New synagogue model, Alexandria, Egypt
New synagogue model from Alexandria added to the famous BH collection
A new model of the “Eliyahu Hanavi” synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt, has been added to the 20 other models in the famous Beit Hatfutsot collection displayed in the permanent exhibition. The model was dedicated on June 18 to the memory of Sami (Samuel) Cohen by his sister Shosh Hadar, with the support of the International Association of Jews from Egypt. “The heritage of Egyptian Jewry was very important to my brother Sami,” Shosh Hadar recounts. “He was meticulous in keeping all the holiday customs, the prayers and foods that were customary in Egypt, and he was very active in unifying Egyptian Jews because he believed in keeping the tradition.”
The synagogue model was added to the Beit Hatfutsot collection at a special luncheon with The Board of Governors, who heard about the history and significance of the building from academic consultant to the project Professor David M. Cassuto. The luncheon was followed by a festive inauguration and screening of a film by Rotem Kipnis about the project. The event was attended by some 150 guests, including Shosh and Amos Hadar, the model-maker Pesach Roder, President of the International Association of Jews from Egypt Levana Zamir, historian and keynote speaker Mr. Benny Vidal, extended family, and members of the Egyptian Jewish community,
“Whenever my brother would visit Beit Hatfutsot, he would say that the exhibition is missing a model of an Egyptian synagogue,” Ms. Hadar recalled. “When he died in January 2010, I went to Beit Hatfutsot and asked to memorialize him by donating a model of the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria. It was, in my opinion, his unwritten bequest.”
In the absence of plans for the structure, the synagogue model was constructed essentially on the basis of photographs, requiring skillful and creative design, intuition and craftsmanship. The model reflects the façade and interior of the synagogue from the 20th century, that which is familiar to those who visit it today.
“We are honored that Beit Hatfutsot has become the home of this wonderful synagogue model,” Beit Hatfutsot CEO Avinoam Armoni said. “We are extremely grateful to Ms. Shosh Hadar for choosing Beit Hatfutsot as the place to eternalize the memory of her beloved brother, Sami (Samuel) Cohen, z”l.”
About the Synagogue
Reconstruction of the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue in Alexandria apparently began towards the mid-19th century. Undertaken through the efforts of the then Egyptian leader, Mohammad Ali, the structure was built on the ruins of the old synagogue, which had been destroyed by Napolean’s army. The building project was launched under the direction of Rabbi Salomon Hazan, who served as the chief rabbi of the city, with the aid of Moshe Montefiore and the support of dignitaries from the local community. An Italian architect designed and orchestrated the construction of the edifice.
The new synagogue was inaugurated in 1850, and by the first half of the 20th century, it was considered the most important synagogue in Alexandria (as evidenced by the translation from Arabic: “Keniss El-Balad” or “the synagogue of the city”); it functioned as the center of religious life for the city’s Jewish community, whose history dates back to the 3rd century B.C.
The building is situated on Nabi Daniel Street, near community offices, the Rabbinical Court, and the elementary school. Both the exterior and interior of the synagogue are similar to a Neo-Classical cathedral with Neo-Gothic ornamentation.
Two splendid colonnades of pink marble, topped by hand-made Greek capitals, divide the sanctuary into three sections consisting of two aisles and the nave. Above the aisles are two galleries supported by arches held up by pillars. The aisles and galleries were added to the building in 1865, providing a place for Ezrat Nashim (seating for women), as well as for the choir and organ.
The interior division of the synagogue is also reflected in the building’s façade. The center section is taller than the sections where the aisles are located. A large Gothic window stands above the entrance, its elevated cornice decorated by an arabesque carved in stone. A Shield of David is positioned above the stone relief.
The seating arrangement in the synagogue, as well as the place for the hazzan, integrate Sephardic tradition (including seating in the form of a ‘het’) with Ashkenazi tradition.
Design and Production of the Model: Pesach Ruder
Production Assistant: Julia Ruder-Chenckirov
Project Manager: Geula Goldberg
Fund Raising: Enia Zeevi Kupfer
Academic Consultant: Prof. David M. Cassuto
President, International Assoc. of Jews from Egypt: Levana Zamir
The model will be displayed in the Beit Hatfutsot lobby for until October 31, and then will join the synagogue model collection in the permanent exhibition.