Friday, January 16, 2015

The Grand Paris Synagogue

The Grand Synagogue of Paris sits inside the 9th arrondissement on 44 Rue de la Victoire on a narrow cobbled street. This 1874 architectural jewel overtakes the street cowering like a Lion of Judah protecting its cubs.

On a rainy summer day last July, my friend and I ventured from our apartment in Le Marais (the Jewish district) to attend the morning Sabbath services at this oldest and most prodigious Jewish house of worship in France. We handed over our American passports to the guard and emptied our backpacks to reimagine these glorious generations in French Jewish history.

What were the Jews thinking when they built this "cathedral" to their God 141 years ago

Prosperity. Economic security. Demographic growth. Cultural Continuity. Eternal light.

The luminosity inside this 1800 seat, womb-like structure startled my sensibilities.

Dozens of menorahs with nine plastic covered bulbs each circled this cavernous chapel. Chandeliers hung from every corner. Light fixtures on the walls illuminated my way to the women’s section in the downstairs main section. Facing sideways towards the bimah, I could see the men processing their morning choreography in fastidious detail.

The traditional Hebrew prayers sung and chanted by eight educated male songbirds reverberated off the walls and the ceilings without any electronic enhancements.

I was reminded of my own Orthodox synagogue in the Bronx where I grew up in the 1950s. Although much smaller in size and scale, I recalled how the male voices blended into my perfect prayerful past and, now again, into this perfect prayerful present.

I called upon this memory while watching Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Hollande seated side by side inside the Grand Synagogue during a memorial service for the four Jewish victims of a terrorist attack inside a Paris Kosher market the weekend of January 9. I prayed for the harmonies to be grand. I prayed for the healing to be majestic. I prayed for the Lions of Judah to stand up again for her cubs.

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