Buying a gift for your synagogue is a wonderful gesture and a beautiful way to show thanks and appreciation. It’s also a way to show respect and friendship towards your fellow worshipers in the congregation. Gifts can mark special events, or can be a contribution towards a restoration project or renovations. It can also be fitting to offer a gift to a Synagogue as a memorial to a worshiper who has passed away.
The type of gift you choose to buy for your synagogue will depend entirely on your budget, and the needs of the congregation. Even if you’re a regular worshiper, it’s probably still worth asking discretely if there is anything that the synagogue actually needs. A gift of a silver menorah decorated with amethysts is an amazing gesture, but it may be misguided if the roof is in urgent need of repair or the building needs rewiring.
Some synagogues prefer a cash donation to help with the upkeep of the building itself, or for good works in the community. Others are delighted to receive new scrolls, or ritual items like a Hanukkiah or Megillah case. If you’re planning to buy fine Judaica as a gift for your synagogue, we’ve got some great suggestions to suit every budget. We’ve also got plenty of ideas for special gifts to commemorate Jewish holidays and events.
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What is a Synagogue?
A synagogue (also known as a temple or shul) is a Jewish place of worship and religious instruction. It’s essentially the Jewish quivalent of a Christian church or Muslim mosque. The term synagogue can also refer to a specific congregation. The Hebrew term for a synagogue is בית כנסת or beit knesset. A typical synagogue will have a consecrated space for prayer, rooms for religious study, and possibly communal areas for social activities, as well as an office and store rooms etc.
Asking what is a synagogue might seem like a dumb question, but there are people who genuinely don’t know. There are plenty of non Jews in the wider community who only have a very hazy idea what a synagogue actually is. There are also secular Jews who’ve never set foot inside a synagogue in their lives, or who only show up for special family events
What does Synagogue Mean?
The English word synagogue is actually of Greek origin and comes from the ancient word for an assembly. Its first known use in the context of Jewish worship was around 800 years ago. The popular term shul is of Yiddish origin and is similar to the German schule or school.
Common alternatives for the word synagogue
- Shul – Yiddish
- Temple – Reform Jews
- בית כנסת – Hebrew
- Kal – Sephardi Jews
- Kenesa – Persian Jews
- Kenes or qnis – Mizrachi Jews
Whatever term you use, the typical – and most recognizable – English word is simply synagogue. It’s simply an assembly of Jewish worshipers.
What is the Difference between a Temple and a Synagogue?
There is no fundamental difference between a temple and a synagogue, assuming that we’re talking about a Jewish temple – and not a Buddhist or Hindu one! Temple is a term that’s popular among many Reform Jews and also followers of Reconstructionist Judaism. If you hear someone refer to the Temple, they’re just talking about the Synagogue.
What Religion is a Synagogue?
A synagogue is a Jewish house of worship and no other religion uses synagogues. Where confusion sometimes creeps in is that there are different Jewish denominations and traditions. These include the various branches of Reform Judaism, Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, and splits between Haredi Judaism (Dati and Masorti). There are also secular Jews who rarely visit synagogues, but may still feel a cultural affinity and connection to their Jewish heritage. As the old joke goes, every Jew needs two synagogues – one to pray in and one to reject…
Where is the Oldest Synagogue in the United States?
There’s a certain amount of debate about which synagogue was the first to be established in the United States. In a sense, asking where we find the oldest synagogue in the United States is a trick question. The United States was founded in 1781 and there were already at least five Sephardi congregations in existence while America was a British colony.
The original congregation is generally reckoned to be the Shearith Israel, established in New York in 1654. Sephardi Jews of Spanish and Portuguese origin crossed the Atlantic to South American and Caribbean colonies, before making their way northwards to the British colonies in New England and the East Coast. The first Ashkenazi synagogue in the US may have been founded in Charleston prior to 1790, but its provenance is disputed. The Rodeph Shalom congregation, founded in Philadelphia in 1795 is considered to be America’s first Ashkenazi synagogue.
What Gift can I Buy for my Synagogue
Gifts to synagogues can range from spectacular stained glass windows or gilded furnishings, all the way down to a donation of a few dollars towards the synagogue’s upkeep. Every freely given gift is a blessing and it is the giver’s intention that counts. If you want to buy a gift for your synagogue, an item of handmade Judaica from Israel can be an excellent choice.
If you’re part of a small community with a basic synagogue, a fine Judica item like a new menorah, a megillah case or even a tzedakah box can be a welcome addition. It’s also great to have ritual items that were made in Jerusalem by traditional family craftsmen. The connection to ancient Jewish tradition and the holy city of Jerusalem adds special meaning to regular worship.
A handmade menorah from Jerusalem is a superb gift for a synagogue. It’s a special ritual item from the heart of Judaism. The lighting of lamps to celebrate the arrival of Shabbat is an ancient ritual that extends at least as far back as the time of Abraham and Sarah. A handcrafted sterling silver menorah is also a wonderful ornamental item that will add to the beauty and holy atmosphere of any synagogue.
Some small synagogues, or new places of worship, may not have a ritual Hanukkiah. Hanukkah is a special holiday and lighting the Hanukkiah (Chanukiah) is a lot of fun, especially for children. A gift of a special Hanukkah menorah can bring a lot of pleasure to the entire congregation. Even though the Hanukkiah is only used during the annual holiday, it can still be displayed all year round.
Most synagogues opt for traditional menorahs made from 925 sterling silver. Jewish worshipers generally prefer the beautiful old fashioned silversmithing and want a ritual connection to their earliest Jewish ancestors. In fact, beautiful bejeweled silver menorahs would have been comparatively rare throughout earlier Jewish history. People would have used affordable, locally available materials. Luxury wasn’t always an option.
Some congregations are open to modern menorah designs, crafted from stunning anodized aluminum, ceramics, and even ultra modern materials like cast concrete. These sound like ugly industrial products, but can be spectacularly beautiful, especially if you love minimalist design.
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If you’re on a budget, or are looking for a small thank you gift, a Judaica candle lighter and match cover is a great way to show your appreciation. A handmade silver candle lighter is designed to safely hold a slim candle. You can transfer the flame to each Shabbat candle or oil pot.
A traditional candle lighter is often decorated with ornate silver filigree work, or even with enamel inlay or semi-precious stones and gems. A match cover is an ornate silver box or sleeve that holds your box of matches. Its purpose is purely decorative, but it complements the other ritual items in the synagogue.
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If you’re looking for an original gift for your synagogue that’s around middle budget level, consider buying a handmade megillah case. A megillah case (scroll case) is a wonderful ritual accessory that will attract a lot of admiration when the Five Scrolls are brought out, especially the Book of Lamentations on Tisha B’Av and the Book of Esther at Purim.
A handmade silver megillah case not only protects the scrolls. It’s a beautiful ornamental item that adds a special traditional touch to any ceremony involving the scrolls. If you do decide to buy a megillah case for your synagogue, you’ll have given a gift that will last for generations – and hopefully for centuries.
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Buy a Tzedakah Box for my Synagogue
The synagogue was traditionally the heart of any Jewish community. Prayer and religious teaching aside, a good synagogue provides a sense of community and a focus point for carrying out good works, providing assistance, and relieving suffering. Charity is a key aspect of all religions. It was especially important in historically isolated Jewish communities that had to provide their own welfare services. The concept of giving remains an important aspect of religious and secular Jewish life, and every home and synagogue should have a tzedakah box or charity box.
If you want to buy a small, but useful gift for a synagogue, a tzedakah charity box is a good choice. Don’t worry if your synagogue already has one, there will always be a place for another. A handmade silver tzedakah box isn’t just a functional item, it’s also an eye-catching reminder to make a charitable donation. A silver tzedakah box can feature exquisite Yemenite silver filigree, or can be simple and elegant. Whatever style you choose, it will add to the beauty of the synagogue and encourage charity.
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Handmade silver Judaica is robust enough to last for a long time. Nobody wants to tempt fate, but your gift will hopefully still be in use hundreds of years from now. If your gift has special significance, or commemorates an event or a person, it’s definitely worth getting it personalized with an engraving or other ornamentation.
The simplest and most popular way to personalize a gift to a synagogue is by adding an engraving. Usually this is a dedication or a blessing in English or Hebrew script. A fine engraving is simple and unostentatious and won’t detract from the beauty of the silver item in any way.
Sometimes, the whole point of personalizing a Judaica gift is to add to the beauty and originality of the item. You may want to display the name of the synagogue or add a striking Jewish motif or symbol like a Star of David, Lion of Judah, Chai symbol or other emblems. If you want a bold, visually attractive decoration, options include enamel inlays, silver solder, stamping, gemstones, gold plating, the addition of anodized aluminum and a glittering hammer finish.
After engraving, enamel inlay is probably the most popular way to personalize a gift of Judaica for a synagogue. The colored enamel is poured into cut out designs in the silver, where it sets with a super hard finish. Blue enamel contrasts beautifully with gleaming silver to recreate the traditional blue and white of Judaism and the Israeli flag. The enamel decoration (names, symbols and motifs) can also be combined with silver filigree work.
Silver solder is generally used to add raised letters or symbols to an item of handmade Judaica. You can request the addition of your synagogue’s name to a menorah or megillah case, or to quite small items like tzedakah boxes.
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The Israeli Center of Judaica is happy to personalize any item of handmade Judaica in our Jerusalem workshop. Our English-speaking silversmiths will advise you about the best options for each item.
If you want to customize a unique handmade gift for your synagogue, our designers will work with you from first concepts. They will take your personal vision and create a beautiful and unique legacy gift that will potentially last for generations to come.