The Canadian Jeiwsh News

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

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Must-see Jewish sights in Vienna

Tags: Travel
The Holocaust Memorial in the Judenplatz. [Ted Liss Photo]

With its spectacular Baroque architecture, impressive museums, grand palaces, exciting nightlife and cultural events, Vienna is ranked among the great cities of the world.

For the Jewish traveller, there are also many must-see places that will remain forever etched in the heart and soul.

From our vantage point at the Hotel Stefanie, the sights and sounds of the Jewish Quarter are just about everywhere. Chassidic men in casual groups stop to chat as they pass one another on the street. Gone is the worry of dressing in such identifiable fashion. The Hotel Stefanie has a long-standing relationship with Vienna’s Jewish community and caters to the needs of Jewish visitors. Kosher meals are provided, a Sabbath elevator stops on every floor, and a concierge smilingly opens doors or pushes elevator buttons for the observant guests.

A short walk from the Stephansdom, a tour of Jewish Vienna begins with the Stadttempel, the synagogue and headquarters of Vienna’s Jewish community. During the ravages of Kristallnacht, more than 40 synagogues were destroyed, but through an ironic twist of fate, the Stadttempel managed to survive. It was inaugurated in 1826, a time when strict building codes forbade distinguishing architectural features on synagogues, whose facades had to conform in style, height and décor with neighbouring buildings. From its unremarkable exterior, the Stadttempel resembles all the other attached buildings on the street. As a result, it was overlooked and spared. The interior of the synagogue is nothing at all like the exterior.

At first, the synagogue appears to be a Reform temple with a stunning round sanctuary, but in fact, it serves the Orthodox community, with a separate gallery for the women. Visiting hours are limited and security remains extremely tight since the 1982 Palestinian terrorist attack, so planning ahead is essential.

Not far from the Stadttempel on Seitenstettengasse is the Judenplatz, the main square of the Jewish community for half a millennium. Museum Judenplatz Vienna, inaugurated 12 years ago, is devoted to the history of medieval Jewish life in Vienna. The museum is entered through the Mizrachi House. During excavations of the city, ruins of an ancient synagogue (including the bimah) were discovered and later incorporated as an important component of the museum.

Silent and sombre on the Judenplatz is British artist Rachel Whiteread’s Holocaust memorial documenting the 65,000 Austrian Jewish victims of the Holocaust. It was dedicated on the same day as the museum. The steel and concrete structure in the form of a library turned inside out depicts books on shelves facing outward, their spines hidden. The double doors have no handles and do not open.

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