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Minsk to Jerusalem

Restoration of Holy Ark for the Meir Institute, Jerusalem

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“During Hanukah 2000 , Tzvika Arazi, the Director of the Meir Institute, contacted me and handed me a note that he received from an unknown entity

and on it was just a phone number ......


.....  from the other end of the mysterious line, a young voice identified himself as Nir Levin. The young man excitedly told me about an ancient Holy Ark that was discovered amongst the belongings of his mother’s family – who were amongst the most veteran families in Jerusalem – and his opinion, we could take possession of it

if it suits our needs.”


So begins the fascinating tale of Rabbi Avraham Ettinger in his pamphlet “From Minsk to Jerusalem” about the tribulations of this Holy Ark that “immigrated” from Minsk to Israel a long, long time ago. This was the beginning of an exciting and emotional restoration project. In fact, it was the very first restoration project that I was privileged to undertake in Israel. Back in those days, the new Beit Midrash of the Meir Institute in Jerusalem was just undergoing construction. The building was yet far from the stage of interior design, but Rabbi Ettinger was already extremely concerned about locating a Holy Ark worthy of honouring the building and the congregants of the new Beit Midrash.

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The abandoned Ark was found in the Even Yeheshua neighbourhood, close to Me’a She’arim, in a building that used to house an education centre for “Altshuler Girls”. The synagogue where the Ark was located served the local community. Years earlier both the education centre and the synagogue were closed. Ever since, the Holy Ark remained “in situ” – awaiting its liberation.

“Today the property is owned by Hasidut Karlin and has become a school for Yiddish speaking girls” Nir Levin reported to Rabbi Ettinger, and added “the entire property is surrounded by a high and impenetrable fence. You can enter the main gate of the building, climb to the 2nd floor, open the iron door opposite you, and there you will find the Ark.”

Sounds a bit like a detective novel? Wait for the continuation ..... 


Rabbi Ettinger relates ..  “before me I saw a sort of storeroom surrounded on all sides by metal shelves heavy with books, and behind them, next to the wall, the Holy Ark was hiding – lonely, dusty, forgotten and forlorn – as if waiting in vain for salvation. Could this be the Ark I’m seeking ? !”


The derelict Ark had been forsaken in the abandoned synagogue. Rabbi Ettinger continues .. “ the Ark was in a dismal and bleak condition. A gloomy countenance. It was entirely painted in black, that completely obscured the natural wood beneath. Of the gilded wooden ornamentations that had once upon a time decorated the facade, only a sparse few remained – a distant memory of how the Ark must have looked in a much more illustrious past, evinced only by the empty spaces left by the many missing pieces.”

“ In view of the dismal data in front of my eyes, I had little choice but to reach the sad conclusion that from this Holy Ark
there was nothing on which to build.”


However ... happily, I was then called in to give a professional evaluation as to whether there may indeed be a possibility of restoring and preserving this Holy Ark. It took a great stretch of the imagination to understood how it could look after restoration. After much deliberation (not mine ☺ ) I was awarded the project and I undertook the restoration process in cooperation with the “old man” – the carving master – Yasha Blumin, and the carpentry artist Dima Cantor. This combination of Russian and Italian skills aided the successful completion of this extremely complex project, and demanded the highest level of resourcefulness and professionalism.


And the rest, as they say ... is history!

Since then the Ark glorifies the Beit Midrash in all its splendour, and just recently, in Spring 2023, Rabbi Ettinger published his pamphlet describing the hardships, dilemmas, and excitement that accompanied the restoration of this Ark.

If you’d like to read the full story, in Rabbi Ettinger’s own picturesque style (HEBREW) – click here

The pamphlet was illustrated by Aliza Epstein.

Interested in the Meir Institution's website? - Click here

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