Close-up | 03. Januar 2022

Out and about in "Our City!" - Leopoldstadt

by Hannah Landsmann
© Jüdisches Museum Wien
The second district of Vienna, or Leopoldstadt, is also known under the “pseudonym” Mazzes-Insel (Matzah Island). Island, because this area of Vienna was once surrounded by much more water before the regulation of the Danube. The second district is also the closest to sea level that Vienna can offer, so it is the lowest part of the city. The matzos or matzoth are the unleavened breads, which consist solely of flour and water and are eaten by Jewish women and men around the world during the Passover festival in spring instead of normal leavened bread. In the seventeenth century, members of the city’s second Jewish community lived in this area until it was dissolved by Emperor Leopold I.

Despite the expulsion of Jewish women and men from Vienna in 1670, Jewish life in this district reawakened and even before the third Jewish community was established by Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1852, matzah or matzo meal could be bought on almost every corner.

:
© Jüdisches Museum Wien
You can do that today, too, and the inner core of the second district has a chic look and feel, people like to live there again if they can afford it and enjoy the culinary and cultural refreshments of the twenty-first century.
Through the OT project you can “experience” five of the synagogues used in Leopoldstadt until November 1938 – at home or when you take your mobile phone with you on a walk through the district and access information about one at the respective addresses via a QR code. Our museum’s large collection includes numerous textiles that cannot be displayed for space reasons. Many are also in a rather unfortunate condition and would urgently need restoration.

:
© Jüdisches Museum Wien
:
© Jüdisches Museum Wien
The Leopoldstadt Temple, inaugurated in 1858 at today’s Tempelgasse 5 and designed by the well-known architect Ludwig Förster, was the largest and most magnificent synagogue in the city. A fire that broke out in the left wing during a soldiers’ service in the summer of 1917 caused significant damage. The renovation work was not completed until 1921 and for the Jewish New Year celebration on October 21, this magnificent Torah curtain (Hebrew: parochet) hung in front of the Torah shrine, when the use of the restored synagogue wing was permitted by the authorities.
We are dealing with an object whose size (240 x 430 centimeters) makes it necessary to store it on a roll. Featuring an astonishingly modern, Art Deco design, the object, because of its light color, is intended for use on the high Jewish holidays in autumn. “Like a bird robbed of its nest, our soul mourns. The feast for our eyes is now a smoking heap of rubble! Our pride is a tangle of charred wood, molten metal, bent iron bars!” lamented Rabbi Meir Grunwald in 1917. The curtain was, of course, primarily dedicated to the honor of the Torah, but also, as the dedication says, “to our teacher and Rabbi Meir, son of Rav Abraham Grunwald.”
 

In 1938, when the fire department reported at 11 a.m. on November 10th that the Leopoldstädter Tempel was “completely burned out,” an even more terrible event took place. However, the left wing was spared again and today houses a Jewish school and a ritual bath (mikvah).

The Jewish Museum Vienna acquired this textile for its collection in 2000. Such purchases are very rare. In this way, however, Viennese Jewish history or the museum’s collection can be reconstructed.

Named after its address on Grosse Schiffgasse, the so-called Schiffschul was the center of Jewish Orthodoxy in Vienna from 1864 to 1938, which at times also stood in opposition to the Jewish Community of Vienna. The premises called “Schiffschul” consisted of two buildings, one of which was used as an administration building and not destroyed in November 1938.
:
© Jüdisches Museum Wien
:
© Jüdisches Museum Wien
This textile comes from the Jewish Community of Vienna (IKG) Collection and was donated in 1894 for the synagogue at Grosse Schiffgasse 8. With the dimensions of 230 x 186 centimeters, this textile is somewhat smaller and it appears as if the dedication inscription in the middle were the only thing necessary and the crown, framed by the Hebrew letters “kaf” (K) and “tav” (T) for crown of the Torah (Hebrew: Keter Torah), the bare essential required in terms of ornamentation and decoration. The Hebrew text reads in English: “This is a donation from the distinguished venerable Rabbi Jizchak Naftali Beck, in blessed memory of his mother, the humble Blimele, peace be with her, for the glory of God and for the glory of the Torah, in the year 654 according to the small count.”

What is small about the count is the omission of the thousand digit, because, of course, the year 5654 can only be the year 1894 in the civil calendar, thirty years after the inauguration of the synagogue, which was planned by the architect Ignaz Reiser. In the inventory of the Jewish Museum Vienna there are five textiles, Torah curtains and Torah mantles which were donated by Naftali Beck. As the head of the Vienna Jewish Community, Beck dedicates the fabrics to the memory of his wife Freiwa or his mother Blimele and her parents Josef and Rebekka.

:
© Jüdisches Museum Wien
:
© Sonja Bachmayer
The area on which the synagogue was located remained undeveloped and the former administration building now houses two Jewish associations. From the early 1980s onwards, the Schiffschul and the rabbis father and son Pressburger were the contact point for Jewish women and men who had fled from Iran. In 2015, eleven photos by Christine de Grancy, who captured the hidden world of Iranian Jews in Vienna with her camera between 1991 and 1993, were shown in Palais Eskeles on Dorotheergasse.
PS: With just one exception, this blog post only contains objects that you cannot see in the museum. Find the solution and win a family tour of the permanent exhibition Our City! Jewish Vienna –Then to Now. Write to: