Inaugurated on Friday 14th December 1888, the monumental synagogue designed by the engineer Leale in a classical Pompeian style was destroyed the night before its official recognition as a national monument in July 1971. The perimeter is still preserved from its construction under the supervision of the Superintendence, while some pieces of the synagogues furniture were moved to the Temple in Alessandria: 18 pews with storage compartments for books; two special pews originally located on either side of the Holy Ark; two paintings with the names of the donors; three Lichraoth Torà. As with every synagogue, the Acquese one was the main gravitational centre of the Jewish community life: for annual occasions, for the study of the Torà and in the school (scola) or pious Levi institute of general learning attended by 4 to 12/13 years old pupils; as a closed agora it was elected as a place for meetings of the boards of directors and heads of families, even after the Acquese community merged as a "section" under the one in Alessandria, on the basis of the decree of the 30th October 1930.
The ghetto was situated on the first floor of the building in via Saracco, near Piazza Bollente, from 1731 to 1848. It was made up of different rooms for specific uses: the house of the Rabbi (the last one for over fifty 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 1952 in Milan), the school (scola), the library of sacred and profane books, the janitor's room, a small guesthouse, the prayer room. With a rectangular and "modern" plan compared to the other Piedmontese synagogues all with a central plan, it was divided into two parts: for the ministers and for the public. The Tevah was only for the Rabbi and the ministers. The sacred cabinet, or Aròn Ha-Kodesh, 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 pew and the Hazàn’s, the lamp perpetually lit (Ner Tamid) coming down 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 Saturday.
The Tevah was in a room closed to the public (2/3 of the room was covered by two parallel rows of pews) by a low marble colonnade, ending at the sides with two massive fluted columns, stretching to the ceiling and linked by the entablature containing the two Tables of the Law and the epigraph "REMEMBER WHO IS IN FRONT OF YOU". The internal wall perimeter featured epigraphs with texts of the Torah and the psalmists chosen by Rabbi Lazzaro Ottolenghi at the time of the inauguration of the Temple. The internal wall perimeter featured epigraphs with texts of the Torah and the psalmists chosen by Rabbi Lazzaro Ottolenghi at the inauguration of the Temple. The epigraph was one of the three "decorative" elements of the elegant and austere temple of Acqui, which were chosen for their high symbolism of the Law: the Word, in this case, or the polar star as guide of the believers. The second "decorative" element of high symbolic value was the column, the theophonic presence "of fire or smoke" in the Exodus for the protection of the chosen people, and symbol of the imposed orthopraxis: "be columns of the temple". The columns of Acqui’s temple were also used to reinforce 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 light, radiated by gas and oil lamps and by the huge skylight placed on the roof above the Tevah, was the third decorative and symbolic element representing the Light of knowledge guiding people through the law.
The synagogue, as a temple of prayer, was used to celebrate the recurrent " days " of the Jewish year (recalling the history of the errant people) and on occasion of births, bars (bat) mitzvà and weddings. The funerals were celebrated in the cemetery, with a passage into the mourning chamber for any lustratio, and Kaddish recitation: the material element in decomposition, impure, could not be compared to what is implicitly pure (the Torah, word of D-o) was in the synagogue.
Shabath: the seventh day dedicated to D-o in memory of the accomplished creation and key institution of Judaism.
Pesach (Passover): it marks the end of the Egyptian slavery (pesach means passage) and conquest of the promised land.
Shavuoth: celebration of the offering of the first harvest to the temple, 50 days after Pesah.
Rosh ha-shanah: recurring on New Year's Eve on the 1st tishri, between September and October, it celebrates the creation of the world.
Kippur (Atonement): the day of penitence and thanksgiving to God, recitation of prayers of repentance in the synagogue on the graves of the ancestors (ten days after New Year's Eve)
Sukkoth, the feast of huts: it recalls the peregrination in the desert, the temporary shelters in the Diaspora and at the same time the temporary nature of life.
Hannukà, the celebration of lights (9th – 16th December): it recalls the miracle of the light that miraculously burned for eight days without oil, in the newly inaugurated temple. The light symbolizes the divine Illumination.
Purìm, the feast of the reversal of destiny: It commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia, already condemned to death by King Ahasuerus but saved by Esther, wife of Ahasuerus, 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 and also for the circumcision ritual (milà).
Bar(bat) mitzwah or ritual of passage to adulthood. When a Jewish boy turns 13, and a girl 12 they have all the rights and obligations of a Jewish adult, from this moment they can read the Saturday parashah in the synagogue in front of the Community and show that they are adult Jews by mastering the sacred language and commandments of the Torah.
Marriage: the couple in the Temple, under the chuppah, the canopy symbol of the hearth, attend the reading of the ketubbah or marriage contract, the Rabbi reads the blessings, the bride and the groom drink a sip of wine from the same cup, the groom gives the wedding ring to the bride; blessings and songs accompany the bride and groom. Finally the groom breaks a glass to symbolize the eternal memory of the destroyed Temple.
Since 2001 the 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 and a representative of the Rabbi of Genoa have always recited the prayers for the deportees in the cemetery and at the Temple. Students from Acqui’s 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:
DAY OF JEWISH CULTURE.
The day is organized with the support of a cultural volunteer and under the patronages of the following institutions:
Municipality of Acqui Terme;
UCEI (Union of Italian Jewish Communities)
With the collaboration of the:
Association of Friends of Aquai Museums,
Galliano Study Centre,
Acqui Terme schools
TEXTS OF LUISA RAPETTI
VIRTUAL IMAGES - GRAPHIC ELABORATIONS: arch. STEFANO PERELLI.
PHOTOS: Studio Barisone, Acqui.