Today marks the first night of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, celebrated with 8 nights of prayer, family, games and festive foods. The holiday commemorates the story of the Maccabees, a band of Hebrew soldiers who, after a long battle, reclaimed their temple from Greek occupiers. The menorah, the candelabra that holds 8 candles with one for lighting, symbolizes the oil found in the temple. It only should have been enough to give light for one night. Instead, in what was considered a miracle, it latest eight.
In celebration of Hanukkah, let’s take a look at some of the oldest, still functioning synagogues in the world:
Ramban Synagogue – Jerusalem, Israel
Originally founded by Nachmanides in 1267 in an effort to rebuild the Jewish community. At 72 years old, he chose a ruined house on Mount Zion to reconstruct into a synagogue. In only three week, it was ready for use – just in time for Rosh Hashanah. Ramban was closed in the 16th century under Turkish rule. Over the years, the building was converted into an academy, a home, a mosque, a flour mill, and even a cheese factory. Today it is used for worship by the Ashkenazi (German Jewish) community.
Staronova Synagoga – Prague, Czech Republic
Literally meaning “Old-New”, it is the oldest continually used synagogue in Europe. Originally constructed in the 13th century, it was “New” – until the 16th century when a growing jewish community began building other synagogues in the town. It’s famous for its notable medieval design, large saddle roof and Gothic gables. Legend has it that a Golem guard its attic.
Touro Synagogue – Rhode Island, U.S.A.
The first Jewish immigrants to Rhode Island came to Newport from Barabados in 1658. There were only fifteen families to start, and it was not too long before they realized they would a proper site for a Jewish cemetery. The land for this was purchased in 1677, but construction onTouro was not was not started until 1759 when the community had grown substantially. It was designed by Peter Harrison who, though having no experience with traditional Jewish structures, was able to create an elegant building. It stands as a proud landmark, and the first Jewish synagogue in New England.