On the shelves in our music room in Sinntal, Hessen State, Germany, there is a very special relic near the grand piano and the house organ: a heavy 30 cm (nearly 12 inches) long, squared timber cut from the trunk of an ancient olive tree that once stood in the lower part of the garden of Gethsemane. When the new, small Golgotha organ for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built in 2016, the keyboards were made from this wood. Not all of the wood was needed, and so Brother Peter, at that time still vice-bursar for the Franciscans, led me a few days after the dedication of the organ to a plastic sack with the sacred wood remnants, and I was allowed to choose the most beautiful piece of wood! The Gethsemane wood traveled with us back to Germany in 2018, reminding me time and again of my five years in the Holy Land and, of course, of the extremely interesting organ world that I was gradually able to get to know.
The fact that there are organs in Israel and Palestine, in the center of the Middle East, astonishes many people. If I then tell them that the number of instruments is about sixty, their astonishment grows even larger. Where are these many organs, and who uses them?
Some people think of Jewish worship first. In fact, since the nineteenth century in Germany and the United States, the synagogues of Reform Judaism have been home to the “synagogue organs.” In Germany, most of them were destroyed in the Reichs-Kristallnacht (November 9–10, 1938); today only a few of them are left. There are around fifty such instruments in the United States. In Israel, however, where Orthodox Judaism prevails, there are no synagogue organs. Rather, the vast majority of organs in the Holy Land are in Christian churches, especially in the Jerusalem and Bethlehem region, but also in the north (Nazareth). However, not all Christian churches have organs. For example, the Eastern Orthodox churches do not have organs because they have unaccompanied musical traditions, such as the magnificent polyphonic male choirs of the Armenian Orthodox Church, which can be heard in Saint James Cathedral in Jerusalem.
It is mainly the Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Anglican churches that, as in their homelands or countries of origin, use an organ in worship, and so the organ landscape in Israel and Palestine offers a very interesting variety. Because each church does not want to miss the familiar organ style of its homeland and the instruments are usually imported, the organ scene of the Holy Land is a reflection of the world’s pipe organs from several centuries. We find German, American, French, and Danish organs from more recent times as well as historical organs from France, Austria, and Italy.
When did organs first come to the Holy Land? The earliest known instrument is only documented from the remaining 221 organ pipes that were found in 1906 during excavations next to Saint Catherine’s Church in Bethlehem. The pipes date back to the fourteenth century, a time when the organ was established as a church instrument in many European countries, but they may be even older. After being exhibited for a long time in the Museum of Biblical Studies at the Church of the Flagellation in Jerusalem, these pipes will soon find a new place in the museum section of Custodia Terrae Sanctae (The Custody in the Holy Land) on the site of the Monastery of Saint Salvatore. Proof for the presence of organs can only be firmly established from the seventeenth century as documents from the archives of the Franciscans’ Custodia Terrae Sanctae list instruments from about 1630 for Saint Salvatore in Jerusalem and 1640 for Bethlehem.
In the first half of the eighteenth century (1724–1744), the German Franciscan P. Elzear Horn wrote his Ichnographiae monumentarum terrae sanctae (Iconographic Monument to the Holy Land), a kind of “atlas” in which he (in Latin) minutely described the Franciscan churches of the Holy Land and their inventory. Among other things, he preserved a wonderful drawing of the organ of Saint Salvatore Church in Jerusalem at that time, obviously an instrument in the Italian style. The meticulous drawing (Figure 1) reveals many details, such as the range of the two manuals (with the so-called “short octave” in the bass typical of the time), the pedal that has only a one octave range, some register names such as “Principals” or “Contrabasso in Pedals” divided into bass and treble registers, and three leather straps on the right side panel to raise the bellows.
At the beginning of the second half of the eighteenth century, a permanent organbuilding workshop was established in the convent of Saint Salvatore. Delfín Fernandez, OFM, reports in a 2002 essay that two Franciscan organbuilders from Spain came with the order in 1754 to build a new organ for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
But when the work was completed and the organ was to be installed in the choir of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Greek Orthodox strongly opposed the installation.1 In view of this difficult situation, it was decided to set up the organ in the church of St. Salvatore. But given the small size of this church, the instrument had to be downsized and only a part was installed.
In a document from 1793, the organbuilding workshop of the Franciscans was called “Officina sacris exstruendis organis” (workshop for the construction of sacred organs) (Figure 2).
An impressive photograph, published in 1882 in the Palestino-Seraphicum Album by the Custodia Terrae Sanctae, shows the organbuilding workshop toward the end of the nineteenth century. We see a small organ with two registers (or is it a voicing windchest needed in the workshop?). In front of it stands a bearded religious, the director of the Officina Constructorio Organorum, who shows the viewer a large pipe grid. An Arab aide holds something on the right side of the image that could be the bellows lever for pumping the wind. Two Arab apprentices sit in front of the picture, one has a reed pipe in his hands. Also on the windchest of the small instrument are reed pipes.
Of all the organs mentioned so far, apart from the archival documents, there is nothing physically remaining. It was only in the nineteenth century that an instrument was created that we can still see, touch, and hear. It is a small Italian organ from 1847 built by the brothers Agati (Nicomede and Giovanni) of Pistoia (Figure 3). It has nine stops and a small “appended” pedal and belonged to the Franciscan monastery in Tyros, Lebanon. At some point, it was moved to the Christian Information Center at Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate. (The instrument was there in 2001, but may have moved there even earlier.) In June 2014, the organ found a new home in Saint Peter’s Church in the picturesque old town of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, high above the beach of the Mediterranean.
1847 Agati organ, Saint Peter’s Church, Tel Aviv-Jaffa
8′ Principale Bassi
8′ Principale Soprani
8′ Voce Angelica
4′ Flauto a Fuso
1′ Flagioletto (or 1⁄2′?)
Timpani (pedal at far right)
Manual compass (C, D, E, F, G, A–f3) 50 notes, short octave
Pull-down pedal (8 notes from the first octave)
Ripieno lever, adds 4′ Ottave, 2′ Decimaquinta, 11⁄3′ Decimanona, and 1′ Vigesimaseconda.
By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Christian churches, monasteries, and branches of the most important European religious orders were found almost everywhere in the Holy Land. From this time period, a number of extraordinary historical organs are dated, playable to some extent today or preserved only in part. Each has its own story. In 1893, an organ was obtained for the church of Saint John the Baptist, located in the picturesque Jerusalem suburb of Ein Kerem (Figure 4). It had two manuals and 14 stops and was built by Matthäus Mauracher of Austria. The organ remains and, despite numerous shortcomings, was still playable until recently. Currently, it is in storage due to renovation work in the church, and a restoration is planned.
1893 MatthКus Mauracher organ, Church of Saint John the Baptist, Ein Kerem
MANUAL I (C–f3)
2′ Flautino (originally 8′ Gamba)
MANUAL II (C–f3)
8′ Philomela (open wood flute)
Pedal-Coppel z. I. Manual
Pedal-Coppel z. II. Manual
Piston presets: Fortissimo, Mezzoforte, Piano
“Corno Vi piace” (draws 8′ Philomela, 4′ Spitzflöte, 16′ Subbass)
Mechanical key action
Pneumatic stop action
In 1893, the organbuilder François Mader from Marseille, France, built an organ with two manuals and sixteen stops in the Church (Convent of the Sisters of Zion) on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem (Figure 5). Even after a modification by Rieger in 1935, the organ retained its extraordinary French-symphonic character, but today, despite a 1998 overhaul by the Canadian builder, Dubay, Ltd., it is in poor condition and barely playable.
1893 Mader organ, Ecce Homo Church, Jerusalem
GRAND-ORGUE (Manual I, C–g3)
8′ Flûte harmonique
2-2⁄3′ Quinte (originally 8′ Violoncello)
RÉCIT (Manual II, enclosed, C–g3)
4′ Flûte à cheminée (originally 8′ Voix humaine)
2′ Quarte de nasard (originally 8′ Voix céleste)
8′ Basse ouverte
Mechanical key and stop action
In 1893 the organ firm of Dinse from Berlin, Germany, built an organ with two manuals and eight stops in Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. This was the first organ by a German organbuilder in Palestine. In 2000, the organ was still intact and more or less playable. It was then completely rebuilt by the American organbuilder Roland Rutz of Morristown, Minnesota. Although the beautiful design was kept and some pipes were used again, the character and the entire sound and technical system were rebuilt. Now, the organ has electric action, multiplex windchests, and a MIDI device.
Of the few pipe organs in Tel Aviv, the oldest is the organ built in 1896 by Rieger. Located in the Franciscan Church of Saint Anthony, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, it is still standing, but after various modifications, it is no longer in original condition.
In 1898, the Weigle organbuilding firm from Stuttgart, Germany, constructed a two-manual organ with twelve stops for the German-operated Syrian orphanage in Jerusalem. It was damaged in a fire in 1910 and subsequently rebuilt by the builders. After World War II, the orphanage became part of the State of Israel. The organ was removed at some point, its whereabouts unknown since the 1960s.
In 1898, the newly built Church of the Redeemer of Jerusalem received an organ from the Berlin company Dinse. It stood at ground level north of the main aisle, where the baptismal font stands today (Figure 6). In 1938 it was rebuilt by Weigle, of Stuttgart, in the style of the Organ Reform Movement (Orgelbewegung). In 1970, when the Schuke organ firm from Berlin installed a new instrument, the organ case and façade were not reused.2
In 1899, a Walcker organ with seven stops was built for the church hall of the German Templars in the Refaim plain just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Today this is the street corner that marks the beginning of the “German Colony” in the Jerusalem suburbs. The pretty garden around the church is now wedged between huge hotel buildings. In the small church, which after World War II first fell to the State of Israel and was then passed on to the Armenian community, the sad ruins of the Walcker organ still stand in the gallery (Figure 7). In the aftermath of the war, all usable wood and metal parts were appropriated. The Armenians do not need the organ in worship, but they honor its remains.
A parallel instrument to the organ in the Ecce Homo Church is the organ built in 1900 by the same organbuilder (F. Mader) for the Church of Saint Peter of Zion, part of the Ratisbonne Abbey in West Jerusalem. It has ten stops and was completely overhauled in 2007.
Also in 1900, the organ of the Dominican Church of Saint Stephen, which is outside the city wall in the immediate vicinity of the Damascus Gate, was installed. With fourteen stops on two manuals, it was built by Matthäus Mauracher of Austria. Since 2005, the organ has been thoroughly rebuilt and has an electric console from which the modernized pipework is operated on a new windchest. The old Mauracher console is still held in honor and is in the entrance hall of the church.
In 1904, Bevington & Sons of London, England, built a new organ for the Anglican Saint George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem. It was replaced by a new Rieger installation in 1984, but its wonderful façade (including pipes) was moved elsewhere in the church.3
Another English late-Romantic organ from 1904, built by the British organbuilder Thomas Casson, stood until 2001 in Willington, England, and was moved the following year at the instigation of the Israeli organbuilder Gideon Shamir to the church of the Trappist monastery Latrun (near Highway 1, about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv). It seems unplayable for now, as during my last visit to the church (2017) an electronic organ had been put in front of the Casson console.
Around 1910, the Austrian Hospice Chapel in Jerusalem received an organ from Rieger of Jägerndorf (formerly in Austrian Silesia, now the Czech Republic), with seven stops on one manual and pedal. It is untouched—only the front pipes had to be renewed in 1999 as some were damaged by missiles.4 With its late-Romantic, warm sound, based almost entirely on 8′ registers, it is similar to its “big sister” instrument at Church of the Ascension (Figure 8), the latter being an important organ in the Holy Land.
Also in 1910, an organ by Wilhelm Sauer was erected in the newly built Church of the Ascension of the Augusta-Victoria Foundation, a German hospital complex on the Mount of Olives. With twenty-four stops on two manuals and pedal, including five 16′ registers, it is a perfectly harmonized synthesis of space and sound. It may certainly be considered the most beautiful among the historical organs of Israel, because it is completely preserved to the last pipe. It has never undergone any change apart from the installation of an electric blower and repair work, but remains in the same tonal state and appearance as it did in its year of construction.
This organ, as well as the organ of the Church of the Redeemer, has been looked after and maintained for decades by the organbuilder Rainer Nass (formerly with Schuke, Berlin) and is in very good condition. This is one reason it is regularly used for concerts.
1910 Wilhelm Sauer organ, Church of the Ascension, Jerusalem
MANUAL I (C–f3)
2-2⁄3′ Cornet III–IV
MANUAL II (C–f3)
8′ Lieblich Gedeckt
8′ Voix Céleste
4′ Flauto dolce
The third instrument built in 1910 is the organ of Saint Salvatore’s Church, Jerusalem. The organbuilder Vegessi-Bossi of Turin, Italy, built a large instrument with forty-four stops in the Italian style. This organ was rebuilt in 1977 by Delfino Taboada. It remained intact until 2008 before being rebuilt by the Rieger organ company. Only the case of 1910 remains.
This is a summary of how more than a dozen new organs were built in just seventeen years! After this prolific period of organbuilding came the years of the two world wars, the time between them, and the time after that until the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. In all these years with one exception (the YMCA organ, discussed below), no significant new organs were installed in the Holy Land.
In addition, there were some major alterations to Jerusalem organs in the 1930s:
• the reconstruction of the organ in the church of the Latin Patriarchate in 1933 by Gebrüder Späth from Mengen-Ennetach;
• the reconstruction of the organ of the Church of the Redeemer in 1938 by Weigle of Stuttgart;
• the reconstruction of the organ in the Ecce Homo Church in 1935 (see above) by Rieger of Jägerndorf;
• the reconstruction of the Mauracher organ of Saint Stephan (by Rieger?) in 1933.
The only major organ to be built in this politically troubled time was a concert hall organ. For the YMCA building, one of the most striking buildings in West Jerusalem, in the immediate vicinity of the King David Hotel, the American Austin Organ Company built in 1932 a large instrument with forty-eight stops, the only organ with four manuals ever in Israel!
Because of the limited space available on the stage of the concert hall, the pipework was distributed to several small chambers adjacent to the hall, creating numerous acoustic problems and tonal issues. Nevertheless, the organ has been heard in many concerts and recordings for Israeli radio over the years. Most of these were played by the Israeli organist Max Lampel (1900–1987), who was also an organ teacher at the Jerusalem Music Academy. The instrument was disassembled in 2000, originally with the aim of rebuilding it elsewhere, but this did not happen for financial reasons. The location of the organ is currently unknown.
In the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the activity of two organbuilders based in the Holy Land made a commendable contribution to the preservation and care of many organs in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Given the limited technical capabilities of their workshops and the tight budgets provided by their clients, the indefatigable activity of these two pioneers of organbuilding cannot be overestimated.
Brother Delfino Fernandez Taboada, OFM, 1924–2002, of Spanish descent, had been the director of the organbuilding workshop of the Franciscans in Jerusalem since the 1950s. In his approximately fifty years of activity for the Custodia Terrae Sanctae, he built, repaired, and restored numerous organs.
His organ workshop also served as a supply house for organ pipes and other parts that were left over when dismantling other organs, some of which were then reused in other projects. For example, when the organ of the Church of the Redeemer was rebuilt in 1971, the Franciscans purchased from the German community all usable parts of the old organ for 15,000 shekels.5 Br. Delfino Fernandez mostly built electric key and stop actions. Most of the instruments that he built or converted were replaced by new instruments by the end of the century. For example, he had dedicated many years of his life to the organ of the Church of Saint Catherine in Bethlehem, but he had to disassemble it in 2000 to make room for a new organ that he was not selected to build.
Gideon Shamir (Figure 9), born in 1939, is to date the only Israeli organbuilder. Trained as a pianist and organist, he came to Israel in 1963 and, during a stay with the German organbuilder Walcker, had his first contact with organbuilding. He first worked as a director of a music school, but then in 1977 founded a workshop in which he initially built positiv organs. After a masterclass at the vocational school in Ludwigsburg, Germany, he has devoted himself exclusively since 1990 to organbuilding in his workshop in Asseret (northern Israel).
He has built a number of home and practice organs (including for the conservatories in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv) and carried out numerous repairs, maintenance, rebuilding, and expansions of existing organs. Like the Franciscan organbuilder Br. Delfino, Gideon Shamir repeatedly used parts of older organs for new instruments. His greatest work is the organ with thirty-three stops in the hall of the University of Haifa (Figure 10). He worked on the project for a total of seven years, completing it in 1998, using parts of three different historical organs, namely the Bevington organ of Saint George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem, from 1904, an Italian organ from 1868, and the old organ of the Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem, from 1898/1934. The dedication concert was played by the Russian-Israeli organist, Roman Krasnovsky. Today, recitals on this organ are an integral part of the concert series of the Israel Organ Association and are enthusiastically received by audiences.
The Israel Organ Association, founded in 2003 by Gerard Levi in collaboration with Gideon Shamir, strives to make the organ popular as a concert instrument in Israel. This is primarily done by organizing concerts with international artists, many of whom are not Israeli. Concert attendees come from all over Israel to Jerusalem or Haifa for these events.
Gerard Levi (1936–2020), an Israeli with French roots, was a retired businessman and organ lover. In addition to his work with the Israel Organ Association, he wrote a book in English in 2005 about all the organs of Israel (Organ Culture in Israel and Palestine; see bibliography at the end of this article) that contains information on and photos of the organs. It is an important source for the organ scene throughout the Holy Land. In addition, the Israel Organ Association operates the website www.organ.org.il, which publishes not only the current concert dates of the association and other organizers, but also provides continual updates to the above-mentioned book by Levi by listing the current status with photos of all the organs in the country. The website is trilingual: English, Russian, and Hebrew. Yuval Rabin (b. 1973 in Haifa) is now musical director of the Israel International Organ Festival.
The construction of the sixteen-stop organ for Bethlehem University by the Alsatian organbuilder Max Roethinger in 1961 (Figure 11) marked the beginning of a new construction period in the Holy Land after years of organbuilding stagnation due to the political situation. This organ shows the style of the Organ Reform Movement, whose return to Baroque ideals at that time shaped almost every new organ, especially in Germany. The Roethinger organ has electric action and includes bright mixtures and mutation stops. The instrument has been preserved unchanged and was cleaned and overhauled in 2014 by the organbuilder Rainer Nass of Berlin. The organist is the music teacher at the university, Sister Patricia Crockford.
1961 Max Roethinger organ, Bethlehem University
GRAND-ORGUE (Manual I, C–g3)
Coupler II–I 4′
RÉCIT (Manual II, enclosed, C–g3)
8′ Cor de nuit
8′ Voix céleste
4′ Flûte conique
2′ Quarte de nasard
Coupler II–Ped. 4′
Pistons: pp, p, mf, Tutti
Electric key and stop action
This was followed by a series of other new instruments, mostly constructed by organbuilders from the respective home countries of the commissioning churches. In 1971, the Berlin organ workshop Karl Schuke GmbH built the new organ for the Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem. It was expanded by three stops in 1984, bringing it to twenty-one stops on two manuals and pedal. Not without reason it is considered one of the best-preserved organs of Israel and is often heard in concerts.
The history of the Church of the Redeemer organ is inextricably linked to the person of its longtime organist Elisabeth Roloff (1937–2008), who played there from 1982 until her death. The organbuilder Rainer Nass of Berlin has been associated with this organ and the German Lutheran community since 1984. He comes to Israel every year to look after the organs of the Church of the Redeemer and the Church of the Ascension. In addition, he has worked on many other organs in the country, such as Immanuel Church in Jaffa (Figure 12), the University of Bethlehem, the Arab-Lutheran Church in Jaffa, and others. On the website of the Israel Organ Association, he has been honored as the “Santa Claus of the Israeli organs.”
As early as 1960, the Church of the Redeemer received an additional small organ built by the Führer company of Wilhelmshaven, Germany. It has five stops and pedal and was originally in the gallery of Saint John’s Chapel. In 2015, it was moved to the sanctuary of the Church of the Redeemer and made portable, serving now as a choir organ (Figure 13).
In 1977, Paul Ott built a two-manual organ with seventeen stops for Immanuel Church (formerly German, now managed by the Norwegian Church) in Tel Aviv. Under the direction of the organist Arin Maisky, there is a well-established concert series in which organ concerts are an integral part. Arin is the successor of her father, Valery Maisky (1942–1981), a well-known organist in Israel and Europe.
Continuing in the series of new instruments, a three-manual organ by Oberlinger of Windesheim, Germany, was built in 1980 for the German Benedictine Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion next to the Old City of Jerusalem (Figure 14). This instrument was very often played in concerts, but will now be replaced by a new instrument at some future time. The Oberlinger organ was bought by a Russian investor in 2020 and is to be used as a concert organ in a former Orthodox church near Jekaterinburg, Russia. P. Ralph Greis, who had been active as organist of the Dormition Abbey for a long time, left Jerusalem in 2017; his successor is Brother Simeon Gloger. The Dormition Abbey as well as the Church of the Redeemer and the Church of the Ascension play an important role in the international organ concerts organized regularly by the Israel Organ Association.
In 1984, the Austrian company Rieger built a new organ with thirty-one registers for the Anglican Saint George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem (Figure 15). The organist is Inna Dudakova.
In 1987, the Concert Hall of the Mormon-built Brigham Young University on the Mount of Olives received a three-manual organ with thirty-nine stops, built by the Danish company Marcussen & Søn (Figure 16). The organ is maintained and heard on weekly tours and in regular concerts. Various American organists carry out yearly residencies here.
In 1994, in the Franciscan church “Emmaus” in Qbeibeh, between Jerusalem and Ramallah, a new organ from Inzoli, Crema (North Italy), was built in the Italian-historical style with six stops and a short pedal (Figure 17).
In 2002, a large concert hall organ with three manuals by Eule of Bautzen, Germany, was built for the campus of the Music Academy in Tel Aviv. Alexander Gorin supervises organ students there.
The aforementioned Austrian company Rieger, which had already built a new main organ (two manuals, thirty-nine registers) in 1982 in the gallery of the rotunda in the Jerusalem Church of the Holy Sepulchre, became the exclusive organ supplier for the churches of the Franciscan Custodia Terrae Sanctae and built a number of organs of outstanding quality in the ensuing decades. In 2002 in the Church of Saint Catherine in Bethlehem, a new organ was built by Rieger that gained notoriety, because during the final phase of the construction fighting took place between Israelis and Palestinians. As a result of fire damage, many of the pipes became unusable, so the organ could not be finished until 2003. The organist is Fr. Jago Soce.
In 2008 in Saint Salvatore’s Church in Jerusalem, an instrument with forty-four stops on three manuals and pedal was installed by Rieger. It can be played by a mechanical-action main console as well as an additional electric-action console behind the altar. The design of this organ, as well as most of the other organs of the Custodia Terrae Sanctae, was the responsibility of P. Armando Pierucci. Born in 1935, he was the long-time organist of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and of the Church of Saint Salvatore. He is now retired.
2008 Rieger Orgelbau organ, Franciscan Church of Saint Salvatore, Old City, Jerusalem
Grand Organo (Manual I, C–a3)
8′ Flauto armonico
8′ Voce humana
8′ Bordone camino
2′ Ripieno grave IV
1′ Ripieno acuto
Positivo (Manual II, C–a3)
4′ Flauto camino
1′ Cimbalo III–IV
Recitativo (Manual III, enclosed, C–a3)
8′ Viola da Gamba
8′ Viola Celeste
4′ Flauto traverso
2′ Flauto ottava
2′ Pienino III–IV
4′ Flauto concerto
Consoles: main console, mechanical; remote console, electric
Roller crescendo shoe
Rieger Tuning System/Rieger Replay System
Select accessories: Rieger Combination System (10 users with 1,000 combinations with 3 inserts each); archive for 250 tracks with 250 combinations each; Sequencer; Copy functions; Repeat functions
In 2012 in Nazareth, three instruments were installed. Two were in the Church of the Annunciation. In the upper church, a three-manual instrument with forty-nine stops was installed, and in the crypt of the lower church an instrument with sixteen stops. The nearby Church of Saint Joseph received a small organ with ten stops. The organist in Nazareth is Fr. George Lewett, an American.
In 2014 in the Church of All Nations, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, an instrument with two manuals, twelve stops was installed.
In 2015 in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, there is the new Magdalene organ (two manuals, fifteen stops) near Christ’s grave (the Edicule), which is connected to the main organ and its electric console from the gallery above. The following year, again in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre near the Golgotha Rock (Figure 18), there was installed a very small organ with two manuals and five stops. It is completely enclosed in a cabinet.
2016 Rieger organ near the Golgotha Rock, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem
Manual I (C–d3)
Manual II (C–d3)
As a tireless promoter, sponsor, and organizer of the Franciscan organ constructions, Br. Peter Schüler, OFM (now editor-in-chief of the Franciscan magazine In the Land of the Bible located in Munich, Germany) also helped out as an organist at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre when he worked in Jerusalem.
The organs of the Custodia Terrae Sanctae have also been featured in a new series of concerts for several years, namely the “Terra Sancta Organ Festival,” which also takes place in Lebanon, Jordan, Cyprus, and Greece (www.tsorganfestival.org). The festival is a very well organized and widely promoted concert series in which organists from all over the world perform. The artistic director is Fr. Riccardo Ceriani.
Another current organ installation in Israel is in the north, not in a church, but in a concert hall. The Elma Arts Center is a spacious, architecturally interesting hotel and conference center in Zichron Ya’akov. It offers a rich cultural program of events in a concert hall seating 450 people. In 2014, the organbuilder Klais of Bonn, Germany, built an organ with twenty-four stops on two manuals and pedal for this center.
The status of organs in the churches of the Arab Lutheran Churches of the “ELCJHL” (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land) should not go unmentioned. Not all of their churches have pipe organs, but Arab Lutherans also have a tradition of organ-accompanied congregational singing. The organ in the Christmas Church in Bethlehem has already been mentioned. Next to the organ of the Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem, which is also used by the Arab Lutheran congregation that meets there, it is the largest instrument the ELCJHL has. There are also small pipe organs in the Arab-Lutheran churches in Ramallah and Beit Sahour. The ELCJHL also includes the pilgrimage center Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan in Jordan, whose church in 2013 received a large electronic organ by the Content company with three manuals, numerous stops, and a pipe façade.
Finally, in Israel there are many small organs, including a number of private house organs. The largest, with seventeen stops, belongs to Gerard Levi, former chairman of the Israel Organ Association, and is located in his home in Youvalim in northern Israel (Figure 19). The instrument was built in 1992 by Gideon Shamir and contains a number of pipes from historic organs. In addition, some orchestras, private families, churches, and other associations have house organs, positiv organs, and/or portable chest organs. On the campus of the Tel Aviv Music Academy, there is the above-mentioned concert hall organ as well as a smaller practice instrument with seventeen stops, built by Gideon Shamir in 1996.6 In the Jerusalem music school of the Franciscans, called Magnificat, stands a small, older practice organ by the German company Walcker.
Thus, all in all, the Holy Land offers a very multifaceted, colorful picture with organs of various stylistic characteristics, different ages, different qualities, and in different states of preservation. It would be worthwhile, though not the subject of this article, to report on the current status of organ playing in Israel. The number of organists is easy to tally. For the approximately sixty instruments, there are (in my estimation) at most thirty organists, of which only about half have a qualified education. Many of the organs mentioned in this article are not played regularly, some only occasionally in concerts, some not at all anymore.
Moreover, it would be desirable for a young organbuilder to settle permanently in Israel in order to continue the commendable work of Gideon Shamir. Enough work would be available! During my five years in Israel, despite my rudimentary organbuilding skills, I was called repeatedly to fix minor problems or to adjust individual registers, and my successor in office, Hartmut Rohmeyer, has as well.
I hope that the network of organs in the Holy Land, across all denominations, in the next few years and decades remains a fascination for all who are involved, whether they listen to the organs, sing with them, play them, or even build or repair them. And in the spirit of Psalm 122 (“Wish Jerusalem happiness”), I join in the Psalmist’s prayer, but expand it to include the entire Holy Land: “May there be peace in your walls!”
1. Translator’s note: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is administered by six Christian traditions under rules known as “The Status Quo.” Some carry more weight than others in the decision making process.
2. Parts of the Weigle organ were incorporated into the newly built organ of the concert hall of the University of Haifa by Gideon Shamir (see Figure 13).
3. In the same manner, parts of the old Bevington organ were reused in Haifa.
4. When that was is unclear, possibly during the Six Days War of 1967.
5. Translator’s note: approximately $4,200.
6. A similar instrument, also built by Gideon Shamir, standing in the Jerusalem Music Academy, was dismantled there a few years ago. The parts are in Gideon Shamir’s workshop in Asseret; whether it is to be rebuilt in the academy is uncertain. Currently there are no organ students.
Fernandez, Delfín, OFM. “Eine kleine Geschichte der Orgeln im Heiligen Land,” Im Lande des Herrn, Jg. 2002, No. 1.
Jauch, Robert, OFM. “Lauda Sion Salvatorem” (Bericht über die Orgeleinweihung der Rieger-Orgel der Kirche St. Salvator Jerusalem), Im Lande des Herrn, Jg. 2008, No. 2.
Leach, Brenda Lynn. “Organs of Israel,” The American Organist, April 1991, 62–64.
Levi, Gerard. Organ Culture in Israel and Palestine, 2005, published by BookSurge, LLC, ISBN I-4196-1034-1, available at www.amazon.de.
Orgel International, issue 1/2001 with emphasis “Israel.” In it are interviews with Elisabeth Roloff and the Israeli organist Yuval Rabin as well as articles by Oskar Gottlieb Blarr, Achim Seip, and others, besides a detailed description of some organs and an overview of the entire organ inventory of Israel (Gerard Levi).
“Pipework,” The American Organist, February 2015, 26, 28. Report on the new organs in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of All Nations.
Schüler Petrus, “Orgeln in der Grabeskirche,” Im Lande des Herrn, Jg. 2017, No. 1.
Schulten, Klaus. Die Sauerorgel in der Himmelfahrtkirche und andere deutsche Orgeln in Jerusalem, Series Edition Auguste Victoria, Volume 2, Jerusalem, 2010.
For detailed, up-to-date information on all organs in Israel, visit the website of the Israel Organ Association, www.organ.org.il.
This article was first published in Jerusalem–Gemeindebrief–Stiftungsjournal 2/2019 (quarterly magazine of the German Lutheran Church in Jerusalem) and is reprinted here with permission.
Photo caption: Shamir organ in the concert hall of the University of Haifa (photo credit: the author)