The Ohel Leah Synagogue, Hong Kong
by Erica Lyons
Erica Lyons is the publisher and managing editor of Asian Jewish Life magazine. She contributed this article for the website of Beit Hatfutsot (August, 2011)
The construction of Ohel Leah Synagogue (OLS) began with the laying of the foundation stone on 7 August 1901 by Abraham Jacob Raymond in a project initiated by the Sassoon brothers, Jacob, Edward and Myer. The initial structure was completed in early 1902 and named to commemorate the Sasson brothers’ mother Leah. It was built in colonial style and incorporated elements from the Edwardian free classical-style. The exterior is flanked by two impressive octagonal towers. The interior of the synagogue was based on a simple rectangular basilica plan with a relatively open floor plan. Polished Aberdeen granite columns, a central elevated bimah enclosed by carved wood balustrades on three sides, and heavy, rich wood benches include a number of elements reflective of its Baghdadi/ Sephardi heritage. The women’s gallery, located on the second storey, runs along three sides of the hall.
Due to significant wear and tear over nearly a century, as well as a series of ad hoc additions and alterations, the decision was made to embark on a large scale restoration and conservation program. The project commenced in 1996 and was completed in 1998. A formal rededication ceremony was held on October 18, 1998. The project received an Outstanding Project Award in the inaugural UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage 2000 Awards.
The synagogue today serves Hong Kong’s Modern Orthodox community. OLS follows Nusach Sephardi (Ashkenazi Nusach incorporating some Sephardi customs). The Synagogue staff includes both a rabbi and a youth rabbi. Inside the synagogue’s compound, there is also the Hong Kong Jewish Community Centre, the community’s preschool and the Mikveh.
The Jewish Community of Hong Kong