The German Bible and Culture Society will honor the Bet Tfila-Research Unit for Jewish Architecture in Europe in a ceremony to be held in Dresden, Germany, on Tuesday, March 8.
The Bet Tfila-Research Unit traces its origins to a cooperative project of the Center for Jewish Art of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, headed by Prof. Aliza-Cohen Mushlin, and the Department for Architectural History of the Technical University of Braunschweig, headed by Prof. Harmen Thies.
Both institutions have been carrying out research together for the past 11 years, documenting former synagogues in Germany, most of which are now in private hands and might be destroyed or completely changed.
About 300 German architectural students of the universities of Braunschweig, Dresden and Weimar have documented over 100 synagogues in the states of Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg. Moreover, they have built 20 wooden models of synagogues, which have formed a traveling exhibition together with computerised three-dimensional models created by students of the Center for Jewish Art of the Hebrew University. The exhibitions along with conferences have taken place in Berlin, Essen, Halle, Goettingen, Rostok, Osnabrueck, Braunschweig and Hannover, where many schoolchildren have visited.
The successful project induced Dr. Edelgard Bulmahn, German federal minister for education and research, to help establish in 2003 the Bet Tfila-Research Unit for Jewish Architecture in Europe, which will architecturally document former synagogues with no Jewish communities throughout Europe.
The results of the documentation, which include detailed textual descriptions, photographs and architectural plans, are being incorporated into the Jerusalem Index of Jewish Art, the world's most comprehensive and systematic Jewish art database. The index comprises over 200,000 written descriptions and photographs of ancient and modern Jewish art, Hebrew illuminated manuscripts, ritual and ceremonial objects, as well as synagogues, Jewish public and private buildings, ritual baths, cemetery chapels and tombstones.
Documentation and research are carried out by Hebrew University master's degree and doctoral students and post-doctoral researchers in museums, private collections, libraries and synagogues in Israel and abroad. Great efforts have been made in this way in recent years to rescue from oblivion and destruction the endangered Jewish visual culture in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, North Africa, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
Since it is impossible to physically preserve everything but is technically possible and economically viable to virtually preserve much of the cultural treasures, the solution is to create a visual record of the Jewish heritage through a systematic documentation of all objects and synagogue buildings before they disappear.
The ultimate goal of the Hebrew University's Jerusalem Index of Jewish Art is to place all of the material on the Internet so that it can be easily accessed by professionals and lay people alike.