Libeň Synagogue

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Libeň SynagogueThe Jewish quarter in Libeň was the second most signifi cant Jewish settlement spanning over today’s Prague City area, it was second only to the Old Town Josefov. It stretched between today’s streets Voctářova, Kozelužská, Vojenova and the now defunct streets Jirchářská and Kožní. It is no longer possible to defi ne when the Jews started to settle here, but it is probable that it happened in the fi rst half of the sixteenth century as a consequence of the Jews being expelled from king’s towns in 1541 and 1557. The old synagogue from 1592, which stood at the very center of the Jewish settlement in Koželužská Street, was rebuilt in 1770 after being used for two centuries. Frequent fl oods, which always used to hit Libeň, caused the synagogue to become unfi t for use because it stood in an area that was hit the hardest and authorities were considering its demolition especially due to the eff ects of a severe fl ood in 1845. The founding stone of the new building was laid on November 23rd 1846 in a ceremony attended by the archduke Štěpán and the new synagogue was festively consecrated twelve years later.

Triple aisle building with a rectangular ground plan proves the time of its establishment, the period of early Roman historicism. The popular Neo Romanesque architectural style with Moor elements was selected for the building. The monolith of the two storey building is capped over the rectangular ground plan by a saddle roof. The original facade had distinct decorative stucco with a core design lining the crown ledge as well as both gables. The western face has a three sectional high entrance with three sheet metal covered portals and placed above this is a large rounded top window, which used to have richly decorated stucco lining with the traditional ten commandment design and the Star of David at the top. A simple east side facade has a preserved round window that contains a six pointed stucco star fi lled with colored stained glass. The facade was simplifi ed in the 1930’s. The interior of the Libeň synagogue has a traditional basilica resemblance. The entrance to the synagogue’s main area hides behind a foyer, which contains a simple sink on the left side for traditional washing of hands before worship and also two solid newel staircases entering the upper balcony that stand opposite each other. The main area is then arranged in a high three aisle style with side upper balcony arcades always placed atop 5 huge pillars. The arcades are semicircular cross arched on the ground fl oor as well as the second fl oor and the four sectional dome of the main aisle has the same character. The third upper balcony side at the west is suffi ciently expanded in the lower level. Walls and pillars were decorated with a painted marble imitation, part of the stucco décors has a festive polychrome color where blue and green prevail.

Libeň SynagogueThe interior space copies the arrangement of Christian churches with rows of pews are situated to the eastern side where we also see the elevated Bimah showing traces of the place for a Shulchan (table for reading from the Torah), and at the edge we have a decorated railing. Aaron (tabernacle for the placement of the Torah) is wooden, thin columns along the sides of the chest bear a semicircular extension with gold Hebrew sign and the Star of David at the center. Underneath these is a series of embossed symbols reminding the original temple of Salomon in Jerusalem. A gold plated carved Crown of David is placed at the top. Some remains of the original electrical festive lighting are preserved atop the Aaron.

During the Second World War the Jews in Libeň were gradually deported to concentration camps. In 1941 the Libeň Synagogue was shut down and converted to a warehouse storing confi scated Jewish property just as all other synagogues in the Czech Republic. After the war the decimated Jewish community was never revived in Libeň. Shortly thereafter anti-Semitism strengthened again, this time under a diff erent ideological label and this caused the synagogue to further dilapidate. It kept being used as a warehouse. Initially as a produce warehouse, later the nearby S. K. Neumann Theater (today’s Pod Palmovkou Theater) stored their props here. At the end of the 1950’s Bohumil Hrabal worked here as a props technician. At that time he lived in the nearby house Na Hrázi no. 24. Several blocks were taken down in the immediate vicinity of the synagogue in the 1980’s relative to the construction of the B line metro stop Palmovka. Th is has also put a defi nite end to the original rabbinate, which was the administrative building for the synagogue as well as the entire Jewish town. The synagogue itself was removed from the demolition plans just at the last minute. Following 1989 the synagogue was returned to the Jewish Community in Prague and since 1995 the building, to that day known under the name Synagogue in Palmovka or Libeň Synagogue, started to be regularly used for social events organized by the Serpens Association. Its main objective is the organization of artistic, theatrical and musical events and the mutual connecting of individual fi elds of art.

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