We visited the Hobart Synagogue today as part of Open House weekend. It is the oldest Jewish place of worship still in use in Australia, consecrated on 4th July 1845.
The building is in the Egyptian Revival style, characterised by its columns with lotus capitals and the trapezoidal shape windows.
We saw the central raised platform, the Bimah, where the Torah is placed for reading.
We saw the Ark, the sacred place behind a curtain, where the Torah scrolls are kept. Our guide explained that the practicality of winding the scroll from one place to another, one reading to another, can be time consuming, so they have five Torah in their Ark.
There is a Sefer Torah on display as a memorial of those who died in the Holocaust. It is one of 1,564 scrolls seized from desecrated synagogues in Czechoslovakia by the Nazis.
Hobart Synagogue embraces both Orthodox and Progressive members and offers services for both, but the building was obviously constructed at a time of Orthodox Judaism so there is a box for the Rabbi. The seating downstairs was for men only, with a balcony at the back for ladies and children.
It was built when Tasmania was known as Van Diemen’s Land and was still a convict settlement. Original benches where convicts sat, are still used for spare seating, some are stacked and used as book shelves.
The chandelier was originally designed to burn whale oil and has since been adapted for every variation of electric light technology. If you look closely from the Ladies Gallery, you can see that the light fittings hang below the ceiling level, allowing smoke from the oil burners and candles to escape into the ceiling space.
It was a privilege to see inside this synagogue, to hear about the history of the building, about the Jewish community in Tasmania and to learn more about the Jewish faith.