Holy Arks from Mantua
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1st Scola Grande Ark
Nahon Museum, Jerusalem
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2nd Scola Grande. Beni Brak
Bnei Brak
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3rd Scola Grande Doors
Nahon Museum, Jerusalem
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Malcha Mall, Jerusalem
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Scola Cases
Hechal Shlomo Museum, Jerusalem
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In Situ
The destruction of many synagogues in Italy during World War II, where Jewish culture once thrived but now lay almost destroyed, and the departure of Jews from many cities in Italy, whether they migrated to the larger cities in Italy or emigrated to Israel after the establishment of the State, left many of the smaller Jewish communities empty.

The vision of Umberto Nahon was to return the Holy Arks from these synagogues to their former glory and holiness and for them to be used once again in synagogues throughout Israel after the establishment of the State. The noble actions of Umberto Nahon personify the meaning of the Talmudic passage found in Tractate Megillah 29 “The synagogues and houses of learning in Babylon will in time come to be planted in the Land of Israel.”

Among the Holy Arks that were brought to Israel were seven from Mantua. Of these, the oldest Ark and two grand chairs from the Great Synagogue of Mantua were built in 1543. In 1635 this Ark was transferred from Mantua to Sermide, a town near Mantua. The synagogue of Sermide was dismantled after World War II and the Ark and chairs were then transported in 1944 to the city of Bologna. The holy items were kept there after the demolition of the synagogue in Sermide until they were brought to Israel in 1956 and placed in the new Italian Synagogue in the Umberto Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art in Jerusalem.

Another beautiful Ark that was brought to Israel was constructed in 1635 and placed in the Great Synagogue that was rebuilt in 1633. It was then moved to a Palace of the Duchess Felicita Gonzaga. This magnificent Ark was restored in 1749, and in 1955 was placed in the Yeshiva of Ponovezh in Bnei Brak, Israel.

In 1843 the Great Synagogue in Mantua was redesigned in a Neo-classic form, but was destroyed in 1939 during World War II. From this synagogue all that survived were the Ark doors crafted with silver in 1843. These doors are on display at the Umberto Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art.

Another Ark in this group is from the mid-1800s from the Sephardic Synagogue in Cases that was built in 1590, destroyed and rebuilt in 1630. The synagogue was then destroyed again in 1929. In 1955 the Ark was brought to the Hechal Shlomo Museum in Jerusalem.

Besides these four Holy Arks, there are three others in the Umberto Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art that were brought to Israel from Mantua in the 1950s. We are not sure of their original dates or locations, but one of them may be from a smaller synagogue in Mantua from the 1700s. This Ark was brought to Israel in the 1950s and became a part of the Italian Synagogue in Jerusalem. After a brief time there, it found a new home in the Synagogue of the Malcha Mall in Jerusalem. Another Ark that was probably built in 1782 was brought over and placed in the Yismach Lev Synagogue in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Bayit V’gan. The last Ark in this group was built around 1795 and has a beautifully carved wooden canopy. It was placed in the Beit Yeshayahu Synagogue in Tel Aviv in the 1950s and is now in the Amal Torah Synagogue in Tel Aviv.