Look there — might that be a poltergeist up on the bimah? Or a goblin dangling from the ceiling of the beit ha-knesset? In the spirit of the season, here are five tales of synagogues that may or may not be haunted. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
The Ari Synagogue
Following earthquakes, The Ari Synagogue in Safed, Israel, had to be rebuilt twice, according to “The Encyclopedia of Tzfat.” Might that mean the more than 500-year-old shul could be haunted? Writing for Jewishmag.com, David Rossoff says maybe so. “Though it defies all rationality, the story is well documented and unmistakably authentic,” he writes.
The Amherst Synagogue
Though it may not be much to look at, the Amherst Synagogue in Williamsville, NY, might well be haunted according to The Paranormal and Ghost Society. One story goes that some men were killed while constructing the synagogue. Another story is that the grounds are haunted by the ghosts of murdered children. According to the website “Hauntings,” “There seems to be a very negative energy surrounding this site.” And, according to Chris Gethard, author of “Weird New York,” this is “easily the scariest place I’ve ever visited.”
Enfield and Winchmore Hill Synagogue England is reputed to be haunted with ghosts and ghouls of various shapes and sizes. In 2009, the Jewish Chronicle’s Simon Rocker reported of a synagogue in Enfield where a number of spooky events took place — knocking sounds, mysterious opened windows, Passover items in different places than they were supposed to be. Rocker quoted warden, Henry Jacobs, as being less than convinced that the synagogue was haunted. “It’s an old, old house and it creaks,” he told the Chronicle.
Lower East Side, Manhattan
Ira Levin, author of “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Boys From Brazil,” offered his own take on the haunted synagogue in his 1984 play “Cantorial” which concerns a young Manhattan couple who move into a condo that has been converted from a Lower East Side synagogue and are besieged by the ghost of a cantor who died in 1943. Reviewers were not particularly taken with this drama. In the Chicago Tribune in 1990, chief critic Richard Christiansen wrote: “The problem with the play is that it settles for too little in its ingenuity. Levin is a seasoned craftsman, smart enough to know when to put in a good laugh and clever enough to wrap up the plot with a surprise and satisfying ending. But ‘Cantorial wants to be, and might have been, a more serious work on what it means to be a Jew.’
In the town of Ostropol, Hershel, the hero of Eric Kimmel’s “Hershel and the Hannukah Goblins,” spends the titular Jewish holiday in a haunted synagogue where he outwits the goblins ravaging his city. True, this is a work of fiction — but then again, probably so are a lot of supposedly haunted synagogues out there.