Israel’s First Synagogue Designed for Physically Disabled Opened in Jerusalem

December 31, 2018

3 min read

A synagogue suited especially to people in people in wheelchairs and others who are disabled has been dedicated for the first time in Israel.

Called Mishkan Shmuel (“The House of Samuel”), the house of prayer was presented with a Torah scroll more than a century old that survived the Holocaust in Romania, unlike the Jews who read from it and were murdered by the Nazis. The scroll was repaired with new parchment and brought to the new synagogue under a blue chupah (marriage canopy), as celebrants sang and played music, according to tradition.

The Torah scroll is the written text of the Pentateuch given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. Jews around the world read a portion of the Torah every Shabbat; smaller sections are read on Mondays and Thursdays. Over the course of the year, the whole scroll is read aloud to the congregation on Shabbat morning, after which the cycle is begun again.  

The synagogue is located at Herzog Hospital, Jerusalem’s 124-year-old psychogeriatric hospital, which is the only one of its kind in the capital, It now has 330 beds, but soon, with the complete opening of a new wing where the synagogue was built, it will have a total of 600 beds.

The synagogue opening was observed by Jerusalem’s two chief rabbis, Shlomo Amar and Arye Stern, and attended by the donors, who flew in specially from New York and Florida.

Zaken, who was born in Kurdistan, came to Jerusalem in 1951. He and his wife had five children, and 17 grandchildren and one great great-son have been born to them.

The house of prayer is unique in that there is a lot of floor space; the table on which the Torah scroll is read can be raised, lowered and tilted for the convenience of worshippers who are in wheelchairs. In addition, the Holy Ark where the Torah scroll is kept when not being used has a pull-out shelf that enables the disabled to take hold of it easily.

Above the ark is a phrase from Psalms 16:8 (“I am ever mindful of Hashem‘s presence” – while the doors are embellished by 12 squares, each in a different color, to signify the 12 Tribes of Israel, a symbol of unity.

Rabbi Amar, the Sephardi chief rabbi of the capital, said that it was a great accomplishment and good deed to built a synagogue especially for the disabled who are often forgotten despite their great needs. “I have visited many hospitals but I have never seen anything like this.” He noted that it was especially appropriate the synagogue and the old/new Torah scroll were ensconced in Jerusalem.

Hospital director-general Dr. Yehezkel Caine and board of directors chairman Shamai Keinan said that Herzog Hospital is the oldest Jewish, continuously existing hospital in the capital. Even with the additional beds in the new wing, there remains an acute shortage of space for geriatric and psychiatric patients in the Jerusalem area.

The newly-elected mayor of Jerusalem, Moshe Lion, said he was always impressed upon visiting Herzog by the dedicated staff and the medical services they provide.

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