TIBERIAS, Israel – If Rabbi Shneur and Rocha Turkov would have bet on the prospect of entertaining a standing-room only crowd this High Holiday season in a stunningly adorned, newly renovated synagogue, their odds would not have been favorable.
Just two years ago, their ancient seaside congregation in the Old City of Tiberias – amid a costly refurbishment project in a tough economy – was broken into, desecrated and burglarized. The couple and their community, though, pulled them themselves together and persevered, reopening the historic house of worship in August, just in time for the Jewish New Year.
“The main thing about the renovations is everyone’s reaction,” said a beaming Turkov, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary whose services drew crowds of people between the Sept. 17 beginning of Rosh Hashanah and this past Monday’s celebration of Simchat Torah. “Everyone walks in and says, ‘Wow!’ ”
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Back in June 2010, things appeared pretty close to hopeless: Intrudes smashed every window during a robbery at the 180-year-old shul, ripping out antiquated metal bars, emptying its safe and several charity boxes and taking more than $5,000 cash that had been raised for the renovation. The thieves also lifted silver Judaica pieces from the sanctuary and adjoining gift shop, and made off with several computers.
The internal structure lay in virtual ruins, while the Turkovs faced keeping the synagogue in operation, addressing the more immediate repairs, getting the renovation project back on track, and improving the security.
The synagogue features a gift-shop and multimedia presentation on the history of Tiberias and the restoration of the 180-year-old center.
Over time, workers led by two architects with a specialty in restoring stone buildings chiseled and tore their way through layers of modern materials and paint to expose a beautifully-carved Torah ark and the building’s original interior stone walls.
The reconstruction was funded by Dr. Morris and Norma Antebi in memory of Ezra and Grez Antebi.
Today, the institution is one of four Chabad-run synagogues in the Galilean city, and provides year-round services and regular Torah study sessions for both locals and a substantial tourist clientele. Rabbi Elihau Kramer, son of Chabad of Tiberias director Rabbi Yosef Kramer, staffs the synagogue during the Jewish Sabbath.
Yosef Kramer excitedly tells newcomers to Tiberias of the synagogue’s history and facelift.
Among the attractions of the new operation, he said, are state-of-the media presentations depicting the 2,000-year history of Tiberias and the restoration of the synagogue, as well as guided tours of Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee in three languages.