Lebanon, as we know it, is a well-known country that consists of various historical beauty that tells a tale of its own. Of course, this is mainly said about a few cities in Lebanon, including Beirut. But, if we focus on the abandoned areas and buildings overall in Lebanon, there’s a lot more that isn’t commonly known or explored yet. Such as the abandoned synagogue in Bhamdoun.
Speaking of that, I aimed to explore more of what is abandoned in Lebanon with my photography. My journey this time led me to the synagogue in Bhamdoun, which is a town located at a distance of 23 km from Beirut. Although most Lebanese Jews were known to live in Beirut only, this synagogue led me to explore that some such communities also resided in other cities. This included Bhamdoun and cities like Saida and Deir el Qamar that comprised such synagogues. Gladly, my journey outside of Beirut helped me come across this abandoned synagogue in Bhamdoun that had a lot to reveal.
Here’s what I discovered about this synagogue, once a temple for worship for the Lebanese Jews living outside of Beirut.
History of the abandoned synagogue in Bhamdoun, Lebanon:
When it comes to the origin of this temple, it was obvious that this worship area was built specially to serve the prayer needs of the Lebanese Jewish Community. Hence, it was an easy prayer spot for these Jews that lived in or near Bhamdoun, limiting them from the struggle of going all the way down to pray in Beirut temples or Alleys. What was most special about this temple other than its distant location was the last temple built in Lebanon in a summering center. Therefore, the Jews named this abandoned synagogue in Bhamdoun ‘The Last Temple’.
Nearby the summery center of this temple, another older temple named the ‘Temple of Aley’ (Ohel Jacob) existed. This older temple was built in 1895 by the benefactor Ezra Anzarouth. The major need and reason behind building this older temple was to fulfill the religious needs of the Jewish who lived in the mountains (located in the city of Aley) since the end of the 19th century.
In contrast, the abandoned synagogue in Bhamdoun was created early 20th century. For its construction, the Jewish community bought land at the Bhamdoun Al Mhatta. The entire construction and land costs were paid by the Jewish personalities of the community at that time, i.e., Sasson, Metta, Safra. Therefore, according to these people, it was better not to name the temple with a specific title, making it the “Temple of Bhamdoun” after the construction.
While the rest of the Jewish communities used this temple for their religious prayers, the Achkenaze community designated a house in Bhamdoun to organize their religious services. Later, the arrival of more Jews in Bhamdoun became normal, making them fond of the city and easily settle in. Many Jews from Lebanon also summered at Aley. Moreover, the Jewish cafés and restaurants in Bhamdoun (which were run by other religious personalities) were also fondly accepted and visited by the Lebanese Jews.
This wide acceptance and visit to Bhamdoun made Bhamdoun a familiarly accepted and identified city of the Jews. Sooner in 1975-1976, some Jewish families also settled in Bhamdoun and occupied their religious prayers and activities in the city without any obligations. Although at that time, Bhamdoun was dominated by the Syrian National Socialist Party and Palestinian militias, these personalities served in protecting the Jewish community. Hence, the ‘Last Temple’, which is now known to be the abandoned synagogue in Bhamdoun, was completely protected by the authoritative personalities in Bhamdoun, without causing any damage to the temple.
Later on May 31, 1976, this temple was closed when the Syrian Army entered Lebanon and reached Bhamdoun. Since then, the Bhamdoun Synagogue became a closed temple, and firm evidence of the historical beliefs and personalities that once resided in Bhamdoun – making it turn into just an abandoned synagogue in Bhamdoun.
Moving to the architecture of the building, this Jewish temple doesn’t only give the abandoned looks of how it was once a beautiful center for worshiping. Instead, the present-day condition of this abandoned Synagogue of Bhamdoun still adds life and characteristics to the once upon a time identity this temple portrayed back in history.
As a matter of fact, my photography focusing on its details make it more obvious how the Synagogue of Bhamdoun is only abandoned and not harmed or destroyed.
For instance, if we talk about the exterior of this building, the outlook still allows you to witness the details and concept of the synagogue considered by the Jewish in the past. With its grinds steps leading to the building’s patio being overlooked by the two large tablets that are designed to bear the ten commandments in Hebrew, it’s visible that creative design in construction was keenly focused on the historical days too.
Coming to the interior of the abandoned synagogue, I found nothing less than creativity that helped the Jews develop a sense of familiarity in this temple – and make it their comfortable worship space. As the images show, this included a chipped and raised stone slab, which was used to indicate the former presence of bima. This bima is equivalent to the minbar in a mosque or a pulpit in a church, making it the spot where the sermons give speeches or read the Torah.
Other than this, the architecture of this abandoned temple also witnessed a fireplace-like recess that was flanked by columns that were considered the ‘holy Ark’. This was located at a few meters distance from the bima spot, in the middle of the main wall of the synagogue, and it was the spot where all the Torah scrolls were kept.
The Areas That Witnessed the ‘Old’ Touch:
While the architecture and design of this abandoned synagogue in Bhamdoun, Lebanon, were the same and talked about beauty and creativity from the past, some aspects of this building from the interior portrayed the non-fragile experiences of the building that showed that it has now aged. This included the peeling off deep royal blue paint of the building and the rubbish covered around the gallery on the second floor, which was from various vagrant inhabitants, showing that it was once a sitting and worshiping place for women only.
A lot of the great and less great aspects of the building that showed its real age are easier to witness with these details of the abandoned synagogue in Bhamdoun – once known as the ‘New Temple’ and ‘Last Temple’ in Bhamdoun.
More photos of the abandoned synagogue in Bhamdoun, Lebanon: