Synagogue models link students to world of Judaism

Solon Times by Alana Clark.jpg

Posted by Solon Times: Wednesday, May 31, 2017 11:45 pm

As a child, Rabbi Zushe Greenberg recalled being mesmerized by the replicas of synagogues on display at Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv, Israel. He visited once again as an adult and was equally captivated.

The synagogues, and all of their different materials, designs and architecture, showed that Jews were “one people, one family,” a lesson Rabbi Greenberg brought to students of the Hebrew school recently at the Chabad Jewish Center of Solon.

To cap off their school year, students in grades fourth through seventh completed mini replicas of eight synagogues from around the world. The students researched, built the replicas and presented the international synagogues to parents last week at a ceremony marking the end of the academic year.

Synagogue locations included Rome, England, China, Prague, St. Petersburg, France, Cologne, Germany, and Newport, R.I.

“It created an amazing environment and connects the students and families to Jews all over the world,” Rabbi Greenberg said. “They felt they are a part of an international community.”

The Rabbi’s wife, Miriam, noted that the students were taught to see beyond their own community.

“Our kids think America is the whole world,” Mrs. Greenberg said. “We want to show them that there are Jewish communities all over the world. “We all pray and worship the same way,” she added.

“Building the model synagogue was really cool,” said Aidan Cullers, 12, of Solon. “I enjoyed doing the research and learning about the Jews in colonial America.” Aidan, a student at Solon Middle School, said he learned from the project that during the Revolutionary War most of the people who worshiped at Touro Synagogue fled the city of Newport, R.I.  Because of this, the synagogue did not fully rebuild the congregation until 1883. 

Touro, built in 1763, is the oldest synagogue building still standing in the United States and the only surviving synagogue building in the U.S. dating back to the colonial era.

“I found it interesting that the Jews of the Touro Synagogue wrote a letter to George Washington,” Aidan continued. “He responded to their letter and they still have it at the synagogue today.”

His mother, Kim, said that each synagogue has an “incredible story” that gives the kids a greater perspective on Judaism. “The hands-on aspect of the project creates a deeper connection to their history and heritage,” Ms. Cullers said.

Rabbi Greenberg said he wanted to impress on the students that Jewish people are an international community “with no boundaries and no walls. “The idea is that in every country, they should feel like they are home,” he said. “They should look for their roots and their people everywhere they go” the Rabbi added of their future travels as adults.

The students began the project right after Passover in April. Typically, the school ends the year with a hands-on project. The synagogues were constructed of cardboard and wooden pieces.

Emily Savy, 11, of Solon, built a synagogue from Italy. She enjoyed constructing the replica, she noted, and learning interesting facts about it. Emily, a student at Orchard Middle School, was most interested in the synagogue from China, she said, “Because it showed me that it is the only one (there) still around for Jews to pray in.”

Her mother Marina said this project was important in that it taught the children that “Judaism reaches far beyond just one national culture.  “It brings Jewish people of all cultures together around the world to practice one faith and carry their own traditions while never losing their connection to God,” Ms. Savy added.

Parents voted on the best replica during the ceremony and chose the synagogue from Prague in the Czech Republic. More than 800 years old, the synagogue was the only one to survive after World War II in Europe, Rabbi Greenberg explained.

“Hitler planned to turn Prague into a ‘once upon a time city,’ ” and therefore didn’t bomb it, the rabbi explained. “That’s why the synagogue survived.”

The students came out of this project with a stronger sense of identity, Rabbi Greenberg continued. That identity will stay with them as they grow and perhaps travel the world, Mrs. Greenberg added. “We engrave that in their little souls now,” Rabbi Greenberg said. “We deposit it in their bank account. “This gives them the feeling of being part of a global Jewish community.”