Huberman ChinaPolandUSA

  • Issue: September 1988
  • Designer: D. Ben-Dov
  • Stamp size: 30.8 x 40 mm
  • Plate no.: 61 - 63
  • Sheet of 15 stamps Tabs: 5
  • Printers: E. Lewin-Epstein Ltd.
  • Method of printing: Offset

Three of the synagogue models from Tel Aviv's Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora were featured in the Festival Series 5748 (1987). For this year's Festival Series, a further three have been selected, each illustrating a distinctive style of architecture. The wooden synagogue was an original contribution of Polish Jewry. Timber, usually pinewood but also oak, was plentiful in the Polish countryside and wood was easy to work with. It also easily served rural communities who could not afford the heavy expenditure required for masonry structures. The builders were often Jewish and they were influenced by the styles prevailing in their surroundings such as timber churches. Inside, elaborate carvings and paintings often adorned the arl, the walls and the ceiling. Unfortunately the buildings were vulnerable to fire and woodrot while many others were destroyed in wars and anti Jewish attacks. About 100 survived until World War II but all of these were razed by the Germans. The synagogue at Zabludow, shown on the stamp, was an outstanding example. It was first built in the mid-l7th century and was remodelled at various times. The two prayer rooms for women and the vestibule were each covered by a separate roof from the main building.

In marked contrast is the Touro Synagogue at Newport, Rhode Island in the United States, the oldest synagogue still in use in North America. Dedicated in 1763, it was designed by the outstanding American architect of the time, Peter Harrison, a non-Jew, and is a gem of Colonial architecture. It is a rectangular hall, with grey and white as the predominating colours. The women's gallery is supported by 12 Ionic columns, symbolizing the 12 tribes, and above them rise 12 Corinthian columns supporting the ceiling. In the floor of the reader's platform, in the centre of the ha II, is a trapdoor which gave rise to a legend that runaway slaves used the synagogue as an escape route. It is called after its first cantor, Isaac Touro and his sons who generously endowed the building, now designated by the U.S. Government as a National Historic Site. The third synagogue is the most exotic. It existed for centuries in kai-Feng Fu, the ancient capital of China. The Jewish community there was founded in the 12th century, but only became known to the outside world in the 17th century.

Its origin is uncertain; some think the Jews may have originated from Persia, but Yemen, Bokhara and India have also been suggested. As a result of intermarriage with the local population, it became indistinguishable from its Chinese neighbours. At one time its numbered several thousand but by the 17th century had dwindled to a thousand. Today there is no Jewish community but a number of clans still retain the tradition of their Jewish origin.

The first synagogue in Kai-Feng was built in 1163. Several synagogues stood on the same site but were often destroyed as the result of fire and the flooding of the near by Yellow River but were always rebuilt. The last synagogue was dedicated in 1663. It had a pagoda-like exterior with a three-tiered roof and Chinese furnishings but retained a strong Jewish atmosphere. Entrance was from the Lane of the Pluck-Sinew Religion (which was what the local population called Judaism after its method of preparing meat). The orientation was towards Jerusalem in the west, and over the entrance the words 'Temple of Purity and Truth' were written in Chinese. The area was spacious and access to the synagogue was through three courtyards. On one side of the synagogue was a 'hall of ancestors' obviously derived from Confucianism.

Community life ended in the 19th century and the synagogue fell into disrepair, In 1860 it was demolished. No pictures of the building are known, but Italian missionary priests had made drawings of it in the 18th century and these form the basis of the Diaspora Museum reconstruction.

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Festival stamps 5749 (1988)