Sunday, August 06, 2006

Ades synagogue preserves Syrian traditions

Gavriel Fiske of the Jerusalem Post profiles the Ades synagogue, built in 1901 in Jerusalem by Jews fleeing blood libels and economic decline in Aleppo, Syria. (With thanks: Albert)

"One of Nahlaot's oldest synagogues is one of its best-known and one of its most active - the Ades Synagogue (pronounced like Addis Ababa), housed in a old-style stone building on the corner of Beersheba and Shilo streets, just off Bezalel.

"Renowned as a center for Mizrahi hazanut (Middle Eastern-style Jewish liturgical singing), Ades is one of only two synagogues in Jerusalem that maintain the ancient tradition of bakashot, a set cycle of kabbalistic poetry sung in the wee hours of Shabbat morning during the winter months.

"All the hazanim [cantors] you know of learned here," promises Shmuel Abdan, the shamash (caretaker). A friendly and to-the-point man in his 50s, he escorts In Jerusalem around the ornate interior of Ades while straightening up after evening prayers.

"During the densely packed bakashot sessions (which start at 3 a.m.) he can be found dispensing endless cups of steaming tea or coffee, making sure seniors have a seat - and generally making sure everything is okay.

"Ades was built 105 years ago by a community of Jews from Aleppo, Syria. The outside of the building famously declares, "The Great Synagogue Ades of the Glorious Aleppo Community, Est. 1901."

"At that time much of the Jewish community had fled Syria due to a combination of blood libels and economic downturn relating to the decline of the Ottoman Empire. While many settled in the greener pastures of England, the United States and South America, some families decided to try their luck in the Holy Land. Most were laborers, shopkeepers or merchants."

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