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A stone for the future

Laying of the foundation-stone of the new synagogue in November 2008

Model of the new synagogue: Light of the diaspora. Quelle: Manuel HerzAfter 70 years, the foundation-stone for a new synagogue was laid in Mainz on 23.11.2008. In Hindenburgstrasse, at the corner of Josefsstrasse, a community centre for encounter is being constructed again on the site of the main Mainz synagogue that was destroyed by the Nazis. Jewish life is becoming visible again in Mainz.

For over a thousand years, Jewish Magenza was an important spiritual and cultural centre for east and west European Judaism. Centuries of persecution and above all nationalism destroyed a great deal. But the community is growing again: The most important sign of this is the new synagogue, the foundation-stone of which was laid recently. “Life is encounter”: This tenet of the renowned Jewish religious philosopher Martin Buber could be the motto of the new Mainz synagogue. After all, it is intended to serve not just as a community centre, but also as a place of intercultural encounter.

Light of the Diaspora – the architectural design for the new synagogue

On the 23rd November 2008, after 70 years, the Jewish community in Mainz laid the foundation-stone for the new synagogue on the original site in Hindenburgstrasse in Mainz. 800 people were present, looking forward to the future with confidence. Many prominent figures from politics and society congratulated the community, thus also Charlotte Knoblauch, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Kurt Beck, Premier of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate and the Mayor of the State Capital Mainz, Jens Beutel.

It took nearly fifteen years from the idea to the laying of the foundation-stone. Construction is due to begin in February 2009 and the synagogue will be completed in 2010. The Jewish community is looking full of hope and joy at its new place of worship which is also intended to become a place of encounter with concerts and readings. The Cologne-based architect Manuel Herz won the competition for the design with his pioneering model “Light of the Diaspora”. The community itself sees the work as perhaps “the most important design of contemporary Jewish architecture”. The architect Manuel Herz – a pupil of Daniel Libeskind, the architect of the Jewish Museum in Berlin – had dealt intensively with the Diaspora history of the Jews. The centre of the design is a cone-like structure which takes the term “Kaddusha” – Elevation – as its model.

The old Main Synagogue

The destroyed old main synagogueThe reformed liberal Jewish community had its main synagogue in Hindenburgstrasse/corner of Josefsstrasse from 1912 on. The synagogue was at that time already a spiritual and cultural centre which, in addition to rooms for worship and the community hall, also housed a museum, a library and a gymnasium. The Nazis destroyed everything. The Mainz Jews were accommodated in so-called “Jews’ houses” in Adam-Karrillon-Strasse in order to be able to keep them better under control. The dwellings had to be marked with a black Star of David on white paper. In part over 40 persons would live in one house. Deportations would take place in broad daylight.

The synagogue itself was burnt down in the “Reich pogrom night” from the 9th to the 10th November 1938 and over half of the Jewish residents of Mainz of that time were deported to the extermination camps in eastern Europe. Just days after the fire, the last remains of the synagogue were blown up. It was only during earth-moving works in 1988 in the grounds of the building of the main customs office, which had been built on the site of the old synagogue, that remains of the foundations of the synagogue’s pillars were found. These rediscovered parts of the building were re-erected as a memorial. With the laying of the foundation-stone for the new synagogue at its original location, a wheel has turned full circle that had begun so full of hope at the beginning of the twentieth century and came to an abrupt and terrible end during the Nazi period. “Life is encounter” – on the tracks of Jewish Magenza, today, 70 years after the destruction of the old synagogue, the long Jewish tradition in Mainz can be discovered again! The old Jewish library, which was rescued and housed in rooms of the university after National-Socialism, will move back into its original home again at the centre of the Jewish Community in Mainz.