The Shmidt Building

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External view from Hillel Street

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The ground floor hall. Photo: Gabi Laron

The Museum and Synagogue are housed in the former Schmidt Compound building in the heart of Jerusalem. The building was originally a German Catholic Institution, built between the years 1886-1887 and designed by the German architect Theodore Zendel.
Also called the German Compound in analogy to the neighboring Russian Compound, the complex is named after Wilhelm Schmidt, (1833-1908), a Lazarist priest who headed the German Catholic Society in Palestine for many years. The building served both as a hospice for pilgrims and as a center for philanthropic activity. The edifice opposite housed a school for Syrian girls and between the two structures there was a garden enclosed by a wall. A gate, the remains of which are still visible in the courtyard, opened onto the street.
The facade of the building with its classic symmetry, pointed arches and fish-scale motifs represents a typical example of the neo-gothic style, which is characteristic of Templar architecture, widely employed in the construction of the nearby German Colony. The third floor was added only in 1925 and its less elaborate style reflects a more rapid process of building. The addition was designed by the architect Heinrich Renard, who later designed the building of the Dormition.
A hall, situated on the ground floor, was used as a dining room and decorated with biblical verses in several languages, painted illustrations, and embellished with flora and fauna motifs in the typical style of late 19th century Orientalism. The paintings were carried out by Joseph Kaltenbach and Franz Heichele, as attested by a script that emerged recently after a restoration of the painting: two putti hold a scroll enclosing the scripts: “Joseph Kaltenbach, Maler 1893” and “Franz Heichele, Maler 1893”. Today the hall is used for concerts, lectures and social events.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the German Catholic Society moved to a more suitable location closer to the Old City, and the Schmidt Compound was thus deserted. The buildings were then used by public offices and by the Ma’ale School. In the 1940s, permission was given to the Italian community to gather in the building for weekly prayers. When the interior of the synagogue from Conegliano was eventually transferred to Israel at the beginning of the 1950s, this seemed to be the most natural location to establish it. A new, exciting chapter of the synagogue’s long history had started.