Restoring the Tablets

Ben Nathan
Oct 23 · 4 min read

Our story begins a few years ago, it’s a type quest, and like any good mystery story — it started with an email

I was at my studio in Jaffa when I received the Email from Prague based architect named Danny Ziss who, in his Email he tells of a synagogue in the Czechoslovakian town of Cesky Krumlov, that was abandoned in the late 19th century after the Nazis murdered Most of the Jews of the Krumlov community.

After the Second World War ended the building served as a church and later on as a warehouse, today it’s being renovated, and will be reopened as a concert hall and an exhibition space. Danny attached a picture of the original synagogue and asked if I can help identify the font used for writing the 10 commandments tablets, as they are restoring the prayer hall and wish to be as accurate as possible.

Unfortunately, all the original documents related to the building were lost and no other plans or documentation of the interior of the building were found. After an in-depth search of the archives, they were able to find a single image dating before the war, showing the synagogue interior, and according to this solitary, unclear image, the interior was restored — the benches, lamps, plaster and 10 commandments tablets.

The only documentation of the synagogue interior is this single photograph, taken approximately in the early 20th century.

As you can clearly see, this couldn’t be done — the picture is not clear enough and there wasn’t any font used to begin with, rather it looks like a custom job commissioned by a professional.

I suggested we head on a letter recovering journey.

Danny agreed and we set out to explore — we were looking for similar pieces that date from the same timeframe from all over the Czech Republic and the surrounding areas.

Some of the findings from our study — to the left, a memorial plaque from Moravska Ostrava, where my late grandfather was born.

Examining the different works I got a sense of the style that dominated that time. The people who lived in the Czech Republic in the early 20th century developed unique forms of Hebrew writing based on their Latin-American style and their affiliation to the Ashkenazi religious stream.

Furthermore, understanding the tools used to create the tablets was what led the design process. In our case — wood carving.

The shape of the letters is influenced by the wood carving tools

Although I designed the font with modern tools, I try to think of the wood artisan who carved the letters into the wood, the process of creating hard edges and smooth curves.

The Ten Commandments do not require the entire Hebrew alphabet, without the letters: ט, ס, פ, ק. and the final letters; םןךץ.

I used the original image of the synagogue as a reference to place the text on the board. The letters were sent for cutting in the Czech Republic and the construction of the boards was completed.

After 70 years the old synagogue hall came back to life. and today you can visit the restored Cesky Krumlov Hall, for more details visit their website: http://www.synagoga-krumlov.cz/

Before and After

A prayer closet was prepared in memory of the Jews who lived and prayed in the synagogue. For the ‘Parochet’ (a traditional curtain used to cover the ark), I chose a modern font, my own Days and Nights, which combines the history of the Hebrew letter with contemporary design. A combination that is a perfect fit for this project.

Most often I refer to fonts that I design as designer tools, they are files that sit on a computer and the designers use them as needed. However, in this project, the letters serve as a glimpse into history long gone, and their creation revives something lost from this world. I believe fonts are more than designer tools or messaging tools. Our Hebrew letters treasure a story of place, time, and most importantly, of people — their lives and wars.

The Startup

Ben Nathan

Written by

Type designer at hafontia.com

The Startup

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