Romania --Piatra Neamt Wooden Synagogue to be Rededicated

Interior of Piatra Neamt wooden synagogue, 2006. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Interior of Piatra Neamt wooden synagogue, 2006. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Ark in Piatra Neamt wooden synagogue, 2006. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The "Baal Shem Tov" or Cathedral wooden synagogue in Piatra Neamt, Romania, will be rededicated Dec. 14 after restoration.

Legend has it that the Ba'al Shem Tov, the founder of Hassidism, prayed here -- that is, on an earlier, masonry synagogue that  stood on the spot, as the wooden synagogue was built, according to documentation, in 1766, and the Ba'al Shem Tov died in 1760.

I've visited on several occasions, the last time in 2006.  This is what I wrote in Jewish Heritage Travel:
The present building is halfway underground, probably built like this to conform to regulations that forbade synagogues from being higher than surrounding Christian buildings. The sanctuary is entered down stairs leading from a little outer prayer room, where regular services are held. Chandeliers hang from the ribbed wooden dome arching over the dull, browny-green walls decorated by pale stenciled flowers. Carved and gilded lions, griffins, bunches of grapes and other decorations ornament the compact but elaborate Aron ha Kodesh, built in 1835 by one Saraga Yitzhak ben Moshe.
Sam Gruber has posted further information and comment on his blog.

The wooden synagogue stands next door to the masonry Great (or Leipziger) synagogue, which was originally built in 1839. It is very similar to other folk-style Moldavian synagogues, with  a small, raised bimah with a trellised frame situated in the middle of the sanctuary in front of a highly elaborate Aron ha Kodesh with tromp l'oeil draperies. The walls are decorated with bright frescoes representing Holy Land themes, and frescoes of biblical animals -- the stag, the lion, the tiger and the eagle -- are painted on the ceiling.

Ark in Great synagogue in Piatra Neamt, 2006. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber