The Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art in Jerusalem preserves the heritage of Italian Jewry going back thousands of years. The museum is home to the Conegliano Veneto Synagogue, an Italian synagogue that was dismantled and brought to Israel in 1951, then reconstructed in its entirety.
The museum and synagogue are housed within a former German Compound (Schmidt Compound) built in 1875 by the German Catholic Society in Palestine as a monastery and school for girls of Syrian-Christian descent. Over the years the compound was used for various purposes including a hospice for pilgrims and a base for charitable activities.
The monastery moved and the Italian community was given permission to hold prayer services in the compound in the 1940s. When the synagogue arrived in the Holy Land, it was rebuilt on the second floor of the compound building where it remains today.
History of Jerusalem’s Italian Synagogue
The synagogue came from the small village of Conegliano located between Padua and Venice in northern Italy. Jews first settled in Conegliano in 1397-8 and took on the role of moneylenders. The village’s Jewish population thrived in the 16th-century but in 1637 they were confined to a ghetto.
They built the synagogue within the ghetto in 1701. The last service held in the synagogue was in 1917 during World War I. Austro-Hungarian troops were passing through Italy and looking for a place to hold Yom Kippur services when they heard of the Conegliano synagogue. The synagogue was abandoned until 1951 when it was brought to Israel.
Today the synagogue is open to visitors touring the Italian Jewish Art Museum in the same building. The synagogue is still used today and is the heart of the Italian Jewish community in Jerusalem.
Features of the Conegliano Synagogue in Jerusalem
The Rococo synagogue holds a precious Torah Ark containing the holy Torah scrolls closed within intricately carved wooden doors adorned with gold leaf. The lower section of the walls is covered with wood paneling and the reader’s table stands opposite the Torah Ark. Wooden benches are set along the length of the room. The women’s section is on an upper floor, with galleries overlooking the men’s section and intricately carved wooden screens.