Via Maderno Synagogue
Comunità Israelita /
Via Carlo Maderno 11
|Type of building:||Synagogue (partly a conversion of a former private villa)|
|Area:||Approximately 267 m2|
|Building height:||12.5 m|
|Cost:||Approximately CHF 200,000|
|Owners:||Comunità Israelita Lugano|
|Architect:||Daniele Moroni Stampa|
|Start of construction:||1958|
|Construction period:||1.5 years|
|Inauguration:||14th June 1959|
|Religious tradition:||Jewish-Orthodox (Aschkenazim)|
|Conception through to inauguration:||9 years|
Strong sunlight flashes on the gentle waves of Lake Lugano. Our path leads away from the shore in the direction of the Molino Nuovo district. We go into the busy Via Camunzio, and carry on until we cross the Corso Pestalozzi. After about 300 m we come to the Via Carlo Maderno. After a few housing blocks is a building with high arched windows on the left, slightly set back from the street. It consists of two connected cubes covered with flat roofs. Two palm trees in front of the building give it a certain Ticino atmosphere.
Above the entrance, a black inscription in relief can be seen in Hebrew letters, and above that two tablets, also containing Hebrew letters and a crown – the tablets containing the Ten Commandments, a reference to the Mosaic tradition which is cultivated here. To the right of the entrance, running nearly the whole height of the building, are two slender arched windows with the Star of David above them (Magen David in Hebrew). The same symbol can be seen on both wings of the wooden entrance door. There is no doubt that we are standing in front of the synagogue of the Comunità Israelita Lugano.
In the beginning, the community celebrated their worship in prayer halls which had been established in 1915 above a restaurant on the shopping street Via Nassa. The community grew during the First and Second World Wars due to refugees with Orthodox backgrounds from Galicia and other parts of Eastern Europe.
As by 1950 the community counted about 50 households, planning began for a larger synagogue. Community members contribute financially as much as possible to the project, and so in the mid-50s they were able to purchase a property containing a villa on the Via Maderno. Daniele Moroni, consulting architect for the building authority from 1952-1956 and a member of the town preservation authority, was commissioned as architect. After that followed «the smooth construction of the synagogue», remembers congregation member Elio Bollag.
The villa itself was converted in classrooms and offices. A second cube was added, containing the sanctuary, the Talmud school (Bet Hamidrasch) and the bath (mikvah). On 14th June 1959 the time had come: the then 250 members of the community in Lugano could consecrate the newly built synagogue.
The exterior of the synagogue should not be overrated, finds Elio Bollag: «The forms of a synagogue are not important. It begins to live when people are in it and begin to pray – that is its substance. Prayer and study are more important than the building.»
Elio Bollag is spokesman for the Comunità Israelita. He was religiously educated and raised in the Orthodox tradition, he says, but this was not as strict as might be imagined: «I didn’t go to the synagogue every morning and evening. I went on Saturday morning, which is the most important time – and of course on festivals.» Bollag’s grandfather ran the first kosher hotel in Lugano, to Hotel Kempler, and was one of the initiators for the construction of the synagogue. Elio Bollag took over the fashion business «Modabella» from his parents, which he ran until 1998. Since then Bollag, who describes himself as a «typical Luganese» has been active in the Lugano FDP (Liberal Party), and was a policy maker for the «Consiglio Comunale» (municipal council) for eight years. He also works as a freelance journalist.
On 13th March 2005 at midnight, a synagogue burned for the first time in Switzerland. It happened on the Via Maderno: A 58-year-old Italian living in Ticino threw a bottle filled with petrol into the basement of the building. A large part of the interior, especially the library, was destroyed. A nearby clothing shop «Buon Mercato» was also set ablaze. It was owned by a synagogue member whose father, Leo Rubinfeld, had been one of the main initiators in building the synagogue. Nevertheless the court, as well as Elio Bollag saw the act as one of arson, and not a clearly anti-Semitic act. It was established that the perpetrator had diminished responsibility, and so the act can be thought of more as an «irrational anti-Semitism». As a result of the fire many individuals and institutions expressed their solidarity with the Comunità Israelita. These ranged from Churches, to the Muslim community, to all the political parties.
Two years before the fire, the synagogue was daubed with swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans. Otherwise, the Jewish community in Lugano have never had any problems, notes Bollag. He explains: «Jews have always adapted.» As long as it does not contradict the rituals and laws integral to the community, Jews apply the rule: «The law of the country in which you live, should be your law.»
Elio Bollag describes the relationship with the neighbourhood as «perfect», and the relationship with the rest of Lugano as even better. «We are considered members of the city. We are very well respected by the Lugano community. When there have been wars or anti-Semitic activity in the world, we have always had the support of the police, who have protected us. The last time was after the burning of the synagogue, when we didn’t yet know the motives behind it.» Elio Bollag points to an open day which demonstrated the interest shown by the Lugano population. «All the seats were occupied. 300 people came to see the interior of the synagogue.»
Zwei Jahre vor dem Brand wurde die Synagoge mit Hakenkreuzen und antisemitischen Sprüchen verschmiert. Ansonsten habe die jüdische Gemeinde in Lugano jedoch nie Probleme gehabt, stellt Bollag fest. Er erklärt: «Die Juden haben sich immer angepasst.» Soweit es nicht um kultische, also gemeinschaftsinterne Vorschriften gehe, gelte für die Juden: «Das Gesetz des Landes, in dem du wohnst, wird dein Gesetz sein.»
Die Beziehung zur Nachbarschaft bezeichnet Elio Bollag als «perfekt», und mit der Gemeinde Lugano sei das Verhältnis noch besser. «Wir werden als Mitglieder der Stadt angesehen. Die Gemeinde Lugano respektiert uns sehr. Wenn es Kriege oder antisemitische Äusserungen in der Welt gab, hatten wir immer die Unterstützung der Polizei, die uns beschützte. Letztes Mal war das nach dem Brand der Synagoge, als man noch nicht wusste, welche Motive dahinter stecken.» Das offene Interesse der Luganeser Bevölkerung zeigte sich für Elio Bollag auch am Tag der offenen Tür: «Alle Plätze waren besetzt, es kamen 300 Leute um das Innere der Synagoge zu sehen.»
«Israelite» or «Hebrew» is the original Jewish self-definition as the people of Israel until the Babylonian exile (6th century B.C.E.). The term «Jew», as applied to all members of the Jewish people goes back to the leadership of Judea after the exile.
Someone is considered a Jew if they are descended from a Jewish mother or converted to the Jewish religion according to Orthodox standards. Until the Enlightement nationality and religion were strongly intertwined. Although today more liberal forms of Judaism regard it entirely as a religion, Zionist movements put nationalism at the fore.
Since the 18th century a variety of movements have developed: Orthodox movements seek to answer the challenges of modernity in ways which take account of changing circumstances while preserving the commandments and religious traditions. Conservative Judaism attempts to tread a middle path, supporting the careful development of tradition. Liberal movements meet modernity with reform, such as the equality of the sexes. In liberal communities, therefore, female Rabbis and cantors can also worship. Further movements include the American «Reconstructionists», who replace the concept of God with a notion of Jewish peoplehood, or Chabad, which focuses on the mystical elements of Judaism. The movements differ in both their worship and attitudes to social issues.
According to Jewish teaching, God made a covenant with the people of Israel and gave them his instructions (Thora). These instructions, understood as God’s will, are specified in the 613 mizvot, the 365 prohibitions and 248 commandments that are found in the Bible.
Willingness to act according to God’s will is at the centre of Jewish existence. Consequently, practical life and behaviour are emphasised over teaching doctrine. This leads to a continuous reflection on «God’s instructions», which, among other things, are found in the Talmud. The Talmud contains a collection of discussions on the interpretation and application of Biblical law, as well as numerous other issues and questions which were originally led by the Rabbis in the academies of Jerusalem and Babylon, and which continued for centuries. Jewish law, «halacha», is closely bound with the rabbinic practice of interpretation, which engages with the continuously changing living conditions. One of the beliefs is also the promise of a coming Davidic king, the «anointed» (Messiah). With it is associated the hope for a time of universal peace and the rule of God.
Until modern times, the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe grew in number into one of the most important Jewish centres. These «eastern Jews», the Ashkenazim, have strongly shaped the image of Judaism. In Western Europe, this image has often been associated with negative stereotypes.
Jews are the oldest non-Christian religious community in Switzerland. Their presence since the Roman period is attested by archaeological finds. In the 13th century Jewish communities emerged in Lucerne, Bern, St. Gallen and Zurich. As elsewhere in Europe, they were discriminated against in this country in many ways. They were forced to wear a special hat, were not allowed to learn a craft, and were legally required to operate money lending which Christians were not allowed to do. During the Second World War, the refugee policy of Switzerland was highly resistant, and refugees who were nonetheless granted asylum (about 25,000) were interred in labour camps.
Of all religious groups in Switzerland, the Jewish community have the highest level of higher education at 42.7% (general population 19.2%). The Swiss Jewish community are concentrated in urban areas; the boroughs of Zurich and Geneva currently account for 42% of the nearly 18,000 people who are members of Judaism. Four fifths of these (78.8%) are Swiss citizens. Their number has declined both in relative and absolute terms since the First World War. Of the 13.3 million Jews worldwide, most of them, (10.7 million) live in the USA or Israel.
Text : Edwin Egeter
Photos : Edwin Egeter
«Cupola – Temple – Minaret» is a Project by the Center for Research on Religions, Lucerne
Last updated: 16th March 2016
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