written by Ruth Ellen Gruber, read by Edward Serotta
We’re at 38 Jozefa street, outside the High Synagogue. Dating from the second half of the 16th century, it is one of Europe’s oldest surviving synagogue buildings.
Look up and you’ll see three tall, arched windows separated by buttresses marking the lofty, rather narrow, façade.
The High Synagogue was devastated during the Nazi German occupation and used for storage after World War II. Then, from 1966 into the 1990s it housed the offices of Heritage Preservation Studios.
Let’s go inside.
The sanctuary itself is on the upper floor of the building. This accounts for the synagogue’s name. And in fact, experts believe that the High Synagogue is the only synagogue in Poland with its main sanctuary on an upper story.
We enter from the street through the arched portal to the left and then continue upstairs, passing the entrance to the well-stocked Austeria Jewish book store, which occupies the ground floor.
Restoration work on the sanctuary took place in recent years, and you can see the preserved fragments of frescoes on the walls and ceiling. They include both Hebrew texts and floral decoration.
Most importantly, take a close look at the niche of the ark, which is framed by pillars and topped by gilded carvings of winged griffins.
The synagogue today is owned by the Jewish community, but it serves as an art gallery and cultural venue.