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The building of the former Groise Shil today
The building of the former Groise Shil today

Groise Shil

Element 340
Synagogue St, 31
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With its massive walls, narrow, arched windows and a high entrance platform turned to the West, this monumental building differs from all other houses on Synagogue Street. Today, visitors are greeted by the smell of roasted coffee, but this building once used to a synagogue. Because of its size it got the name “Groise Shil”, which means in Yiddish – “Big synagogue”.

Till 1877 it was the main Jewish temple of Chernivtsi. The synagogue was built on the site of its wooden predecessor, which was destroyed by Russians in 1770. Not long before Bukovina became a part of the Austrian Empire in 1774, the local Jewish community received the right to build a new synagogue. However due to anti-semitic prejudices by the Austrian military administration, these plans weren’t realized. Permission from Vienna to re-build the synagogue in Chernivtsi was received only in 1799. Construction was interrupted several times, and the synagogue was completed in 1854.

The opening was accompanied by heated arguments between the Orthodox and the Reformist parts of the Jewish community about the question who was entitled to use the synagogue. The arguments only ended in 1877 when the reformist’s “Temple” was erected. From that point on, the “Groise Shil” was the main Orthodox synagogue. Here the “bima” – an elevated platform for reading the Torah – was situated in the middle of a praying hall and women prayed separately from men.

In the autumn of 1941 the Chernivtsi ghetto was established, and the Groise Shil was also located within the ghetto area, and had to be turned into a shelter for Jews. Following the liquidation of the ghetto, the synagogue probably continued operating, and the Religious Society of Judaism was registered here after the war. In April 1959, its activities were deemed illegal and anti-Soviet by the authorities, and the synagogue was expropriated.

The former synagogue was then turned into a workshop for cinema furniture. In 1991 the former synagogue was privatized. A fire in 2006 damaged the roof and destroyed most of the original wall paintings. By pure chance, workers discovered wall paintings in the side hall in 2012 that date back to the 1930s. Yitzhak Ayzykovych – the artist who designed them- used to have his workshop on Synagogue Street. These wall painting are worth to be seen.

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