written by Ruth Ellen Gruber, read by Edward Serotta
We’re standing on Miodowa street, just across from the Tempel synagogue and modern JCC, and outside the fenced garden that leads to the Kupa synagogue.
The Kupa is a modest-looking building that dates from the 1640s, nearly 400 years ago, and it stands next to a fragment of the medieval city wall. At one point, construction had to be stopped for lack of funds – but the Jewish Goldsmiths’ Guild came to the rescue with a big donation that enabled it to be completed.
The German Nazi occupiers devastated the Kupa and plundered its fittings and decorations. It reopened briefly for services after the War, but the state soon took it over, and it served for decades as a workshop. This further destroyed the interior.
Today, though, it’s a different story.
The synagogue underwent fullscale renovation in the early 2000s, and the sanctuary is alive with color.
Let’s go inside and take a look – we’ll use the entrance directly into the main hall. Another, to the right, leads up a stairway to the women’s gallery.
The renovation brought the sanctuary back to life. Experts meticulously restored the dazzling paintings dating from the early 20th century that decorate the walls and ceiling.
Everywhere you look there’s something to see.
On the ceiling, vivid geometric designs frame paintings of Biblical landscapes and musical instruments. Oval medallions spaced around the front of the women’s gallery depict the signs of the Zodiac – and notice the gallery’s delicate grill work, gothic arches and other details. You can see fragments of painted texts dating from the 17th and 18th centuries on the walls under the women’s gallery.
Three large paintings of biblical scenes dominate the wall above the entrance. A view of Jerusalem is in the center – but look at the painting on the right. It shows animals marching into Noah’s Ark – with Noah himself standing there to guide them. To the left, we see a painting of musical instruments hanging from trees along a river, illustrating a verse from Psalm 137, about the rivers of Babylon.
The richly decorated baroque Torah Ark forms a dramatic centerpiece. Note the gilded Crown of the Torah and the huge painted curtains that frame it.
Today, the Kupa is one of the prides of Jewish Krakow. It’s used for religious services by the Jewish community here, and it’s also a venue for lectures and other cultural events.