We just visited Bordeaux for the weekend. How can one not be restored by French cheese, wine and architecture? What I hadn’t anticipated was how intriguing I’d find the churches and religious buildings. The intricate spire of Cathedral Saint-Andre was visible in detail from our attic room terrace. The central window would guide us home at night. I’m taken, as you know, by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s insistence that Judaism creates palaces of time rather than space, Shabbat being the most impressive. But here in Bordeaux these buildings speak of a conversation with God.
This week’s parasha begins the Book of Vayikra, Leviticus. It’s known to contain a great deal of dry minutiae of sacrifice and other laws but its name means to call out.
And God called to Moses, and spoke to him out of the tent of meeting.
Leviticus is the book in which we are called to our religiosity, whatever that is for each one of us. And certainly that is what I experienced in Bordeaux. Indeed, in the cathedral, there were life size story boards of individual young people who’d taken the path of service to God, next to the stained glass windows and chapels.
“Et toi, que veux tu?” “And you, what do you want?” asks Pierre, a newly ordained Dominican wearing Ray Bans and a beret.
So I was ready for the Great Synagogue to be a similar expression of reaching towards God. It was the first major synagogue built after the emancipation of Jews by Napoleon. It was finished in 1812 then destroyed in a fire in 1873, and rebuilt by 1882 to be France’s largest synagogue at the time, costing 660,000 francs all which came from donations (and some grants from local and national government).
There are two towers, similar to bell towers on church facades; I read some Jews at the time were worried it looked too like a church, even with tablets of the ten commandments on the top. Even then community disagreed on building plans and ideas!
But it was an expression of pride and religiosity. I captured the dark green of the stained glass and it was beautiful. Movingly, the synagogue was used for internment before deportation to the camps. The building was pillaged and desecrated. But since the war, it has been lovingly restored to a living, breathing synagogue again.
Faith buildings always tell a story. Ours does at Hutton Grove. It may not be grand with towers and buttresses but it is ours and it has contained so much within its walls over these last 65 years or so. We now need to mend and restore it (our roof is in dire need) to enable its future life and a continuation of our story.
You are cordially invited to attend either Saturday evening 5.30-7pm or Tuesday 28th 7-8.30pm to begin this process; hear how we will be raising funds, asking for your gifts and applying for grants (as they did in Bordeaux). It is our calling. I so hope to see you there.
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