Golden Rose Synagogue

Ukraine’s Jewish community is fighting to restore a historical treasure in the heart of Lviv.

This treasure is the “Golden Rose” — also known as Turei Zahav — and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Golden Rose is the oldest synagogue in Ukraine. It is also renowned as one of the oldest and most beautiful synagogues in all of Europe.

The synagogue was built in 1582, and it was one of the most spectacular Renaissance architectural landmarks of the city.

Initially it was built as a private synagogue for Yitzhak Nachmanovych. He was a senior of the Jewish Assembly in Lviv and one of the city’s wealthiest residents.

In 1603 the Polish king granted the lands on which his synagogue stood to the Roman Catholic church. The church wanted it as a monastery for the Jesuits.

But in 1609, the synagogue was returned to the Jewish community — upon payment of a ransom of 20,600 guilders.

Legend has it that the synagogue was saved by a woman — the daughter-in-law of its founder, Yitzhak Nachmanovych.

The woman’s name was Rosa. She was known in the community as the Golden Rose because she was very kind.

Rosa saw, and felt, her people’s pain. So she offered her entire fortune to the Roman Catholic church as ransom for the synagogue.

However, Church authorities would not hear of it. – Let her bring the money herself, – was the Bishop’s final word.

A woman of great beauty and charm, Rosa understood what this meant. In addition to her fortune, she would have to sacrifice her virtue.

Rosa did as the bishop requested. She personally delivered the money to him, and remained in his residence. In return, the bishop released the synagogue to her brothers.

The community was overjoyed. Once again light shone from the windows of the great and glorious synagogue. It could be seen all the way to the Bishop’s residence.

Rosa saw the light, too. Satisfied that her mission was fulfilled, she committed suicide.

From 1654-67 the Jewish scholar Rabbi David Ha-Levi Segal prayed in this synagogue. He was known for his writings on Judaic religious law, in particular the famous “Turei Zahav.”

Because of the importance of this writing, the synagogue also became known as Turei Zahav, which means The Golden Lines.

Over the generations, Rabbi Segal’s descendants have produced 33 rabbis. Yet the significance of this great legacy remains lost on the world.

Like many other Jewish sacred sites in Ukraine, Rabbi Segal’s grave has been desecrated. Instead of a monument or headstone, a market now stands on his grave site.

For centuries the Golden Rose Synagogue was a hub of Jewish culture and learning in Lviv. But World War 2 brought the destruction of the Golden Rose synagogue, along with most of Ukraine’s Jews.

In 1941, the Golden Rose was completely looted. Later, the Nazis demolished it with explosives. All that survives was part of the structure’s northern wall. It bears a plaque written in English, Hebrew and Ukrainian.

During the Soviet period, the building lay in ruins. In the late 1980s, however, municipal authorities carried out some conservation work.

In the 1990s, architectural historian Sergеу Kravtsov created a computer simulation showing the synagogue at all stages of its history, revealing the grandeur of this nearly-lost historical treasure.

Since 1991, Ukraine passed laws to preserve historic sites. And in 1998 the United Nations designated the Golden Rose a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Unfortunately, neither provided the Golden Rose with adequate protection or recognition. In 2011 authorities in Lviv granted a private developer permission to demolish remnants of the synagogue in order to build a hotel for the EUFA Cup.

This brought international pressure as well as pressure from the Ukrainian president’s office in Kyiv. Fortunately, as a result city authorities calling a stop to the hotel work.

Also, the mayor of Lviv suddenly announced that the city would proceed with long-delayed plans to build a Holocaust memorial near the Golden Rose synagogue.

There is also—finally—a Program for the Regeneration of the Jewish Quarter of Lviv. The Program is grounded on rigorous archaeological, historical and architectural research conducted by Ukrainian scientists. They recommend a gradual restoration of the Golden Rose synagogue to its original state, as it was in the 16 century.

But the first priority is, of course,  the preservation of the existing ruins.

Narrated by Renata Hanynets, Research Fellow at the Faina Petryakova Center in Lviv, Ukraine.

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