Judaism in Gorizia
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SYNAGOGUE OF GORIZIA
The synagogue is located in Via Ascoli, the only street of which the old ghetto is composed, so named in 1880 to honour the illustrious citizen during his life. After Italy entered the war, however, the Austrian authorities in October 1915 changed the Italian names of many streets in Gorizia, including Via Ascoli, which was called Via San Giovanni. At the end of the First World War, the name of Ascoli was restored until it was replaced by Via Tunisi in 1940. Since the postwar period, the name of via Ascoli has been restored.
The urban and architectural structure of the area remained almost unchanged from 1698 until the 1950s, when many dilapidated houses of the old ghetto were demolished, including those adjacent to the synagogue. The rabbi's house, the schools, the ritual bath, the unleavened oven, the external access to the matron's gallery, were destroyed and council houses were built, with modifications to the road system in the area. The stretch of Via Ascoli that goes from Via San Giovanni to the synagogue has remained substantially the original one, embellished by the new road pavement and the renovation of many houses that overlook the street and that maintain their characteristic appearance, with wrought-iron balconies and doors and windows highlighted by stone frames.
Built-in 1756 in the heart of the ghetto, the synagogue was renovated in 1894: the houses that separated it from the road were demolished and consequently, it was provided with an access courtyard preceded by a high pediment at the top of which are the tablets of the Law. The building suffered little damage over time: neither the bombardments of the First World War nor the looting that occurred during the second compromised its structure.
On the ground floor, there is the "Jerusalem on the Soča" museum and the exhibition dedicated to Carlo Michelstaedter, while the temple on the first floor has a suggestive 18th-century appearance, restored with the restoration of 1984 by the Municipality of Gorizia.
The restoration of the district started in the fifties, with the demolition of degraded and unsafe buildings and the construction of new houses, gave a new look to the synagogue, which found itself isolated from the adjacent buildings, with which it had previously formed a single front on Via Ascoli. Thus also the separate access to the women's gallery, reserved for women, which was through one of the houses next to the temple, disappeared. In the space created between the synagogue and the new or renovated houses, a garden was then created, which was recently flanked by a green area of passage towards Via Brass below. This new outdoor garden has been dedicated to the memory of Bruno Farber, the youngest deportee from Gorizia, who was killed at Auschwitz when he was three months old and includes an installation by Emanuele Luzzati recalling the Jewish feast of Purim. Next to the Israeli temple is the eighteenth-century wrought iron gate from the courtyard of the "casa Ascoli", which was once used as a gate to the ghetto, in an effective and symbolic synthesis of elements of Gorizia's Jewish history that have taken on different meanings over time: the gate, an artefact linked to the closure of the ghetto and its separation from the city context, now belongs to the common heritage of art and history; the temple, yesterday a place of prayer and study, today a place of culture and memories; the stairway towards the Corno stream, which once the Jews used to walk the first of the year for the Nashik ceremony (the symbolic getting rid of sins by throwing them into running water) and which today serves as a connection between the car park below and via Ascoli and the surrounding area.
Not included in the synagogue complex but not forgotten by the project of recovery and overall re-proposal is another place of Gorizia's Judaism: the cemetery of Valdirose (today Rožna Dolina, on Slovenian territory). It is an almost unreal place, out of time, although it is only a few dozen metres from the international pass of the Red House and various road and border structures. Inside, one finds oneself in another world, where from the faded words of the tombstones emerges the memory of the men and women who were part of the Jewish community in Gorizia. No longer in use since 1947, the cemetery has been preserved intact, if we exclude the degradation caused by the passage of time: ordinary maintenance is carried out by the Municipality of Nova Gorica. The cemetery has also undergone extraordinary maintenance and restoration work, limited to the access path with an information panel and the tombstones of the rabbis of Gorizia and Carlo Michelstaedter and his family, thanks to a project of the CaRiGo Foundation, in 2010. The route linking the synagogue to the cemetery has been described in a small guidebook with the itinerary to follow published by the Municipality in 2001 and reprinted in a second edition in 2010. In this way both Gorizians and in-Goritians can retrace, through the places, the testimonies and the museum structures, the fascinating and involving the history of the Jewish community of Gorizia.
THE "JERUSALEM ON THE ISONZO" MUSEUM...
Since its reopening in 1984, the synagogue has been home to a permanent exhibition dedicated to Gorizia's Judaism, prepared, updated and integrated with thematic exhibitions by the Friends of Israel Association, whose members also guarantee the opening of the structure to the public, and for a period also by the Institute for Jewish Studies of Central Europe. In 1998, with the inclusion of the synagogue in the Gorizia Cultural Park, modern and functional exhibition space was created, with computer islands and educational panels to accompany the permanent exhibition.
In this way, the Municipality of Gorizia, on the idea and proposal of the then councillor Antonio Devetag, has given a new impulse and above all continuity in time to the cultural activity of the synagogue, inserting it in the city museum circuit and in particular in the project of the Civic Museum articulated on several locations. The relationship with the Friends of Israel Association has been institutionalized through a special convention, and the exhibition section in the atrium of the temple has been transformed into a museum dedicated to Judaism and the Jewish community in Gorizia called "Jerusalem on the Soča", to which a small room dedicated to Carlo Michelstaedter has been added. Mobile structures and showcases arranged along the walls of the atrium allow the setting up of temporary thematic exhibitions on topics of Jewish and Israeli history and culture.
The museum has been created based on a didactic approach, taking into account, on the one hand, that part of the users is made up of school classes and, on the other hand, that, due to the removal of furniture during the Second World War and the absence of a Community in Gorizia, the historical objects forming part of the museum's heritage are necessarily limited. The visit is therefore structured in a series of easy-to-read panels, richly illustrated and interspersed with airy showcases in which significant objects are arranged (among the few original elements, a shofar that once belonged to the synagogue; others are modern, or reproductions of period objects; still others are acquired through donations or purchases in antiques). Among the showcases included in the exhibition, of particular effect are those of the tables set for Saturday and Easter dinner (the seder of Pesach).
The museum of the synagogue, realized by the Cultural Department of the Municipality of Gorizia with the contribution of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio, and whose layout was curated by the architects Manuela Tomadin and Beatrice Micovilovich of the cultural association "Il Millennio" and the Friends of Israel Association, illustrates the history of the people of Israel from biblical times to the diaspora, with the description of rites and celebrations, daily life and the main religious festivities. Ample space is therefore dedicated to the history of the Jewish community in Gorizia: the first Jewish settlement in medieval times, the establishment of the ghetto, prejudices against the Jews, Joseph II's "License of Tolerance", emancipation, economic and social life, irredentism, Zionism, deportation, famous people.
In a separate room are exhibited the most significant paintings and graphics by Carlo Michelstaedter, made available by the Civic Library of Gorizia where is kept the "Carlo Michelstaedter Fund" with the manuscripts of the philosopher from Gorizia and all the documentation concerning him. A video station allows the visitor an in-depth examination of the figure of Michelstaedter, artist, but above all philosopher, framed in the environment of Gorizia between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
The texts of the panels, written by Antonella Gallarotti, Beatrice Micovilovich and Manuela Tomadin, are shown in the computer station available to the public, enriched by a wide choice of images and a musical commentary. The workstation also contains a page dedicated to the activities carried out by the Friends of Israel Association and photographic documentation of the synagogue and the rooms of the museum before the renovation.
The exhibition route also includes three panels dedicated to the architectural features of the synagogue and the ghetto of Gorizia, used in the exhibition Gorizia, a window on the eighteenth century and then placed inside the museum. These were also made by Beatrice Micovilovich and Manuela Tomadin of "Il Millennio".