I have tried several times to visit the Ades Synagogue in Shilo Street, Jerusalem only to find it closed. A few weeks ago I finally managed to see inside the building. I was not disappointed.
The very plain exterior of the building in the Nachlaot neighbourhood of the city, close to Shuk Mahane Yehuda hides a beautiful and unique interior with a high ceiling, chandeliers, wooden benches and a women's gallery. But the two most outstanding features are the Ark covering the entire eastern wall, which is made of walnut and covered in a geometric mother of pearl design and of course, the breathtaking murals which were the work of Ya'acov Stark of the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts.
The synagogue was built in 1901 to serve the increasing number of Syrian Jews arriving in Jerusalem, fleeing blood libels and pogroms in Syria as well as economic migrants from the decline of the Ottoman Empire. It takes its name from the two cousins who financed its construction - Ovadiah Josiah Ades and Yosef Isaac Ades, the latter being a member of the Jerusalem City Council. The murals were added in 1911-12 by the aforementioned Stark who was born in Galicia and came to Eretz Israel as part of the Second Aliyah with a number of other artists who gathered around Boris Schatz, working with him to establish and develop the world famous Bezalel School.
Stark was a committed Zionist and wished to reflect this in his art - something the Ashkenazi congregations were not so keen on. The more liberal Syrian congregation of the Ades were accepting of his proposals. He worked for very little amounts (sometimes for nothing) and left an extremely important work to the city (and the world) featuring the 12 Tribes of Israel, a menorah, flora and fauna of the land of Israel and signs of the zodiac. The building sustained damage in the First World War and also during the War of Independence in 1948 but the greatest damage was inflicted on Stark's masterpiece in 2001 when a French artist commissioned to restore the mural did what is widely acknowledged to have been a botch job and which is now thankfully, being properly restored at the Government's expense.
Stark died of malnutrition - the fate of many impoverished Jerusalemites in the early part of the twentieth century and until recently he had all but disappeared from history. Efforts have been made to locate Stark's descendants which turned up an Israel Prize winner for law and resulted in the re-discovery of his grave on the Mount of Olives which had a formal stone setting late last year. In an interesting twist of fat, the house he lived in, in Nachlaot is now occupied by Yigal Tamir who restored the Ark in the Ades syanagogue. The house still contains a granfather clock given by Stark to Tamir's grandmother, the former owner and Stark's landlady, in lieu of rent.
During my visit I witnessed some of the restoration work taking place and had a brief discussion with one of the workers who was delighted to have the opportunity to be involved in such an important project. I was delighted to have finally got inside the building...and what a treat it was!
See more pictures of the Ades synagogue here.