What Jewish Sites to See in Lviv Downtown?

Need a tour guide to the Jewish heritage sites in Western Ukraine?

Let’s take a walk around the oldest Jewish quarter, where Jews lived since Lviv was founded. We will start from the corner of Ruska and Fedorova Streets. Look at the heavy buttresses of the corner building to your right. Here was the gate to the Jewish part of town. Every night the gate was locked from within for the safety of its residents. Building #20 to your right underwent several modifications but still preserves some of its old elements that were typical of a Jewish house in Lviv – on the first floor you can distinguish a store, now a cafe, and the entrance to the storage space in the basement. This building was named after the Korkes family who owned it until the early 20th century. Keep walking down the street to Building #27 on your left. Approaching the entrance door, look on the right side of the doorway for an indentation in the wall where a mezuzah was kept. Look up to the third floor high above the street level for an old square plaque in memory of David Galevi, an outstanding Talmudist who worshipped at the Golden Rose Synagogue. Its ruins can be reached from the courtyard of Building #27. It was named the Golden Rose after the synagogue founder’s daughter who helped to defend the temple from the Jesuits claiming ownership of the land under the Jewish temple.

Try to get inside #27 to reach the courtyard and see the remnants of a beautiful Renaissance entrance to the Golden Rose synagogue from 1582 – all that is left after its destruction by the Germans in 1943. Standing in the courtyard, look to the wall on your right where traces of the staircase to the women’s gallery can barely be distinguished. The paving stones of the courtyard date back to 1594. This is the place that for centuries used to be the center of Jewish spiritual and social life. Through the heavy and creaky steel door walk down into the empty space that was once the synagogue. Look at the foundations, a part of the northern wall with windows, bases of the four interior pillars, the raised podium and the niche for Aron Kodesh in the eastern wall. Before returning to the street, walk up the steps from the synagogue through its southern entrance to see the concrete foundation blocks of the former Beit Gamidrash, also destroyed in WW2.

Once you are back on Fedorova Street, look at the corner building on your left where Fedorova meets Staroyevreyska Street. A stone mask on the second floor level is an indication that there was a pub here once. Today’s imitation of the well in the center of a small square in front brings us back in time to the days before buildings had indoor plumbing, and the Jewish community paid the magistrate a set annual fee for water from the well.

One end of Staroyevreyska Street runs into the massive wall of the town arsenal. Buildings running along the wall to the left along Arsenalna Street also belonged to the Jewish quarter. #3 was a public school for women and later the Jewish cultural and educational society Tarbut. A communal prison was at #7. The original building was later replaced with a new one with a mikvah inside.

Start going down Staroyevreyska Street from the massive wall of the city arsenal. Look at the empty square to your left. The Great City Synagogue from 1801 once stood here. The entrance arches and fragments of the walls remain after its destruction in WW2. The red bricks in the pavement of the square indicate where the walls once stood. The short Shkliarska Street that used to run alongside the eastern wall of the Golden Rose synagogue had a mikvah at its far end.

Spend a minute looking at the entrance of Building #48 on Staroyevreyska to find two mezuzah marks in its doorway. Further down the street at #34 built by Solomon Friedman, look up to see a stone seal on the wall with the Latin words that say: the building was constructed on municipal land in 1633. A similar sign is visible on the newer building at the corner of Staroyevreyska and Serbska Streets, which was the boundary between the Jewish and the Christian parts of the street.

Another Jewish section of Lviv lies behind the Opera House to the north and deserves a separate tour.