Zionist intelligentsia present: The Ohel Nechama Synagogue in Talbieh, Jerusalem
Rooted in the city’s pre-Six Day War university population, this shul is a spiritual oasis in a district of high-culture and formality.
Ohel Nechama is a modern, purpose-built Orthodox synagogue that is distinct in a number of ways – and also provides a wide range of local community, cultural, and purposeful-social activity.
Modelled on the tabernacle and set in the affluent district of Talbieh, the shul is neatly sandwiched between the Jerusalem Theater and the Israel Bar Association, and just a stone's throw from the President’s House.
Though segregated, women have the fairly spacious upstairs gallery rather than the same-level space behind the mechitza (partition) typical of many Israeli shuls.
In typical 1980s design, the ski-slope-shaped roof slopes upwards towards the Ark. Windows are clear rather than stained-glass, suggesting functionality rather than formality and nostalgia.
This fairly large (by Jerusalem standards) place of worship is one of the bastions of the mature-age Israeli religious-Zionist intelligentsia, although it is well-augmented by ideologically-compatible English-speakers resident in the locality. Derashot (sermons) and services are conducted by competent laymen. Operatic arias are generally discouraged, the tunes used being those well-known enough for the congregation to join in.
Occasionally, sensibilities may be jarred; when a concluding Shabbat morning piece was sung to "Fiddler On The Roof," disapproving muttering of “anything goes” could be heard from the more conservative element.
Hard times after Jerusalem's division
The intelligentsia characteristic originated in the congregation’s financially harder times, when the Hebrew University’s faculties were hurriedly rehoused in different locations in the city following Jerusalem’s political division in 1948. Students originating from western countries wanted somewhere to pray that was in keeping with their strictly Ashkenazi nussach (rite).
In contrast to the splendid Hecht Synagogue on campus today, student-based shuls were makeshift and temporary, and indeed the present congregation strove hard to raise the capital for this impressive residence which finally went into service in 1984. It was named Ohel Nechama after Nechama Lifschitz, whose husband made the largest donation.
As in most Israeli synagogues, services are lively, and proceed rather than drag. Shabbat morning service finishes at 10:15, the congregation splitting into three different study groups. Two shiurim are in Hebrew and one in English, all merging together at 10:45 in the main hall for kiddush.
This shul does have a reputation as being a place for singles to meet. Although the unmarried will certainly not feel out of place, there were few singles present on my recent visit.
Unusually for an Israeli synagogue, Ohel Nechama’s protocols and procedures are well-publicized. This includes the strict prohibition of talking during the service with the proviso that conversations are confined to the foyer. The tallit is not to be removed until the end of the Adon Olam prayer that marks the end of the service. And the pre-Rosh Chodesh prayer “He that did miracles for our fathers” is augmented with “and for us”.
For a shul-taster, this is certainly a place you should get to see. It should leave the after-taste of a morning (or Friday night) well-spent, with the glow of being better informed on matters Jewish on departure.
Sabbath services at Ohel Nechama begin at around sundown in the evening and at 8:15 am in the morning; weekdays at 6:05 am and 6:45 am. Take the bus #13 to the Islamic Art Museum, and a one-minute walk: cross the road, continue downhill, turn left in to Chopin Street and Ohel Nechama is at #3, between the Israel Bar Center and the Jerusalem Theater. For more information, view http://ohel-nehama.org/
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