written by Ruth Ellen Gruber, read by Edward Serotta
We’re standing outside the Izaak synagogue at number 16 Kupa street.
This is largest synagogue in Kazimierz and a fine example of baroque architecture. It dates from the 1640s and experts believe that it was designed by an Italian architect who was then working in Poland.
Getting the synagogue built wasn’t easy at first, because a local parish priest was adamantly against it, and protested to the Bishop of Krakow. But the Bishop eventually sided with the Jewish community, and you see the results in front of you.
The synagogue’s name actually comes from that of Izaak Jakubowicz, the wealthy Jewish community leader who financed its construction. Notice the two tall windows that mark the façade. The elegant double stairway that leads up to a covered portico and the entrance to the women’s gallery is a distinctive but relatively new addition, dating from the 1920s.
Before World War II, the area in front of the synagogue used to be the site of a bustling, open air fish market.
The Izaak synagogue was devastated during the German Nazi occupation of Krakow, and with almost no Jews left in Kazimierz, it deteriorated further after that. But extensive renovation work took place – inside and out -- in the 1980s and 90s, so let’s go inside to see the results.
If you look up, you’ll see a soaring, barrel vaulted ceiling with elaborate stucco decoration that arches 14 meters above the floor.
Against the far wall and elevated above the floor level, stands the simple, but monumental, Ark, or Aron haKodesh, flanked by pillars.
Notice how colorful painted texts of prayers and other ornate motifs decorate the walls. These came to light during the restoration process. The women’s gallery faces the Ark from the opposite side of the sanctuary and resembles a balcony set off by a graceful arcade.
The Izaak synagogue is used for worship today by Chabad-Lubavich, and there is a new wooden Bimah in front of the Ark.
The Izaak Synagogue is also used as a cultural venue, in particular during the annual Seven at Night synagogues festival, which take place each June.