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JMM Insights: The Oldest Synagogues, Part II

Posted on September 25th, 2020 by

In addition to host Sheilah Kast, and historian Jonathan Sarna, the evening will also feature cantorial musical selections and Jewish hymns of the mid-19th century, performed by Cantor Robbie Solomon, as well as original recordings from the 1964 rededication ceremony of the synagogue. As Marvin pointed out in this Jmore article, “This ceremony hadn’t been heard in about 50 years,” said Pinkert. “It was Gil Sandler’s recording of Lester Levy and other Jewish leaders at the dedication.”

As promised in last week’s edition of JMM Insights, we’re back to explore more of the oldest synagogues from around the world. You may remember our recent Jewish Museums Around the World series where we virtually visited Jewish museums in England, South Africa, and Australia. I thought these would be the perfect “first stops” on today’s look at historic synagogues!

Hobart Synagogue, c.1890 by the Pretyman Family. Courtesy of the Libraries Tasmania’s online collection.

Starting in the Antipodes, did you know the oldest surviving synagogue building in Australia is the same age as the Lloyd Street Synagogue? Well, technically we’re just a smidge younger – the Hobart Synagogue in Tasmania was consecrated on July 4, 1845 and LSS was dedicated on September 26. While LSS is designed in the Greek revival style, the Hobart Synagogue was built in the Egyptian revival style. The carvings, inscriptions, and details of the building emphasized the story of Exodus which resonated strongly with the Jewish population of the time, many of whom had arrived in Australia as convicts who struggled to win their freedom. You can learn more about the Hobart Synagogue here.

The “Old” Synagogue of Cape Town. Photo by Mervyn Saxe, courtesy of the Jewish Museum, image via.

Moving westward across the water we head to South Africa – Cape Town to be exact. There’s some similarities to us folks here at the Jewish Museum of Maryland as well – like the LSS, South Africa’s oldest purpose-built synagogue, St. John’s Street Synagogue, is part of the South African Jewish Museum campus, as is the Great Synagogue, which represents the oldest Jewish congregation in South Africa. I wonder how many other Jewish museums have two historic synagogues on their campuses? The St. John’s Street Synagogue, also know as the Old Synagogue, was consecration in 1863, and like the Hobart Synagogue of Australia, was built in the “Egyptian style.” You can take a virtual tour of the South African Jewish Museum here.

Outside gate of Bevis Marks, courtesy of

Heading north, let’s move to the United Kingdom. The oldest synagogue in continuous use is the Bevis Marks Synagogue, built in 1701 in London, England! The Bevis Marks Synagogue was established by a Sephardic congregation and was built by a Quaker, Joseph Avis. The interior of the synagogue was modeled on the 1677 Amsterdam synagogue and the exterior architecture is similar to other “non-conformist chapels” of the time (that is, different from the prevailing Anglican Church style). Learn more about the history of Bevis Marks – including its two brushes with explosive damage – here. You might also enjoy this Open University Exploring Religion in London video on the Bevis Marks Synagogue.

The Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, October 1955. Photo by Willem van de Poll, courtesy of the Netherlands National Archive.

Let’s jump over to the “new” world for our next few stops. Our next destination was recommended by JMM Insights reader David W.: the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue in Curaçao. Also known as the Snoa, this synagogue building was built in 1730 in the Dutch Colonial style. Similar to our own pink Lloyd Street Synagogue, the Curaçao Synagogue has a bright exterior – in their case a sunny yellow matching many of the surrounding buildings. Like the St. Thomas Synagogue, it also has a sand covered floor. Its interior is very similar to the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam. Another connection to Baltimore, the “Monumental City”? Curaçao is known as an “Island of Monuments,” with over 860 protected monuments and historical sites!

The Synagogue of Congregation Emanu-El. Image via.

Traveling to cooler climes, lets’ check out Congregation Emanu-El, the oldest synagogue building still in use in Canada. Designed in the Romanesque Revival style by architect John Wright, the synagogue was built in 1863 with a town-wide gala celebrating the laying of the cornerstones in a surprisingly socially inclusive way. Once again, we find parallels to the history of our own Lloyd Street Synagogue. To protect the building during an early-20th century decline, windows were blocked, the original exterior was covered with stucco, and a false ceiling was installed.  But starting in 1978, through the efforts of a group of volunteers (sound familiar?), the building was restored to its original appearance, a project completed in 1982.

Model of the Paradesi Synagogue at the Beit Hatfutsot Museum. Image via.

For our final two stops of this week we’ll head to the other side of the globe. Penultimate stop: India. The Paradesi Synagogue in South India is the oldest synagogue in India still in use (some older synagogue buildings still stand, including the Paravur Synagogue, built in 1615 ACE; the Chendamangalam Synagogue, built in 1614 ACE; and the Mala Synagogue, built in 1400, but like the Lloyd Street Synagogue serve as monuments and historic sites for visitors). The Paradesi Synagogue was built in 1568 and was built by Sephardic Jews. The land the synagogue is built on was given to the Jewish community by the Rajah of Cochin and was literally next to his palace. One interior feature of note are the hand-painted porcelain tiles that pave the floor!

Entrance gate to the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue. Photo by Esme_Vos via Flickr.

Our final destination in this edition of JMM Insights takes us to Myanmar (once known as Burma). The Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue is the oldest and only remaining synagogue in Myanmar. The current building replaced an original wooden structure in 1896. While the building was recently painted white, for most of its life it was sky-blue and pale yellow. At its peak, this synagogue housed 126 Torahs, but as the Jewish community left for new locales they took many with them, leaving only two remaining in the historic building. In 2008 the building lost its roof to Cyclone Nargis but thanks to funds by the US-ASEAN Business council, the building was restored and continues to be maintained as an important historic site and tourist destination.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this whirlwind tour of just some of the oldest synagogues around the world. Let us know if you’ve enjoyed this two-part series and would like to see future editions of JMM Insights on this topic.


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JMM Insights: The Oldest Synagogues

Posted on September 18th, 2020 by

You may have already heard, but we’re celebrating a pretty big anniversary this year.

The Lloyd Street Synagogue is turning 175 years old! On October 1st we’re going to celebrate in (virtual) style with a fantastic evening of stories and memories about this one-of-a-kind landmark and we hope you’ll join us, along with host Sheilah Kast and historian Jonathan Sarna.

As a lead up to this exciting celebration, this week and next week’s JMM Insights are focusing on historic synagogues from around the world – and some fun trivia about our own Lloyd Street Synagogue.

Images courtesy of the Jewish Women’s Archive (1)  and the Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress, (2), (3).

If I ask you about the oldest standing synagogues in the US, you can probably name the Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island (built in 1763), K.K. Beth Elohim in South Carolina (built in 1840), and, of course, the Lloyd Street Synagogue (built in 1845). But do you know which US synagogue has the longest history of continuous use by a Jewish congregation?

Images courtesy of the Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress.

Congregation Beracha Veshalom Vegmiluth Hasadim (more commonly called the St. Thomas Synagogue) was built in 1833 in the U.S. Virgin Islands and has been in continuous use as a synagogue for 187 years! The St. Thomas Synagogue is also one of only five synagogues in the world with a sand-covered floor. You might enjoy this brief history of the synagogue and its congregation.

A little #LSSTrivia: Did you know that the Lloyd Street Synagogue was the only one of these four oldest standing synagogues in the US to not be founded by a Sephardic congregation?

Explore a list of the oldest synagogues in the United States here.

But what about outside the US? While archaeologists haven’t been able to find any actual synagogue building remains in Egypt, they have found quite a few stones carved with synagogue dedications, dating as early as the 3rd century, BCE! On the island of Delos, Greece is the Delos Synagogue, believed to have been built between 150 and 128 BCE – though the archaeological evidence that this building was indeed a synagogue is contested. (For those interested in some of the scholarly research, check out this 2007 article from the Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society.)

Image: Excavation photo of the Dura-Europos Torah shrine, courtesy of Yale University.

The Dura-Europos synagogue, located in what is now Syria, however, leaves no doubt of its status as a Jewish house of worship. The original building came into use as a Jewish meeting place between 165 and 200 CE but was enlarged and decorated during a renovation that ended in 245 CE. The Dura-Eurpos synagogue archaeological discovery is unique due to its preservation – the structure was uncovered nearly intact, with an estimate 60% of its detailed wall paintings still present. Yale University Art Gallery has a fascinating digital exhibit on the excavation of Dura-Europos. You can also see a reproduction video of the wall paintings here.

A little #LSSTrivia: Did you know that the Lloyd Street Synagogue is one of seventeen recorded archaeological sites in our neighborhood? Others include the Thomas Morgan Pottery; Clagett’s Brewey; and the Friends’ Meeting House. Especially into local archaeology? Check out the full text of the 2008-2009 archaeology report for the Lloyd Street Synagogue here.

In Western Europe, there are two buildings that represent the oldest, still-standing purpose-built synagogues – the Old (Alte) Synagogue of Erfurt, Germany (built c. 1100 CE) and the Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca in Toledo, Spain (built 1190 CE).

Image of the Old Synagogue courtesy of Michael Sander via Wikimedia Commons.

The Old Synagogue is considered one of the oldest, largest, and best-preserved prayer rooms from the Middle Ages in Central Europe. Like the Lloyd Street Synagogue, the Erfurt Old Synagogue is also known for its mikveh, the remains of which were discovered during renovation work in spring 2007. Get a peek at the Old Synagogue’s permanent exhibit about its history and collections here. Prefer to watch? Check out this video interview from Heritage Times with Erfurt’s UNESCO commissioner Dr. Maria Sturzebecher, More than Golden Treasure: heritage layers of Erfurt Synagogue Museum.

A little #LSSTrivia: Did you know, the earliest documented “keeper of the mikveh,” was Mrs. Jacaby in 1852, who may have been the seamstress Caroline Jacobs, who is noted as living on Watson Street, south of Lloyd Street in 1849.

Image of the exterior of the Toledo Synagogue courtesy of Richard Mortel via Wikimedia Commons.

The Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca, originally know as the Ibn Shushan Synagogue, was built in Toldeo, Spain in 1180. Designed by Islamic architects, built in a Christian kingdom, and meant for Jewish use, this synagogue is considered a “symbol of cooperation” of three cultures living in the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages. Like the Lloyd Street Synagogue, the building passed from use as a Jewish synagogue to a Catholic Church, but under much more contentious circumstances. Today, the Jewish communities of Spain have requested the Church return the building to the care of the Jewish people. The relatively plain exterior depicted above belies the uniquely beautiful interior shown below.

Image of the interior of the Toledo Synagogue courtesy of Roy Lindman via Wikimedia Commons.

1836 illustration of the Old-New Synagogue courtesy of Everything Czech. See more images of the Old-New Synagogue through the years here.

The oldest currently active synagogue in the world is located in Prague. Built in the 1270s, the “Old-New Synagogue” has another claim to fame – it is said to contain stones from the Temple of Solomon. But this isn’t the only legend surrounding the building – it is also cited as the resting place of the Golem of Prague.

A little #LSSTrivia: A popular Lloyd Street Synagogue myth from the past was the belief that LSS was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support this story, and it is unlikely that the synagogue’s rabbi of the time (Bernard Illoway) would have allowed the LSS to be a part of the Underground Railroad.

Marvin will be hosting a recreation of Illoway’s arguments for and Rabbi Einhorn’s against, the continuation of slavery in America on Sunday, November 15, 2020 at 1pm – you can register to join us for the live stream event now.

We hope you enjoyed this part one look at some of the oldest synagogues in the world, in honor of the Lloyd Street Synagogue’s 175th – next week we’ll share more highlights of historic buildings from around the globe. In the meantime, don’t forget to register for The Many Lives of Lloyd Street: A Synagogue Celebrates 175 Years.

It just won’t be a party without you there!

Pick up some LSS swag at our online shop, like this See America mug!
All purchases help support the Museum.

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JMM Insights: 3…2…1…Blast Off!

Posted on September 11th, 2020 by

The Space Shuttle Endeavour blasts off from pad 39A at 8:56 am on May 16, 2011. This was the final flight for Endeavour. Courtesy of NASA.

Can you feel the excitement? We’re practically buzzing with it as we count down the hours until we open Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit! (72 hours from the launch of this newsletter, to be precise.) Coronavirus may have delayed us, but this exhibit was just too cool not to share and our team wasn’t going to let something like a pandemic stop us from creating a unique, engaging, and safe experience.

As a special thank-you to our members, we shared early access to reserving tickets to come and see the exhibit in person. As of today, however, we’ve opened up tickets to everyone. Entry is limited, to keep everyone safe, so we highly recommend you purchase your tickets asap to get the dates and times that work best for you.

For this edition of JMM Insights, we wanted to highlight some truly excellent Jews in Space experiences we think you’ll enjoy, plus some bonus gallery sneak peeks!

Just a few “peeks” into the gallery while the team is hard at work installing the exhibit.

Even with important safety precautions, we know that an in-person visit isn’t for everyone right now – which is why we’re offering special Jews in Space virtual tours, presented live with a JMM staff member. There are two different ways to experience this unique digital exploration:

1. Schedule an exclusive virtual tour for you and a group. Fill out this form and a staff member will contact you to schedule!

2. Register for one of our pre-scheduled virtual tours – we’ll be offering virtual tours once a month as part of our public programming.

>Register for a virtual tour on Wednesday, October 28, 2020 at 3:00pm HERE.

>Register for a virtual tour on Wednesday, November 11, 2020 at 3:00pm HERE.


Did you know that Jews in Space has a companion website?

Here you’ll find opportunities to explore more deeply some things from the exhibit itself, like the extensive timeline of Jews and space and the expanding map of Maryland’s space connections, as well as a handy list of our upcoming space-related public programs (plus links to previously recorded programs) and info on our available virtual education space offerings.

We’ve also included activities to deepen your engagement with Jews in Space beyond a museum (or virtual) visit. From our family-centered Wondernauts badge program to our Upstanders Bookworm project, we hope you’ll dive in and try out some hands-on fun.

Enjoy a “close encounter” with some of the exhibits objects and details!

Creating Klingon:

A Conversation with its Jewish Inventor
Members-Only Special Event

Thursday, October 29, 2020 at 7:00pm EST

Speaker: Marc Okrand

Registration for this Live Stream Event Opening Soon.

Not yet a member?

Sign up online at the JMM website or contact JMM Membership Coordinator Sue Foard at / 443-873-5162.

You already belong, why not make it official!

Thursday, November 12, 2020 at 7:00pm EST

Presented by the Stoop Storytelling Series

Register for this Live Stream Event Now.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020 at 7:00 pm EST

Speaker: Dr. Arnold Blumberg

Register for this Live Stream Event Now

The Maryland presentation of this exhibit is made possible in part by the generous support of a gift in memory of Patrick J. Kelly Jr., a Baltimore Science Fiction Society Founder; The Joseph & Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds; PNC Greater Maryland; Larry Boltansky.

Additional funding from: Greif Family Fund; Kutler Family Philanthropic Fund; The Kaplan-Kronsberg Family Charitable Fund; A gift in memory of Jim Guy; Emelie Schwab & Family in Memory of James Schwab; Harriet Stulman; Philip Tulkoff; Julian H. Krolik and Elaine F. Weiss Philanthropic Fund; Annette and Michael Saxon Fund.  

Thursday, October 1, 2020 at 7:00 pm EST

Hosted Live by WYPR’s Sheilah Kast

Register for this Special Live Stream Event Here

This special online event will feature memories, stories, and statements from a host of characters with a connection to Maryland’s oldest synagogue. From its inception to its near eradication to its rebirth as a site of learning, by turns contentious, mundane, or spiritual, the stories of the Lloyd Street Synagogue will fascinate and inspire you. Be a part of the celebration honoring this one-of-a-kind landmark.



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