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New apology of the murals at the Ades Synagogue, Jerusalem.(Matti Friedman)

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In 1901, in Ottoman Jerusalem, associates of the affluent Ades ancestors adjourned the architectonics of a abbey for Jews who had confused to the burghal from Aleppo, Syria. It was congenital off an alleyway abreast the amphitheater bazaar of Mahaneh Yehuda, a adjacency area the added houses of adoration were little added than shacks; so although this one was almost the admeasurement of a baby restaurant, it was alleged the “Great Synagogue.”

The woodwork axial the Ades (pronounced “Addis”) Abbey was intricate Damascene carpentry inlaid with mother-of-pearl, a admonition of the community’s Syrian origins. The benches were not abiding adverse the front, as in European synagogues, but rather in a rectangle, so that worshipers faced the baby axial belvedere area the cantor stood and area the Torah was read, and faced anniversary other, in the added amusing actualization of the Average East.

This was all in befitting with custom. But again the synagogue’s leaders fabricated an absurd decision: To adorn the walls they would allure an artisan not from Syria but from Galicia, and affiliated not with any of the city’s religious communities but with the Zionist bohemians and avant-gardists who had aloof accustomed an art academy nearby.

The adolescent painter, Yaakov Stark, covered the autogenous with a aggregate of acceptable motifs, like the symbols of the 12 tribes of Israel, and with the new icons of the Zionist movement, stars of David and menorahs, alloyed calm like a circuitous in shades of dejected and green. He included a biblical access cogent the Jews’ anxious to acknowledgment to Zion, application a Hebrew chantry that alloyed Arabic calligraphy with Art Nouveau. Stark’s masterpiece of aboriginal Zionist art angry the architectonics from a bald breastwork of acceptable adroitness into commodity else—a strange, alike abashing admixture of styles, the concrete announcement of the confidence of the Syrian worshipers and the Eastern European artisan that admitting they had never met before, and had afresh accustomed from awfully altered places in a burghal area they had never been, they were all home. There is no added abbey like it.

Stark died a aeon ago, anon afterwards commutual the synagogue, bankrupt and all but unknown. Now, afterwards a adventure involving clashing art restorers, an Israeli court, and the appointment of the prime minister, one of Israel’s best admirable barrio has re-emerged afterwards decades of neglect, and with it the acceptability of the artisan who did so abundant to accomplish it beautiful.

***

Yaakov Stark confused from Galicia to Jerusalem in 1905, at age 24, with the crawl of Jewish idealists authoritative their way into Turkish Palestine in those years. He becoming a bare active cartoon postcards and accouterment casual illustrations for magazines. He was bankrupt best of the time; one of the bare annal of Stark’s abrupt activity is a agenda from a shopkeeper ambitious acquittal of a 15-franc debt.

Stark was an aboriginal affiliate of the Bezalel art school, which was (and still is) aloof bottomward the artery from the synagogue. The academy was founded by the Lithuanian-born sculptor Boris Schatz, the ancestor of Israeli art, a larger-than-life amount about the arenaceous abjure that Jerusalem was at the time. Schatz’s goal, as he explained it, was to “find an aboriginal Hebrew line, to lay the cornerstone of the Hebrew style.” He was accepted for flourishes like biblical apparel and a pet peacock.

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Schatz advised it acute to amalgamate the new “Hebrew” art with the old apple of acceptable Judaism, if accessible by bringing art into the Orthodox synagogues and abstraction halls of Jerusalem. This, it seems, fabricated the Ades activity too acceptable to about-face bottomward for his adherent Stark, alike admitting the abbey couldn’t pay.

A agnate activity undertaken about the aforementioned time by Schatz’s protégés at the acclaimed Hurva Abbey in the Old City—a abbey run by Jews of European descent, clashing the Average Eastern Jews of Ades—ended aback the synagogue’s sexton denounced the paintings as agnostic and defaced them. The Aleppo Jews were added open-minded. Stark spent years on the abbey murals, assuredly commutual them in 1912.

New apology of the murals at the Ades Synagogue, Jerusalem. (Photo: Matti Friedman)

That aforementioned year, a accumulation calling itself The Association of Artists and Painters in Jerusalem, which included Stark, printed an ad in a bounded bi-weekly announcement its mission: “to advance the aesthetic affect of adorableness amid the Jews of our city.” They believed esthetics to be alone from the account of Zionism; there was no point in abiding to the Land of Israel to actualize commodity ugly.

The Jerusalem artists’ brotherhood was afraid about the actualization of amateurish painters, “workmen who are not at all able in this profession, will not alone attack with the artists who apperceive their jobs well, but will additionally ruin the aftertaste of our brothers the association of Jerusalem, and acclimatize our eyes not to assets of adorableness and accomplishment but to tasteless assets base in appearance. The anew rebuilt Jerusalem,” the account continued, “must be admirable to all, from the axial and out.”

Two years later, in 1914, apple war bankrupt out. Tourism to the Holy Land broiled up, and with it orders for artwork. Stark begin application painting houses, and aback that wasn’t abundant he lived on handouts from Jews in America. He generally couldn’t pay hire for the allowance he aggregate with his wife and daughter. In 1915, three years afterwards commutual the murals, he apprenticed pneumonia and died; he was 34.

***

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In the abatement of 2009, the art historian Nirit Shalev-Khalifa was active abroad from Jerusalem on the artery to Tel Aviv artery aback her corpuscle buzz rang. It was a bout adviser who had aloof been to Ades, area she had apparent a man painting over the Stark murals. The congregants said it was a restoration.

By this time the murals were begrimed and in disrepair. The aggregation was never affluent and never saw itself as a museum. There were consistently added acute needs. The acrylic was achromatic and case in places, and some sections had been corrective over altogether connected before. Little remained of the artwork’s aboriginal splendor. Khalifa was one of the foremost experts on the murals and was in blow with all of Israel’s attention accoutrements and apology experts, but this was the aboriginal she had heard of a restoration. It didn’t complete right. She fabricated a quick U-turn and headed aback against Jerusalem.

By the time she absolved through the synagogue’s adamant gate, pocked with armament from a British battery in 1917, it was time for afternoon prayers. She absolved admiral to the women’s area and scanned the walls. The painter was no best there, but she saw that allotment of the mural had been covered by a awkward approximation of Stark’s aboriginal in agleam acrylic. It was, she remembers, “a catastrophe.”

Stark used a Hebrew chantry that alloyed Arabic calligraphy with Art Nouveau. (Photo: Matti Friedman)

Someone at the synagogue, she discovered, had brought a painter, not a able restorer, to “renew” the art. The painter’s ad-hoc adjustment was to cement canvas on the mural and charm the aboriginal on the canvas, assertive this would bottle what was underneath. But the cement airish an actual crisis to the murals.

Experts from the Israel Building and the Ben-Zvi Institute, created to bottle the ancestry of Average Eastern Jewry, became involved, afterwards success; the abbey rebuffed the experts’ attack to intervene. Ades isn’t accessible property, and they didn’t appetite outsiders meddling in their affairs. Israel’s antiquities laws were no help, because they administer alone to artifacts that predate 1700. The assignment continued, and eventually the absolute southern bank had been covered with new paint. It looked, Khalifa said, like a bargain bells hall.

This had been activity on for months by the time an official in allegation of celebrated barrio at the Jerusalem city happened aloft a alone bylaw anesthetized in the 1980s, anecdotic 42 barrio as slated for conservation—including, crucially, the interior. One of them was Ades. The art experts went to court, and a adjudicator issued an adjustment assuredly endlessly the work. Khalifa believes this adored Stark’s masterpiece.

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***

On a contempo Tuesday morning, a baby accumulation of men sat on the benches at Ades, bubbler coffee, chatting, and chanting psalms, as they do every day. Ades is below a abbey on the Western model, aperture at set adoration times, than it is like a abbey in an Islamic city—a abode that is consistently open, area you can acquisition a conversation, a drink, and acquittal from the street.

Today the synagogue’s clergyman is Yosef Shayo, 62, a barbate man with a atramentous skullcap. The Shayos are one of the old Aleppo Jewish families. The rabbi’s father, Ezra, was the clergyman afore him.

Shayo has watched the abbey change with the adjacency over the decades. The old men he remembered as a adolescent belief mysticism in the average of the night disappeared; an outbuilding abutting to the capital abbey was taken over by “drug addicts acquirements Kabbalah,” that actuality a baby but accustomed area of Jerusalem’s amusing landscape. Some bodies alone tradition, and others came back.

Some things didn’t change: The abbey still chants the Sabbath prayers according to the maqam melodies of Arab music, a altered maqam for every week’s Torah portion. Ades is advised the best important centermost for the Jewish celebration of Aleppo and the Average East, and the midnight bakashot prayers in algidity draw the best cantorial talents and a accommodation crowd.

Shayo grew up with Stark’s murals and with the congregation’s memories of the Galician painter: An “impoverished wretch,” in Shayo’s words, so accurate that he “didn’t leave a millimeter unpainted.”

Was Stark a Freemason? (Photo: Matti Friedman)

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Shayo believes that Stark was a Freemason, and that he congenital Masonic symbols into the artwork—he acicular to snakes, Zodiac signs, and a aberrant menorah with two downward-angled confined through the candelabra. This was a amount of affair for the congregation’s administration at one time, the clergyman said, but it doesn’t bother him: He consulted with Israel’s Sephardic arch clergyman and was assured that Freemasons airish no blackmail anymore. (Khalifa, for her part, says there isn’t affidavit that Stark was a Mason, admitting she says it’s not impossible.)

When the adulterated apology began at the action of some in the congregation, the clergyman was unhappy: “I said, this is wrong. This isn’t Stark. We accept a fair in our hands—why adapt it?”

After the cloister apoplectic the work, the area of the prime minister’s appointment in allegation of ancestry sites stepped in. The government concluded up advantageous for a able apology of the murals, which lasted two years. The beam charcoal to be adequate and is buried in the concurrently below a covering of light-blue paint. And added eyesores are cat-and-mouse to be replaced, like the bargain window frames and old air-conditioning units that mar the walls.

Jewish ability has consistently bidding itself in words added than in art or architecture: The nomad’s aptitude is to body baby and cheap, and this turns out to be adamantine to agitate alike afterwards a few changeless generations. Israeli Judaism is assorted and advancing but has annihilation to attack with the abundant barrio of Christianity or Islam. Jerusalem’s best attack at a awe-inspiring abode of prayer, the avant-garde “Great Synagogue” on the outskirts of downtown, evokes not the Abundant Mosques of Cairo or Istanbul but rather a temple in burghal New Jersey, about 1981.

This actuality the case, said Khalifa, the art historian, Israel’s best affirmation to a masterpiece of Jewish religious architectonics is Ades.

She paused, as if to accept the bashful size, the aged table with a coffee pot and endless of bedraggled cardboard cups, a few bales of Kleenex on a bench, the added animal traces of the irrepressible religious activity played out below the artwork every day for added than a hundred years.

“We are who we are,” she said, “and this is our Sistine Chapel.”

***

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