From the synagogue, you could hear buses coming down the ramps from the Central Bus Station and see people walk down the street as they start their day. It’s a street most tourists and Israelis never walk down, but it lies in the heart of South Tel Aviv, Synagogue and all.
Shattered windows, a collapsing roof and thousands of books left on the floor. Those were the images I had in my head when I fell asleep last night. I was thinking about a synagogue on Menashe Ben Yisrael and HaCongress in Neve Sha’anan, South Tel Aviv. Since moving to the Shapira neighborhood a few weeks ago, also in South Tel Aviv, I have been riding my bike past the building. It’s in complete shambles, but that doesn’t keep it from being any less magnificent. The structure and stained glass windows show the how beautiful this place of worship once was and still is, even as it slowly falls apart.
I woke up this morning with the building still engraved in my memory and decided to go take a closer look. A local resident from Shapira (pictured) said that he prayed at this exact synagogue for decades, but that they closed it two years ago. It looks as though it was abandoned overnight. The building is filled with books, tables and chairs. On the ground surrounding the synagogue, you can find pieces of prayer books and of worn out prayer shawls. I assumed the glass had been broken for a while, but he said the place had been further damaged by people and the glass broken only two weeks ago. His words were “drug addicts destroyed the place”. There may have indeed been an incident a few weeks ago that left the place in worse condition, but a lot of the damage was definitely done over a longer period of time from sheer lack of upkeep.
When I went around, I heard a cough. I looked over and saw a man sleeping inside the building. I walked away and lowered my lens, so as to respect his privacy. When I reached the other side of the building, I could see that the man was gone. In a few of the pictures, you can see the small separate area towards the end with blankets and leftovers of food and possessions. As with many religions, Synagogues historically would double as a place of refuge for travelers and others in need. While I am worried for the safety of anyone spending time there (the roof was very unstable), it’s nice to know that this synagogue is still upholding one function.