The Atrid Synagogue in Talpiot-Arnona, Jerusalem

A young Sephardi-Moroccan shul that boasts a stunning but not showy décor.

Jacob Solomon

Just six months old at the time of writing, the Atrid Synagogue on the edge of Talpiot-Arnona is a phenomenon.

New congregations have been opening in that neighborhood at an increasing rate in the past 20 years, and they all seem to attract their regulars without substantially reducing the numbers in existing synagogues – an enigma in itself. But most continue in makeshift premises such as schools, kindergartens, and youth clubs, holding out for the “something financial that might turn up” to promote building on a permanent basis. Indeed, visitors to the area looking for somewhere to pray need to ask around.

By contrast, the large, built-from-scratch, modern, Atrid Synagogue stands assertively with grassy surrounds on its own plot of land. Its “something financial” came from upfront donors on a very generous scale. They duly named it after one of the deceased Moroccan sages, Rabbi Isaac Deri – whose acronym, ATRID, contributed to the name of the synagogue.

The main entrance leads into a spacious glass-chandeliered entrance hall, whose decorative themes include its 2014 foundation events, and its sense of purpose. The latter – prominently displayed - states exactly what it’s doing in the neighborhood.

Sephardi-Moroccan-French in both manner and mode of prayer, Atrid should be a place “where all types of people can join in and feel spiritually enriched” where “worshippers should be able to pray with joy” in a “Sephardi synagogue that comes to terms with realities of modern life”. With educational and cultural events for all age groups, it carries the objectives of “enabling the synagogue youth to lead the services with confidence”, “helping new immigrants acclimatize and feel at home within Israeli society” and be physically “user friendly to those with physical disabilities”.

Atrid Synagogue, main entrance (Jacob Solomon)
Jacob Solomon

To which might be added, provider of a three quality mikvaot (ritual immersion baths), one for utensils, one for men (operated by a 10-shekel slot turnstile), and one for women. Men are quaintly enjoined to keep their discreet distance when the women's ritual bath is opened at nighttime. Hitherto, those requiring those facilities had to go outside the neighborhood.

The main synagogue seats more than 200 men and upstairs, over 120 women. It was virtually standing room only on the Friday night of my visit, though a kindly gentleman immediately approached with an offer of a seat in a row that I’d overlooked.

The short derasha (sermon) given by its charismatic French-trained, Israel-experienced Rabbi Yaakov Levi blended erudite scholarship with topical issues.

The interior décor is stunning without being showy. Its main theme is the broad-leafed tree, and one is boldly embroidered on the ark curtain. Another emblazoned on the eastern wall bears memorial golden plaques celebrating the lives of the deceased. It is filling up so quickly that plans are afoot to put up another tree.

The ark itself is surrounded with motifs representing the Biblical characteristics of the twelve tribes. In contrast to many Ashkenazi synagogues, there are no images of life creatures, in keeping with a very strict interpretation of the Second Commandment against images.

The mode of worship, whilst Sephardi-Moroccan in form, does contain a tinge of the communal life in France that many of the congregants have left behind and wish to make a small part of the Holy Land. That became more pronounced as the morning service concluded with a Kiddush that that uniquely included both meat items, and opportunities to practice my high-school French. And indeed, the overall impression was that the congregants were feeling themselves as part of a new, great venture.

For details on the synagogue services and events: main Sabbath services are near sundown in the evening and at 8:15 in the morning. Weekday services happen at 6:15 the morning, and near sundown in the evening. At other times the synagogue may be locked. There is a wide range of shiurim, lectures, and activities. Buses 7 and 78 from the city center to the entrance of Talpiot on Betar Street. Walk 200 meters from the junction, and turn left into Yitzchak Ben Dor Street. The Atrid Synagogue is at #15. Main entrance is on the new walkway on the left side of the building.