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An International Postage Tour of Synagogues

Highlighting: “Synagogue Stamps: An International Postage Tour of Synagogues” by Harvey D. Wolinetz. The Wolinetz Family Foundation. 2020. English. ISBN-13: 978-9659196753.

When the Babylonians captured Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. and destroyed the Temple, the Jews were suddenly faced with a situation of deep tragedy. They were trapped in a spiritual dead end, which called for a radical solution. That solution was the house of prayer, later known as the synagogue. The origins of the synagogue are not recorded in the Torah nor in postbiblical records. Only scattered hints can be discovered in the vast rabbinic literature.

Despite its virtually unknown origins, the synagogue has become one of the most important foundations of Jewish life.

Riverdale/Florida resident Harvey Wolinetz has afforded us a unique way to learn about the history of synagogues, in the form of a philatelic text, “Synagogue Stamps-An International Postage Tour of Synagogues.” This book is beautifully illustrated and contains great detail. Through its pages, we learn about the history of synagogues through depictions of more than 300 postage stamps. These, and other postal items, teach us about the establishment, development, reaction and role of the synagogue in Jewish life. Wolinetz’s philatelic text is also a history of the nation of Israel in exile.

Wolinetz has been collecting stamps since he was a young boy. Curious about Judaica represented on stamps, he became interested in their depiction of synagogues and, after collecting so many, he decided to put them into a book.

Synagogues as a topic of postage stamps began about 70 years ago with the release of Jewish National Fund labels in 1948. Synagogues have been featured on postage stamps to note historical events and to demonstrate Israel’s relationship with other countries.

Wolinetz said, “I learned many things from writing this book. I understand more than ever how the synagogue has been the symbol of the Jewish people in general and how it represents the various Jewish communities around the world. Unfortunately, this concept of the synagogue being the symbol of the Jewish community has been reinforced whenever Jewish communities come under attack.”

The most obvious historical occurrence was Kristallnacht, when the Nazis destroyed hundreds of synagogues as part of their uprising against Germany’s Jewish population. Wolinetz’s book explains that West Germany marked the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht with the issuance of a stamp showing the Berlin Oranienburgerstrasse Synagogue in flames. This was meant to demonstrate Germany’s deep regret and current good relations with the State of Israel.

Wolinetz also included the synagogue in Jerusalem that he attends when in Israel in the book, since Israel released a stamp picturing the ark cover. He commented, “The ark cover—-parochas—was designed by Esther Fink, a’h, of blessed memory, a member of the Hatzvi Yisrael Synagogue. I had scheduled an interview with her, but unfortunately, she passed away suddenly before it took place. I was so glad to be able to include her in the book.” To add a bit more personalization to this chapter, a picture is included which shows Wolinetz standing in front of the synagogue building.

“As much as I taught from the book I learned from the book,” Wolinetz said. “I learned that sarchitecture served as the basis for some of the Christian churches and Muslim mosques. Synagogues were not allowed to be taller than the church in a proximate location. Jewish ingenuity compensated for the need for extra space by building extra stories below ground, hence complying with the height restrictions.”

Wolinetz’s book is written to a very high philatelic standard, but also possesses a uniquely human feel and demonstrates a great deal of love of its subject. It also makes a wonderful coffee table book!

For more information, contact Harvey Wolinetz at [email protected]. To order the book, visit https://www.amazon.com or https://www.abebooks.com


 

Susan R. Eisenstein is a longtime Jewish educator, passionate about creating special, innovative activities for her students. She is also passionate about writing about Jewish topics and about Israel. Susan has two master’s degrees and a doctorate in education from Columbia University.

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