floor be reinforced.

"Each design decision has a ripple effect," says Baxt, who is a Saturday-morning regular at Central Synagogue. "The building code requires differentfloor loading for non-fixed seating than it does for fixed, as you can overload a free floor."

Many congregants also requested that the steps at the front entrance be lowered. "It was always very scary watching elderly and frail people climb thosesteps," says Thompson. "Especially on the high holidays, when it was crowded." The new, more gradual stairs require that the lobby be lowered 13.5 inches. Two existing stairs in the lobby will also be removed to ease crowding. To reach floor level, worshippers will climb four new stairs at the back of the sanctuary. Another point of discontent was the ground-level space, which one congregant described as being "barely fit for Boy Scout meetings." Thenew space will offer seating for nearly 500 people during high-holiday services, with another 1,400 accommodated simultaneously in the sanctuary. The central portion of the floor is being lowered 28 inches to add focus to the space, which can be sectioned off with a moveable wall.

"Ultimately, this project is the restoration of a place of worship," says Rabbi Rubinstein of the $40-million project that everyone hopes will be completed by spring. "This is a landmark building, but even more it is a place where our congregation prays. And our congregation prays differently today thanit did in 1872. It would have been inauthentic and irresponsible to go backto the original design. What we're doing, I hope, is fulfilling the missionof those people who built the building, but doing it as they would have done in the year 2000."

  For more information about Central Synagogue or for tours of the Sanctuary,
please call 212-838-5122 or visit .


Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates LLP (HHPA) is a leading architecture, planning, and
interior design firm. Highly respected for some of the country's most notable architecture,
HHPA has earned acclaim for its sensitive restoration of historic landmarks. The firm has
received more than 100 national design awards including the AIA Architectural Firm of the
Year Award, the highest honor that can be bestowed on an American architectural practice.
The Restoration of Central Synagogue has won numerous awards to date, including a
Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award from the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

Introduction by
Peter J. Rubinstein
Senior Rabbi
Central Synagogue
Text by
Hugh Hardy, FAIA
Architect, Central Synagogue Restoration
Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates LLP

Opening 1872
Fire 1886
Fire 1998
Restoration 1998-2001 

On behalf of the 1,700 families that comprise the membership of
Central Synagogue, I welcome you to our home.
Our congregation has served the Jewish community of New York
City for more than 160 years and has occupied a unique place in our
city since its formation. Central Synagogue had simple beginnings
on Manhattan's Lower East Side when our parent congregations,
Shaar Hashomayim and Ahawath Chesed, were founded in 1839
and 1846 respectively. By 1870, the membership of Ahawath
Chesed prospered, grew and moved uptown.
With amazing courage and vision, the 140 families of Ahawath
Chesed commissioned Henry Fernbach, New York's first prominent
Jewish architect, to design its synagogue, which seated more than
1,400 individuals. At its dedication in 1872, Rabbi Adolph Heubsch
described the building as "a house of worship in evidence of the high
degree of development only possible under a condition of freedom."
In 1898 Shaar Hashomayim merged with Ahawath Chesed and
became known as Central Synagogue in 1915. Though tempted to
continue its move northward, in 1913 the Board of Trustees decided
to stay on our present site, a decision for which we are grateful.
Central Synagogue, designated a New York City Landmark in 1966
and a National Historic Landmark in 1975, is the oldest synagogue in
continuous use in New York City and one of the leading Reform
congregations in the country.
However, our history includes devastation as well as celebration. On
August 28, 1998, just as the congregation was preparing for
Sabbath worship, a fire was accidentally ignited as workers were
concluding a three-year renovation of the building. We are grateful
that there were no serious injuries, but our synagogue was
devastated. Thousands gathered and mourned the loss of our
sanctuary. The roof and its supports were destroyed and several
support beams fell, penetrating the sanctuary floor. The choir loft
and organ were completely destroyed. Our prayer books also were
severely damaged and, as we mourned, we buried them the
following week in our cemetery.

Removing the single step that raised the pews from the floor allowed
reconfiguration of the bema. The reading table can be placed in two
positions, either elevated on the bema or lowered to a sliding platform
that extends toward the sanctuary, enabling clergy to be closer to the
congregation. Greater flexibility of the first 13 rows is achieved by
making these pews movable, so that more intimate services can be
accommodated. The ark, which miraculously survived the fire, is a
stalwart structure whose original finishes have been retained, giving
authority and power to the whole.

Music is an important part of the worship experience at Central
Synagogue. The organ loft at the rear of the sanctuary containing the
original 1926 organ was completely destroyed by fire. With installation
of two linked organs and two audio systems, the synagogue now
accommodates a wide range of musical forms. The organ loft houses
the Gabe M. Wiener Memorial Organ, a world-class, electropneumatic
organ for special services and concerts. Near the bema,
a liturgical organ accompanies the cantor and choir and supports
congregational singing. Both organs have access to 74 ranks and
4,345 pipes, including two unique stops: a Klezmer Clarinette and a
Trompette Shofar. Designed by Casavant Freres of Quebec, the
walnut and ash casework is an extension of the Moorish motifs found
throughout the sanctuary. Placement of the organ pipes highlights the
instruments' beauty without dominating the surrounding architecture.
The circular pattern of the larger organ’s pipes frames views of the
spectacular rose window.

Although orchestrated by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, the
reconstruction and restoration of Central Synagogue involved many
crafts and skills. DPK&A Architects provided analysis and
documentation of the original plasterwork and stencil patterns, and
made invaluable computer drawings and specifications. Professionals
relied upon the original records, architectural drawings, descriptions,
and photographs preserved in the Central Synagogue Archives.
General contractor F. J. Sciame Construction coordinated the work of
70 trades and thousands of workers. Fisher Marantz Stone, Inc.,
designed the lighting throughout the building. A complete list of
subcontractors, craftsmen, and engineers is available upon request.

Miraculously, the ark was spared because it was under a separate
roof. The Ner Tamid (Eternal Light) remained in place as did the
mezuzah on the center door where it remained throughout the
reconstruction. Most of our ritual objects, including the Torah scrolls,
had been previously removed from the building because of the prior
renovation. Fortunately, we were able to rescue our Holocaust Torah
scroll, which had been dedicated in memory of Jews who perished in
the Holocaust. We are grateful to the New York City Fire Department,
especially the 8th Battalion, who saved the skeleton of our building,
the exterior walls, all the windows on the main and gallery floors, and
the rose window on the east wall over the choir loft.
Although shocked and heartbroken, our congregation was
determined to rebuild and restore our beloved sanctuary. Inspired by
the history and traditions of our people, Central's congregation
understood that we would need to wander, with the vibrant vision of
someday returning to our home. So we did, carrying our Torah
scrolls and accepting the warm hospitality of neighboring houses of
worship and the National Guard Armory on Park Avenue and 66th
Street. From the very beginning, former Mayor Giuliani, Governor
Pataki, Cardinal O'Connor and then Cardinal Egan of the
Archdiocese of New York, local clergy, and Jewish community
leaders stood by us.
We also received support from religious and community leaders from
around the world and were visited by many, including the Archbishop
of Canterbury and the Prime Minister of Israel. We are grateful to our
congregants and friends whose contributions and expressions of
support gave us the strength and resources to rebuild our beloved
sanctuary. We also thank an exceptional group of professionals who
made our vision a reality.
On September 9, 2001, the newly restored Central Synagogue was
reconsecrated. Now we have returned home. Our sanctuary
represents a bridge between past and future. Though replicating
much of the original 1870 plan, the restoration was designed to be
responsive to contemporary Jewish life and religious practice.
The sanctuary features 12 two-story, stained-glass windows
crowned by clerestory roundels on the side walls, and an ornate rose
window at the east end. The fire destroyed nearly everything at the
clerestory level and above, including some of the last of the
synagogue's original stained glass. However, enough historic glass
was salvaged to reconstruct one window, which was dedicated to
the firemen who saved so much of the building. The remainder was
replaced with new glass that conforms to the original design. Three
six-square-foot, stained-glass laylights, covered over for decades,
were revealed during restoration. As originally intended, the ark is
now bathed in colored light.
Perhaps the most salient element of the synagogue's interior is the
stencil work that covers the walls with highly patterned, colorful
designs. Although this work has always been a feature of the
sanctuary, its composition before the recent fire was more subdued
than the original because of a repainting conducted in 1949 under
the direction of Ely Jacques Kahn. The present restoration is a return
to the exuberance of the historic scheme, with elaborate floral and
latticework patterns announced in 69 colors including shades of
green, terra cotta, slate, cream, peach, and red. Basic geometries of
the patterns are highlighted by a gloss finish, and paint is deliberately
applied in a loose, free manner to reinforce the handmade character.

The seating arrangement was reconfigured, flexibility of pew and
pulpit arrangements was integrated, audio and lighting elements
were enhanced, and the soul of the congregation was figuratively
and literally incorporated into every aspect of the restoration.
(Members painted the stencils on the forward southern wall.)
Our community is strong. Our spirits sing. Our visions for the future
are as great as those of our founders. We are dedicated to the
ongoing life and tradition of Judaism and the Jewish people. All of
us at Central Synagogue are pleased and proud to welcome you to
our sanctuary and to our worship services.
Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein

Of all the buildings constructed in New York in the late-19th century,
none conveys greater optimism about the future of America than
Central Synagogue. Built at a time of great expansion, 1870 through
1872, it was consecrated before the financial panic of 1873 and
completion of the American Museum of Natural History and the
Metropolitan Museum of Art. Built by fewer than 150 families, it was
designed to seat more than 1,000 congregants, and is one of a
handful of surviving landmarks from that era.
Although not a large building by today’s standards, Central
Synagogue has always graced the corner of Lexington Avenue and
Fifty-fifth Street with great authority. It is the oldest synagogue in
continuous use in New York City, and proudly proclaims its presence
in what was originally a residential neighborhood lined with threestory
row houses. Built before Lexington Avenue was widened and
the subway was constructed below the street, it has stood resolute
as the neighborhood was transformed into a vital part of the Upper
East Side business district. Even juxtaposed with new high-rise
structures, it continues to be an exceptional part of the neighborhood.
Central Synagogue was designed by Henry Fernbach, often cited as
the first Jewish architect in America. Its two domed towers,
crenellated decorative stone exterior with three entrance portals, and
two side-aisle entrances surmounted by a great rose window
represent an interpretation of the Dohany Street Synagogue in
Budapest. Although Central Synagogue is not a direct copy,
Fernbach was clearly influenced by this considerably larger building.
Central Synagogue’s facade, a symmetrical composition of two
sentinel towers topped by gilded onion domes, horizontal bands of
stone in contrasting tones, and dramatic Moorish stone arches in
alternating colors, identifies these walls as belonging to a singular
place. By seizing upon Moorish precedent, Fernbach gave New York
a synagogue whose exterior form and detail were—and still are—in
sharp contrast to most other religious structures in the city. It
remains a distinctive presence next to surrounding buildings.

When the roof collapsed, it took with it a considerable amount of
plasterwork and wood detail. However, the true culprit was water,
which weakened the plasterwork and required replacement of all
ornamental detail and surfaces, even those surrounding the ark.
Therefore, with the exception of the stained glass, balcony fasciae,
and the ark, every surface in the sanctuary has been restored. Even
the ark, which miraculously survived the fire, had to be completely
cleaned, refinished, and partly repainted and regilded.
The new plasterwork was created from molds of the original designs,
documented by DPK&A. These include extensive panel moldings,
capitals, brackets, and intricate tracery found in the roof trusses over
the bema and organ loft. Ornamentation and moldings that survived
the fire were demolished, but not before they had been drawn in
detail to illustrate connections, appearance, and sequence for
installation of the new decorative plasterwork. All ornamental detail
was cast in sections and applied on site, matching original patterns
defined by DPK&A’s computer drawings. Wall surfaces were finished
with a skim coat of sand plaster to give a modulated effect that
simulates hand-applied plaster.
In the original seating configuration, people in the side pews faced
straight ahead, parallel to the west wall, not angled toward the
bema. This orientation has been changed so that the side pews are
shifted at forty-five degrees, providing a greater sense of community.
All pews were originally raised by one step to accommodate heating
elements, and this step has been removed. The pews are new and
match the original in walnut and ash. Reinforcing their placement are
4,000 square feet of encaustic and quarry-tile flooring in both the
lobby and the sanctuary. More than 40,000 tiles in a wide range of
colors, patterns, and sizes make up the design. Many original tiles
were salvaged and cleaned, but 30,000 new ones were fabricated
by the successor of the original manufacturer of the 1872 tiles in
England. Old and new tiles have been integrated in a pattern so that
it is difficult to tell the difference between them.
The accidental fire of 1998 started at roof level, and consumed the
roof and most of its wooden truss supports. The resulting collapse
severely damaged the historic interior. Most destructive to the
plasterwork was inundation by water. It destabilized the bond
between plaster and lath, requiring the removal of 85 percent of all
decorative surfaces.
This devastation allowed restoration of the paint scheme done after
an 1886 fire. This largely followed the patterns established in 1872,
which restoration consultant, DPK&A, was able to accurately
document through historic photographs and paint analysis
conducted on site. This is a far more robust scheme than the one
Ely Jacques Kahn created for a repainting in 1949, which remained
until the 1998 fire. The new interior seems comfortably familiar to
congregants, but restoration enabled us to create a space that is
even more resplendent than it was before.

Traditional in plan, the sanctuary features a tall central nave and two
side aisles, with galleries and an organ loft above. The space is
subdivided into six bays by ten slender cast-iron columns in high
relief. The bema is crowned by the original ark, which is richly carved
and inlaid with fretwork patterns highlighted in gold topped with
onion domes finished in celestial blue and gold stars. A focal point
of the ark’s central dome is a gilded Star of David.
The sanctuary celebrates worship with a dramatic deep blue ceiling,
stencil work in 69 colors, molded-plaster patterns, and carved wood
in walnut and ash. The entire composition is highlighted in gold and
dematerialized by patterns of colored light filtered through stainedglass
windows and rediscovered skylights over the ark. At night, the
space is lit by twelve chandeliers, whose design was interpreted
from photographs of the originals and from documentation of those
designed for the Dohany Street Synagogue. In addition, several
concealed sources of light were required to meet current standards.
Passage into the restored interior is a ritual of discovery and renewal,
a way to focus attention on the permanence of community in the
constant change of contemporary society. It is clear upon entering
that one has left everyday experience behind and joined in exalted
awareness of an extraordinary place. The power of this remarkable
space is revealed when one enters the sanctuary by stepping up
from a newly configured lobby. For those who come to worship, it
is a glorious return home.

In order to bring light into the lower level, which was originally used for
classrooms, Fernbach raised the sanctuary approximately seven feet
above street level. Following the construction of the subway and the
resulting widening of Lexington Avenue in 1912, a steep, seemingly
vertical flight of steps was constructed to give access to the entrance.
The small entrance lobby was then bisected by two additional steps,
making for awkward movement into and out of the synagogue.
The new design changes this sequence by lowering the lobby so that
it can be accessed by exterior stairs with a gentler rise. Inside, two
steps were removed and the existing portals were lowered to meet
the new floor. Four steps were then added just inside the sanctuary
doors, creating a new and dramatic entrance into this sacred space.
Although the new work is a change from the original configuration, it
has been seamlessly incorporated into the old.

By Jennifer Acker 

Flames continued to surge but, across the street, prayer began again. 
Crowds of onlookers gathered around the burning temple, but the 
congregants didn't emerge to join them until after they prayed. "What 
Jews have been able to do throughout their history is to continue to 
pray, even in the midst of the darkest nights," says Rabbi Peter 
Rubinstein '64 of Manhattan's Central Synagogue. So on August 28, 1998, 
while the New York City Fire Department rushed to quell the flames, 
Rubinstein directed his congregation to "Go and have a service." It was 
Shabbat, the holy close to the Jewish week.

Afterwards, the congregation formed a circle and was joined by then 
Mayor Guiliani and Cardinal O'Connor, archbishop of New York, as well 
as firefighters and others. They prayed for a future in which they 
could be together again in a safe and spiritual place of worship. 
Rubinstein told the gathering, "We will wander for a while, but there 
will be a day when we'll open those doors and enter with the Torah 
scrolls again." 

Three years later, Central Synagogue had been restored to its Moorish 
splendor—and modernized in subtle, crucial ways—under Rubinstein's 
guidance. A group similar to those holding hands in 1998 gathered to 
celebrate the synagogue's reopening, standing on the building's steps 
in bustling midtown Manhattan. People smiled, cheered; photojournalists 
flashed their bulbs as Guiliani spoke of the strong "faith of the 
Jewish people" and how he would remember being at this site and with 
these same people for both the temple's destruction and its 
consecration. It was September 9, 2001.

Standing on the opposite street corner, on the east side of 55th and 
Lexington, one feels that the city has grown up around Central 
Synagogue. Its landmark gold domes are striking, but difficult to see 
given the skyscrapers that encircle them. Sharing sandwiches and 
cigarettes, construction workers take their lunch break on the temple 
steps. A few stairs lead up to the three keyhole-shaped entrances; the 
lobby is warm and bright with honey-colored woodwork and smooth tile 
floors. The viewer passes through another set of doorways and beholds 
the magnificent interior: rows of dark, wooden pews set on cream, 
brick, and olive tiles; ornate stencils in warm orange and sienna tones 
decorate side walls that rise to stained glass windows; two rows of 
elegant chandeliers lead the eye to the ark where a simple raised 
platform, or bimah, with a lectern is backed by a cobalt dome. A dusk 
blue ceiling sparkles with gold stars. 

Congregant Sam Charap '02 describes the pre-restoration synagogue he 
grew up in as "astoundingly beautiful—breathtaking inside and out." 
With its intricate design the building is Charap's favorite in the 
world. At first glance, he says, the "new" synagogue looks much the 
same as the one before it, only better.

News of the 1998 fire—started by the blowtorch of a construction 
company installing an air-conditioning system—made the front page of 
The New York Times. Even to Charap, distanced by college activities and 
geography from his Manhattan congregation, "It felt like a devastating 
blow." Not only was the building a place of beauty he had fallen in 
love with over the years, but his synagogue was a spiritual place of 
worship—an atmosphere created in no small part by his Amherst-educated 
rabbi, Peter Rubinstein. 

Rubinstein has led Central Synagogue, his third congregation, as its 
senior rabbi since 1991. While at Amherst, however, he was not part of 
a Jewish community, and he was barely acquainted with the college 
rabbi, jointly appointed to Smith College. The study of religion was 
attractive, but it was Christian theology that fascinated Rubinstein. 
Religion Prof. John Pemberton, now retired, had "an extraordinary, 
singular impact on my life," the rabbi says, because he introduced him, 
a medical school-bound English major, to thinking about religion 
systematically, in keeping with the student's background at the Bronx 
High School of Science. After graduation Rubinstein said to his 
brother, then in rabbinical school, "I'm clear on what Christians 
think, but I'm not certain about what Jews think." Rubinstein deferred 
the M.D./Ph.D. program he'd been accepted to for a year of study at 
Hebrew Union College—then never left. Christian theology, as well as 
serious interreligious dialogue, remain a part of the adult rabbi's 
life. He chairs the board of directors of the Auburn Theological 
Seminary and has the distinction of being the only member with a Master 
of Hebrew Letters. 

David Moore '79 was married in the majestic Central Synagogue, and he 
began taking his children to Rubinstein's services when they were still 
toddlers. Moore remembers his rabbi "would call them up onto the bimah 
to stand with him. It got them more comfortable so that they liked 
being there. What greater joy for a parent than to have your children 
enjoy going to synagogue?" Rubinstein's encouraging attitude had a 
ripple effect within the congregation, as they witnessed the warmth he 
extended to children, telling them they mattered and should be 

When the temple burned, it was up to the senior rabbi to take this 
congregation he had nurtured and lead them into a new era. They faced 
enormous decisions regarding architecture, history, community and, of 
course, religion. Rubinstein needed to consult a congregation of nearly 
4,000 members, some of whom are ranking members of the political and 
social elite—Public Advocate and recent mayoral candidate Mark Green 
and Estee Lauder heir Ronald Lauder. Where did he begin? 

"The very first issue we had to confront was: Should we rebuild?" 
Rubenstein says. "Our building was completely destroyed except for its 
external walls. The roof had caved in, and everything in the interior 
[except the ark] had been destroyed by fire or water. So, what was our 
commitment to history? To our location—the heart of the commercial 
section of New York?" 

Once the congregation resolved to rebuild, Rubinstein asked the next 
question: "Do we rebuild to what we had?" Their synagogue was the 
city's oldest still in use. Built in 1872 to seat 2,000 attendants, the 
sanctuary was designed by Henry Fernbach, considered the first 
practicing Jewish architect in the United States, for a congregation 
founded by Jews from Bohemia. "The building we had in 1998 was in many 
ways different from what was there in 1870. Elements had been taken 
away, stencils had been simplified," says Rubinstein, who has studied 
the synagogue's archival photographs and plans. "So did we go back to 
1870, or 1998, or a time in 1940?" 

The answer was one of integration. Architect Hugh Hardy—who also 
renovated Radio City Music Hall—was pleased to strip away some of the 
20th-century add-ons and reveal Fernbach's original intentions.
Rubinstein, the architects and the congregation now had a structural 
concept for the restoration. But what about the spiritual vision? 
Surely today's congregation holds vastly different ideas about Judaism 
and religion than their forebears did more than a century ago, when the 
world was slower, more segregated, more authoritarian. Rubinstein began 
to consider, "What have we learned about worship that would lead us to 
evolve that building?" Members' renovation suggestions were largely 
practical—better sound, better light, easier to enter—but they pointed, 
importantly, to overall preferences for the feeling of the synagogue: 
welcoming or off-putting, safe and intelligible or cold and remote. 

Worship has undergone dramatic changes just in Rubinstein's lifetime. 
"Those of us who were in college in the '60s always see Vietnam as a 
watershed," he explains. "In certain ways [the war] did shape the idea 
of what authority was. In many ways the clergy and the pulpit represent 
authority, usually signaled architecturally as well as liturgically. 
That began to evolve, and I think the pace quickened in the '80s and 
'90s when people were gaining everything they ever thought they wanted 
and began to ask: ‘Is this all there is?'" Rubinstein looks through his 
square glasses thoughtfully, but as if he has considered and discussed 
these issues many times before. "Once you ask that question, one's 
spiritual being comes to the fore. People did not want to act as an 
audience to drama. Though there need to be elements of drama, that is 
not all we are. 

"Worship now needs greater accessibility to the front. It involves 
greater interfacing of all the elements of the service: music, worship, 
clergy, the congregation. It demands a greater sense of involvement and 
participation. And more than anything else, to build now demands that 
you know that you don't know, that worship and its needs change rapidly 
and radically." 

Despite the building's age and status as both a city and national 
historic landmark, the sanctuary has been equipped with invisible 
21st-century technology such as visual and digital sound recording 
devices to Webcast services. Restoration planners also had to 
acknowledge the current population's extended longevity. The main lobby 
was sunk to eliminate two feet of exterior stairs that were frightening 
to older people. A first-floor bathroom is unisex and spacious enough 
for physically limited seniors with opposite-sex caregivers. "I 
realized this was the case of my parents," the rabbi says.

On a tour through the building, Rubinstein, small-framed with graying 
hair and dressed in a blue suit, points out that the front 12 of the 
148 new pews—"all equally uncomfortable as the old ones"—are moveable, 
to create greater intimacy during small services. Similarly, the bimah 
functions like a trundle bed, pulling out closer to the congregation. 
Rubinstein purposefully puts his left foot on a spot at the end of a 
row, and his right a short distance apart and says, "You can straddle 
130 years." The tiles under his right foot are brighter than the ones 
to the left, but they show a precise color match. Both sets—from 1872, 
and post-restoration—were made by the same manufacturer in England.

Columns support the balcony and the seven trusses that form the basic 
structure of the synagogue. One collapsed during the fire, but the 
other six were saved. The firefighters knew these remaining trusses 
couldn't fall, and chose their means of rescue carefully; they poked a 
six-inch hole in the dominant, rose-shaped stained glass window on the 
street side of the synagogue, but quickly realized that position was 
not advantageous and saved the window. "They treated the sanctuary with 
such dignity and respect," the rabbi said. Several days after the fire 
the department returned to study the structure and create plans for 
rescuing comparable buildings in the future. Rubinstein has framed 
pictures of these men on his office wall. The man in charge of the 
rescue was killed, along with many of his workmates, during the 
collapse of the World Trade Center. This congregation, however, was 
ahead of the city in fully appreciating the fire department and other 
civic workers, though they had a hope-filled, rather than tragic, 
occasion to commemorate. Before the September 9 consecration, Central 
Synagogue had dedicated the preserved rose window to their 

Rubinstein not only implements structural changes that make the 
sanctuary and worship services inviting and accessible, he also 
develops programs that contain a vision of a collective future. Genuine 
warmth and embrace of community have come to be hallmarks of the 
rabbi's leadership style.

In a decision that might strike other leaders as unusual, Rubinstein 
has committed himself to an often overlooked social group: teenagers. 
He loves them. Talking about them makes him laugh. He directs the 
Confirmation program, a ceremony of renewed faith occurring in 10th 
grade, two years after a Bar or Bat Miztvah. 

"Teenagers can be tough, okay. I remember," Rubinstein says from a 
couch in his book-lined office. "There is something so alive and 
challenging and vital during that period of time. It's an important 
time for people who are generally anti-authority, who are seeking and 
challenging," Rubinstein says. As their rabbi, he does something 
special for teens. "I take them seriously," he says. "I care about 
them. I promise them that I will be their rabbi until they find their 
own. Wherever they go they know this is their home and they can always 
come back." A synagogue is not just a building, a house, for those who 
are present. It is a community that must be flexible and embody a 
continuous spirit. 

Sam Charap was recently reminded of being a young teenager in 
Rubinstein's congregation. An envelope from Central Synagogue arrived 
in his campus mailbox this year. Inside was a letter that a 15-year-old 
Charap had been instructed to write to himself six years ago, 
describing how he felt about himself at the time, his relationship to 
Judaism. It was "remarkable," Charap says, "I was reminded of the place 
of Judaism in my life, what it still means to me." 

This effect is exactly what Rubinstein intends. "[Writing the letters] 
does two things," he says. "Number one, it demonstrates in the most 
dramatic way that we still care about them, that [these youth] still 
have a connection to this place. The second is that it provides a time 
mark. I ask them to write about themselves and their thoughts on where 
they'd like to be, to paint a picture of what's important now, the 
things they care about and remember." Six years later the recipients 
compare themselves to the young writers, noting whether they are where 
they thought they'd be and whether their goals have changed. 

During the three years of labor-intensive restoration, the rabbi held 
out a vision for his synagogue, much as he asked his teens to do for 
themselves. But Rubinstein's aspiration for Central Synagogue wasn't 
grounded in their future house of worship; rather, it was a 
life-affirming conception of who they were as a group, as Jewish 
people. For Jews, he says, are never "locked to a particular sacred 
space." David Moore adds, "In Judaism you can have a service in the 
woods; there's no religious significance to a synagogue as a building." 
The congregation did repeat the stories of the Bible; they wandered for 
several years. Small services were held in many different 
homes—Rubinstein says he would eat hors d'oeuvres at one table and 
appetizers at the next, until over several nights he had visited all 50 
of the congregation's gathering places. 

"It was a wonderful time of journey," he says. Reminding people that 
their misfortune was not a tragedy—"A tragedy would be loss of life"—he 
emphasized continuity in the vacuum of a central space. Through this 
process a mental transition occurred: the community ceased to align 
itself with an awe-inspiring historical landmark and began to think of 
itself as something far greater. Rubinstein says, "Since then, it is 
much clearer that the sanctuary may be—how could I say this—it may be a 
projection of what we are, but it's not who we are. We are something 
much more profound and deeper than that place."

Rubinstein would come to draw upon this depth of spirit more than he 
could foresee. On Sunday, September 9, Central Synagogue was 
exuberant—celebrating their homecoming and rebirth with media, with 
civic and political figures, with New York City as a whole. "We had 
about two days of consummate joy," the rabbi recalls. 

Then came the terrorist attacks and all the mayhem and destruction of 
September 11. Because of the hope and faith with which he carried his 
synagogue from the eve of the fire until the dawn of its renaissance, 
and because of his existing connections with the fire department, a 
network of religious leaders, and politicians Guiliani and Governor 
Pataki, Rubinstein played an important role in New York City's 
response. David Moore describes him as already "ascended," through his 
brilliant congregational rapport and leadership, when real tragedy 

Rubinstein describes Guiliani's motivation in inviting him to Ground 
Zero for President Bush's emotional and photographic visit. The 
governor and the mayor "thought of [Central Synagogue] as a symbol for 
rebuilding. They introduced me to the President saying, ‘This is a 
congregation that lost its sanctuary and rebuilt. And this is exactly 
what we're going to do. They built out of the ashes.'" Bush's visit was 
on Friday, Shabbat. Moore remembers Rubinstein walking into services 
"with the dust from Ground Zero on his shoes." The sanctuary was 
packed. There were twice as many attendants as the usual 700. "Everyone 
was there to be comforted. We were all nervous." Rubinstein talked 
about his visit to the scene of the destruction, of his time with the 
president, and suddenly listeners felt, through their rabbi, a great 
connection to the city—that they, too, were involved in the communal 
mourning and the effort to understand.

With the tremendous, desperate need for prayer and memorial services, 
Rubinstein's synagogue remained a focus. Just the following week was 
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Central Synagogue had a special 
guest. Upon the mayor's entrance, "the place erupts in a standing 
ovation," Moore remembers. "There wasn't a dry eye in the place." 
Guiliani had planned to attend even before September 11, and with his 
multitude of obligations that week, people expected he would stay only 
a short time. "I asked [Guiliani] if he wanted to speak—at this point 
he was the messiah—" Rubinstein says, "and he spoke beautifully. Then 
he sat through the service. I was very moved by that. He sat with me on 
the pulpit. Afterwards I told him how touched I was." The mayor 
responded, "I needed it for me." 

In the ensuing weeks and months, citizens continued to flock to Central 
Synagogue, members, non-members, even non-Jews. "Those who had been 
saved needed to talk," 

Rubinstein says. The rabbi talked and counseled, and talked and prayed, 
and prayed more.


There's a heroic story about Rubinstein rushing into the synagogue the 
night of the 1998 fire to save a historic Torah, one that had been 
rescued from the Nazis. He did run in, and though he wasn't the one to 
break the glass case with his elbow, as the newspapers reported, 
Rubinstein admits to pulling out the Torah and carrying it to safety, a 
feat that greatly upset the fire department. He shrugs, as if he is 
amused by the "myth," as he calls it. "Who knows if my life was in 
danger? I mean, there was fire and there was smoke, but I thought, 
‘Rabbis are invulnerable.'" Then he sent the congregation to pray. 

  Dohany Synagogue in Budapest

Henry Fernbach based his designd for the Central Synagogue on the Dohany Synagogue in Budapest. Some images:


The Great Synagogue in Dohány Street, Budapest

Exterior View of the Dohány Street Synagogue, 1982
Beth Hatefutsoth Visual Documentation Center
Courtesy of Gabor Hegyi
Yom Kippur in the Dohány Street Synagogue, 1980
Beth Hatefutsoth Visual Documentation Center

The Great Synagogue in Dohány Street, also known as the Dohány Synagogue, or the Tabac-Schul, the Yiddish translation of dohány (tobacco), after the Hungarian name of the street, is located in Belváros, the inner city of Pest, in the eastern section of Budapest. It was built between 1854-1859 by the Neolog Jewish community of Pest according to the plans of the Viennese architect Ludwig Foerster. The synagogue neighbors a major Budapest thoroughfare expressing the optimism and the newly elevated status of the Hungarian Jews in the mid years of the 19th century.

It is a monumental, magnificent synagogue, with a capacity of 2,964 seats (1,492 for men and 1,472 in the women's galleries) making it one of the largest in the world. The building has a length of more than 53 meters while its width has 26.5 meters. The design of the Dohány Street synagogue, while basically in a Moorish style, also features a mixture of Byzantine, Romantic, and Gothic elements.

The western facade boasts arched windows with stone-carved decorations and brickwork in the heraldic colors of the Budapest: blue, yellow and red. The western main entrance has a stained glass rose window above it. The gateway is flanked on both sides by two polygonal towers with long arched windows and crowned by copper domes with golden ornaments. The towers rise to a height of 43.6 meters each, their decoration features stone carvings of geometric forms and clocks with a diameter of 1.34 meters each. The facade is topped by the Tables of Covenant.

The synagogue's interior, designed by F. Feszl, has wall surfaces adorned with colored and golden geometric shapes. The Holy Ark is located on the eastern wall, facing the nearby Bimah. The choir-gallery is situated above the Holy Ark, while the women's galleries, supported by steel ornamented poles, are located at the upper levels on both southern and northern sides of the synagogue. During the 1933 renovation works of the synagogue a mikveh was revealed under the Holy Ark.

The 5,000 tube synagogue organ was built in 1859; Franz Liszt and C. Saint-Saens are probably the most famous musicians that played on this remarkable instrument.

M. Friedman, A. Lazarus, Z. Quartin, and M. Abrahamsohn are among the distinguished cantors from the Great Synagogue in Dohány Street that gained world recognition.  Theodore Herzl, whose house of birth was located in the vicinity of the synagogue, had his Bar Mitzvah celebrated in this synagogue.

In 1944, the Dohány Street Synagogue was included first in a military district, then in an internment camp for the city Jews. Adolph Eichmann turned it in a concentration point from which the Nazis sent many of the Budapest Jews to their extermination. Over two thousand of those who died in the ghetto from hunger and cold are buried in the courtyard of the synagogue. The synagogue was also used as a shelter, and towards the end of World War 2, the building suffered some severe damage from aerial raids during the battle for the liberation of Budapest.

After World War 2, the damaged structure became again a prayer house for the much-diminished Jewish community.  Only in 1991, following the return to democracy in Hungary, the renovation works could start and were completed in 1996 when once again the building was restored to its former beauty.

In 1991 a monument dedicated to the memory of the Hungarian Jews who perished in the Holocaust was installed in the rear courtyard of the synagogue, in a small park named for Raoul Wallenberg. The Holocaust memorial, the work of Imre Varga, resembles a weeping willow whose leaves bear inscriptions with the names of the victims and boasts the inscription Whose agony is greater than mine. 240 non-Jewish Hungarians "righteous among the nations", who saved Jews during the Holocaust, are inscribed on four large marble plaques. The memorial was made possible by the generous support of the New York based Emanuel Foundation for Hungarian Culture, with funds raised from private donors. The National Jewish Museum (Orszagos Zsido Vallasi es Torteneti Gyujtemeny) is located within the synagogue compound.

Today the Great Synagogue in Dohány Street, for a long time one of the most renowned landmarks of Budapest, is serving as the main synagogue of the local Jewish community as well as a major tourist attraction.


In the Land of Hagar