Saturday, 24 April 2021

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
67, the Old Synagogue, Kraków

The Old Synagogue in Kraków was built in 1407 and is the oldest Jewish house of prayer in Poland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

This week, I am offering photographs of synagogues that have welcomed me over the years and offered a place of prayer and reflection. My photographs this morning (23 April 2021) are from the Old Synagogue in Kraków.

The seven main synagogues in he heart of the old Jewish District of Kazimierz in Kraków form one of the largest complexes of this kind in Europe, second only to Prague. This unique district has been on the list of Unesco world heritage sites since 1978.

From the early 12th century, Kraków was an influential centre of Jewish spiritual life, including Orthodox, Chasidic and Reform communities that all flourished side-by-side. Before the Nazi German invasion of Poland, Kraków had a Jewish community of 60,000-80,000 people in a city with a population of 237,000, and there were at least 90 Jewish prayer houses.

The Old Synagogue (Synagoga Stara), at the south end of Szeroka Street, was built in 1407, making it the oldest Jewish house of prayer in Poland. The present appearance of the building date from remodelling between 1557 and 1570. The parapet and Gothic interior, with ribbed vaulting supported by slender columns, date from this period.

In accordance with Jewish traditional practices, the interior of the hall is almost bare. The east wall retains its ornamental Aron haKodesh or sanctuary for the Torah scrolls. The only item of furniture is the bimah or reading desk used for reading the Torah, with its surrounding decorative ironwork.

Today, the Old Synagogue houses the Galicia Jewish Museum. The museum exhibits include synagogue furnishings and objects, items used in Jewish rituals and festivals, display boards on the history of the Kazimierz District, and the story of the Holocaust. The numerous items related to religious ceremonies include candle holders, both Chanukah and menorot lamps, covers for the Torah, parochot Holy Ark covers, tallit prayer shawls, and kippahs or yarmulkes. The collection of books and prints includes 2,500 volumes of Hebrew manuscripts. The paintings on exhibit include oil paintings by Maurycy Gottlieb, Józef Mehoffer, Tadeusz Popiel, Jerzy Potrzebowski and Jonasz Stern.

Most of the synagogues in Kraków were ruined during World War II. The Nazis robbed them of all their ceremonial objects and decorations and used the buildings to store ammunition and military equipment.

By the end of the 1940s, the post-Holocaust Jewish population of Kraków had dwindled to about 5,900. A generation later, this number had fallen even more dramatically to about 600. In recent years, many of the synagogues and prayer-houses have been restored, and these seven synagogues are all within walking distance.

A monument on the plaza in front of the Old Synagogue commemorates a group of local people who were murdered for their resistance to the Nazis.

The Old Synagogue now houses the Galicia Jewish Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 6: 60-69 (NRSVA):

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’

66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ 68 Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’

A monument on the plaza in front of the Old Synagogue commemorates local resistance to the Nazis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (24 April 2021) invites us to pray:

We pray for cooperation and friendship across borders. Let us resist nationalism and work together for the common good.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Shattered gravestones make a Holocaust memorial in a Jewish cemetery in Kraków (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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