Bordeaux and its Great Synagogue

By Arnie Greenberg I wanted to see the Great Synagogue in Bordeaux for some time. Luckily, I paid no attention to the guide who told us that Bordeaux’s celebrated synagogue was closed. I had to see for myself.

As we approached we could see people entering the building in their best party clothes. We were told that a wedding would be taking place and yet we were graciously invited inside to attend, no questions asked.

I entered this 1,500-seat house of worship and was awed by its size, its cleanliness and its architecture. On the floor I noticed two ceramic designs, one with the Star of David and one with the year 1882, the year of construction.
 

The original building, dating back to 1812, was replaced when it was destroyed by a fire. The new house of worship was not rebuilt in what was then the Jewish Quarter; the streets were too narrow. Instead it was built in the Sephardic community it calls home today. Funding came from the sale of the original land, donations and grants by both the city and national governments.

During the war it was badly desecrated and used as a prison for Jews waiting to be sent to the camps. A plaque in the courtyard commemorates the family names of those who perished.

It is a far cry from the time when Jews were forbidden to gather in one place to pray. At that time they used seven different locations.

 
Today it is one of the largest places to worship in France with a length of thirty meters and a seating capacity for 1,500 worshipers. The Jewish community exceeds 6,000. There is a staircase access from the hall to the women’s section located on the first floor. It is separated from the main hall by a glass wall which is an orthodox tradition. There are two rows of columns supporting the upper floor. These were made of metal at the Eiffel shops in Bordeaux. The scrolls and Ark are located, naturally, at the eastern end of the prayer hall.

There are panels for each of the Ten Commandments and another one specially designed to depict the twelve tribes of Israel. The building contains only the best marble, imported from Carrere, Italy.

The seven branched Menorah captures your view as you enter. It is located in the center of the room and, when lit, gives the massive room a golden glow.
   


The building itself was declared a national monument in 1998. It is lit up on the outside for all to see after dark. It is impressive and inviting.



So we did end up seeing this remarkable site after all. I recommend it to people of all races. It was built with pride and cherished ever since.

Interestingly, at one of the nearbyJewish Cemeteries there are the graves of, Pauline and Hans, the children of Theodore Herzl.

A general word about Bordeau. Much of the city was declared a World Heritage site in 2007. It is on the Garonne River and its Port of the Moon title is due to the crescent shape formed by the bend of the river.

Among the more exciting buildings to see are the great Cathedral Saint-Andre with its Tour Pey-Berland that was restored in the 19th century, the Palais Rohan, a large townhouse with garden and courtyard or Palais De La Bourse, the nerve center of trade. The Grand Theatre is mostly used for Opera, built behind a twelve-column portico and 16 Doric columns supporting the covered ceiling.

Two things not to be missed are the Grosse Cloche and Port Cailhau. They are an artist’s delight.

 
City transportation includes a sleek, quiet city rail line with a futuristic look.

It was one of the first great cities to begin an era of urbanism and big scale projects.

The restaurants, Bordeaux delicacies and shopping are great with pedestrian walkways (9 Rue Saint-Catherine). The city is quite safe and there are good hotels and a very efficient Office de Tourisme in the city center.

Office De Tourism De Bordeaux
12, cours du xxx juillet
Bordeaux, 33080
www.bordeaux-tourisme.com

Try a glass of Bordeaux blanc and oysters from the Quayside market. It will long be remembered.

What can I say about their wine? It is world famous and deserves an article dedicated solely to what is new, available and waiting.
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