The Old Synagogue in Plzen is not easy to find. We had not read up on it in advance, so we must have walked past the entrance twice. A large green dot on the road indicates the sight, but if you are on the “wrong” side of the road, you will not see it.
We had not expected that the synagogue was hidden in a backyard. After discovering the entrance, we entered a courtyard full of peace and harmony. Almost in awe, we finally stood in front of the house of worship and although we were obviously all alone here, we only whispered.
The Old Synagogue in Plzen is used by the Jewish community for religious services and can therefore be visited only at times when there are no services.
History of the synagogue
In 1857, the Jewish community laid the foundation stone for the construction of the synagogue. After two years of construction, the building was completed for 250 worshippers. It soon became clear that there was not enough space in the house of worship and in 1875 an auxiliary synagogue was built right next to it, which was also used as a school.
In 1888, construction began on the Great Synagogue in Plzen. The congregation moved to the larger building and used the Old Synagogue only for storage. It is quite possible that this prevented its destruction during the German occupation. Many of Plzen’s Jews fell victim to the Holocaust and only a few returned to the city. In 1968 there was a wave of emigration in the Jewish community of Plzen. The Old Synagogue became visibly dilapidated.
In 2010, the restoration of Jewish monuments in the Czech Republic began as part of the Ten Stars project. The Old Synagogue in Plzen was renovated and can now be used by the city’s small Jewish community.
Old synagogue – a visit
One enters the building through the synagogue servant’s house (Schammeshaus), where the information and cash desk are located. The room is also used for small events.
After Patrick received a kippa we could start our visit.
Through a small side door you enter the Old Synagogue Plzen. The main hall is surrounded by a two-story wooden women’s gallery. In synagogues, the traditional division of space is such that men are on the first floor and women sit in the galleries.
The Torah shrine was renovated from 2010 to 2014 and decorated with decorative plaster elements, it is located on the east side of the synagogue.
After first looking around a bit in the main hall, we climbed a narrow well-worn spiral staircase to the galleries. There is an exhibition on both floors. On the second floor you learn something about the history of the Jews in the region around Pilsen. The exhibition explanations can be taken in advance in the cashier’s office also in German. The explanations are very detailed and interesting. On the second floor of the women’s gallery, which you can also reach via the spiral staircase, you can learn about Jewish customs and traditions.
We leave the synagogue via the spiral staircase to visit the exterior.
Right next to the synagogue is the community’s sukkah (Tabernacle). During the Jewish feast of the sukkah, it is customary to spend time under the starry sky in tabernacles.
The remains of the auxiliary synagogue are visible today through its foundation walls. Today the room is used as a memorial to Plzen Holocaust victims. The names of more than 2600 Jews were written on stones and laid out alphabetically. Every year students renew the inscriptions. In this way the victims are not forgotten. I walked for a while among the fields and read the names. An impressive memory.
Finally, we took a look at the Ten Commandments tablets. These stone tablets come from a synagogue that no longer exists.
We would have liked to visit the Great Synagogue during our time in Plzen. However, this was under renovation and so only the beautiful evening view of the building remained.
Smetanovy sady 80/5
Sunday- Friday: 10-18
closed on Saturday
Adults: 55 CZK
Discounts are offered.
Disclosure: The visit was part of a research trip to PlzOld synagogue – a visiten.