THE BETH HA-KENESETH SYNAGOGUE: a place of worship
Inaugurated on Friday 14th December 1888, the monumental synagogue designed by the engineer Leale in a classical Pompeian style, was vandalized causing irreversible damage the night before its official recognition as a national monument in July 1971; only the perimeter remains intact. From the time of construction the building is bound under the protection of the Superintendence. Some furnishings were transferred to the Temple in Alessandria: 18 desks with storage for books; two special shaped seats located on either side of the Holy Ark; two paintings with names of the donors; tre Lichraoth Torà. As every synagogue, also the one in Acqui was the gravitational centre of Jewish community life: for annual occasions, for the study of the Torà, in the school (scola) or pio Levi institute, attended by pupils age 4 to 12-13 years old; as an enclosed agora, it was an elected place for board meetings and heads of households, even after the Acquese community was incorporated as a "section" dependent on the one in Alessandria, on the basis of the decree of 30th October 1930.
The synagogue was located on the first floor of the building in via Saracco, close to Piazza Bollente, where from 1731 to 1848 was the Jewish Ghetto. It was made up of different spaces with specific destinations for use: the home of the Rabbi (the last one for over 50 years was Adolfo Salvatore Ancona, who lived in Acqui in his last years with his granddaughter Clotilde and his daughter-in-law Lina Salomoni; he died in Milan in 1952), the school (scola), the library of sacred and profane books, the janitor's room, a small guest house, a prayer room. It had a rectangular and "modern" plan compared to the other Piedmontese synagogues all with a central plan, divided into two parts: one for the officiants and one for the public. The Tevah was reserved for the Rabbi and the officiants. The sacred cabinet, or Aròn HaKodesh, containing the Torah scrolls was set in the wall, covered with the mantle (meil), over which was the crown (ataroth) adorned with the plate (tas); the Rabbi's chair and that of the Hazàn, the lamp perpetually lit (Ner Tamid) suspended from the ceiling in front of the Aròn, the Lichrahot Torà or throne on which the scroll was open for the reading of the para-shah on Saturdays. The Tevah was separated from the space for the public (two-thirds of the room was covered by two parallel rows of benches) by a low marble colonnade, completed at the sides by two impressive fluted columns, extended to the ceiling and bounded by the trabeation containing the two Tables of the Law, and the epigraph "KNOW BEFORE WHOM YOU STAND". The internal wall perimeter featured epigraphs with texts of the Torah and the psalmists chosen by the Rabbi Lazzaro Ottolenghi for the inauguration of the Temple. That of the epigraphs was one of three "decorative" elements of the elegant and austere temple of Acqui, which was chosen as high symbolism of the Law: the Word, in this case, or rather the north star, the action of the believer. The second "decorative" element of strong symbolic value was the column, described in Exodus as the theophany presence "of fire or smoke" as a protection of the chosen people, and symbol of the orthopraxis notion: "be columns of the temple". The columns of the temple were also reinforcements of the balustrade of the upper gallery (at the top, near the attic, in the wall opposite the Tevah; the women’s lower gallery extended in the shape of a U over three walls) and as pilasters of windows (also blind) overlooking the internal perimeter above the women’s galleries. The third “decorative” and symbolic element was light, radiated by gas and oil lamps and by the enormous skylight placed under-roof above the Tevah, and represented the Light of knowledge, that by means of the Law guided people.
The synagogue, as a temple of prayer, was frequented for recurring " feasts " during the Jewish year (recalling the history of the errant people) and on occasion of births, bars (bat) mitzvà and weddings. Funerals were celebrated in the cemetery, with a transition in the mourning chamber for eventual lustra and recital of the Kaddish: the material, impure element in decomposition, could not be compared to what is apically pure (the Torah, word of D-o) was in the synagogue.
HOLY DAYS AND FESTIVALS
Shabbat - the seventh day dedicated to D-o as a commemoration of creation and most sacred institution.
Pesach (Passover) - commemorates the end of Egyptian slavery (Pesach means passage) and the conquest of the promised land.
Shavuoth - feast of the offering of the first harvest to the temple, 50 days after Pesah.
Rosh Hashanah - the Jewish New Year, observance and celebration begins on the first day of Tishrei, between September and October and celebrates the creation of the world.
Kippur - The day of Atonement and repentance to God, recital of prayers on the graves of ancestors (ten days after New Year's Eve)
Sukkot - celebrates the gathering of the harvest – Feast of Tabernacles: recalls the pilgrimage in the desert, the temporary shelters in the Diaspora as well as the temporary nature of life.
Hannukà - the celebration of light (from 9th – 16th December): it recalls the miracle of the light that burned for eight days without oil, in the newly inaugurated temple. The light symbolizes the divine Illumination.
Purìm - the feast of Lots: It commemorates the survival of the Jews in ancient Persia, already condemned to death by King Ahasuerus but saved by his bride Esther, who proclaims herself Jewish and obtains the salvation for herself and her people.
CELEBRATIONS FOR SPECIAL EVENTS
Birth - presentation of the newborn to the Temple 8 days after for the imposing of the name in front of the community; also for the circumcision ritual (milà).
Bar(bat) mitzvah or rite of passage to adulthood. Boys (13 years old) and girls (12 years old) read the Saturday para-shah in front of the Community in the Synagogue and prove that they are adult Jews by mastering the sacred language and commandments of the Torah.
Marriage: the couple under the chuppah in the Temple,, the canopy symbol of the hearth, attend the reading of the ketubbah or marriage contract. The Rabbi reads the blessings, the bride and groom drink a sip of wine from the same cup, the groom gives the wedding ring to the bride; blessings and songs accompany the bridal couple. Finally the groom breaks a glass to symbolize the eternal memory of the destroyed Temple.
Since 2001, Remembrance Day has been commemorated in the cemetery and at the historical sites of the ghetto and Temple; the procession stops at the Wood of the Righteous, at the Stumbling Stones, at the places where the partisans were executed. The Bishop of Acqui together with a representative of the Rabbi of Genoa recite prayers for the deportees in the cemetery and at the Temple. Students from the local schools recall in memorial the identities of the 33 local Jews deported (28) and non-Jews (5). Songs and music accompany the civil commemoration.
The initiative is promoted by: ACI , MEIC , ASSOCIAZIONE PER PER LA PACE E LA NON VIOLENZA, ANPI, CENTRO CULTURALE GALLIANO, COMMISSIONE DIOCESANA PER IL DIALOGO TRA RELIGIONI.
WITH THE COLLABORATION OF: LICEO PARODI E I.S. LEVI - MONTALCINI, I.C. SARACCO-BELLA, I.C. MONTEVERDE - SAN DEFENDENTE, EQUAZIONE, ARCHICULTURA, FONDAZIONE DE ROTHSCHILD DI RIVALTA BORMIDA, ASSOCIAZIONE MEMORIA VIVA DI CANELLI. WITH THE PATRONAGE OF THE COMUNE DI ACQUI TERME, ISRAL
EUROPEAN DAY OF JEWISH CULTURE.
Organized with the support of a cultural volunteer and the patronages of:
Comune di Acqui Terme;
UCEI (Union of Italian Jewish Communities)
and the collaboration of : Associazione Amici Musei Acquesi; Fondazione De Rothchild; Centro Studi Galliano, Archicultura, Istituti Scolastici Acquesi.
TEXT WRITTEN BY the PROF.SSA LUISA RAPETTI
VIRTUAL IMAGES - GRAPHIC ELABORATIONS: arch. STEFANO PERELLI.
PHOTOS: Studio Barisone, Acqui.