Before Its Destruction: Jobar Synagogue in Syria

By Rose Kaplan

Posted in Tablet Magazine

An organization called Diarna has created an online ‘geo-museum’ where visitors can explore historical Jewish sites in the Middle East and North Africa that no longer exist

Jewish cemetery in Sudan. A network of ancient Jewish fortresses in Saudi Arabia. A Beirut synagogue restored with the endorsement of Hezbollah. A former synagogue, built in a gothic architectural style, now used as a mosque in Northwest Algeria. Iraqi Kurdistan, where thousands of Jews once made Shavuot pilgrimages to the tomb of a biblical prophet. A shrine and burial ground on the Syria-Turkey border, popular as a Jewish tourist site in the early 20th century, that later served as a secret exit point for Jews escaping Syria after 1948.

Locales in the Middle East and North Africa are rich with remnants of Jewish life and culture, much of it organized around once overlapping ethnic, political, and religious affiliations that seem nearly unimaginable today. But because so much of the region isn’t always accessible, many of these sites remain hidden from sight, and therefore from our memories.

Enter Diarna, an organization dedicated to preserving historical remnants across the region—online. Through extensive field research, Diarna, which translates to ”our homes” in Judeo-Arabic, has photographed and digitally “mapped” these sites, creating an online museum complete with data and narratives through which visitors can learn about the synagogues, schools, and other structures that once comprised Mizrahi Jewish life. Diarna operates from the American Sephardi Federation in New York City.

Scroll will frequently feature a new Diarna historical site, serving up architectural glimpses into a Jewish world that is fast decaying, if not being destroyed outright. This week, we begin with the Eliyahu Hanabi Synagogue, also known as the Jobar Synagogue, in Jobar, Syria, a suburb of Damascus. Some say the synagogue’s Jewish roots date back to the Talmud.

According to Diarna, the synagogue is said to mark the location where Elijah anointed his disciple Elisha, although historical data suggests that multiple structures have existed there since antiquity. Romanian-Jewish traveler and historian Israël Joseph Benjamin visited the site in the mid-19th century and wrote that the original structure had been destroyed by the Roman Emperor Titus, as well as a second synagogue, supposedly rebuilt in the first century by the Rabbi Eleazar ben Arach and destroyed in the 16th century.

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