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Journal Watch

05/23/2011 - 20:00

The Jewish place of worship: shul, beit knesset, the Reform “temple,” the Karaite kenesa, beit tefilah — and the synagogue. Whence this odd-sounding word? Vaguely Greek? Not “vaguely” at all. The Greek word synagogé means “assembly,” and the word indeed reflects what has been a central function of the Jewish house of worship for centuries, if not millennia.

Mushroom Synagogues

A brief history of shul competition, money, political lobbying and the High Holy Days.
05/23/2011 - 20:00

On Aug. 17, 1930 the Jewish Daily Bulletin announced that the rabbis of New York City were declaring war. Their enemy was not anti-Semites, nor assimilation, nor any of the other typical suspects for rabbinic enmity. The object of their campaign was “the mushroom synagogue.”

ANDREA STRONGWATER,  Lvov, The Temple (built 1884-45), 2008, painting.

Paned Expressions

Though a bit tarnished, the Abstract Expressionist windows at Brooklyn’s Kingsway Jewish Center still glimmer.
05/23/2011 - 20:00

There is no shortage of synagogues in Brooklyn. Many are beautiful and some are unusual, but most are unknown except to their congregants. In order to help protect this heritage of often aging religious buildings, the New York Landmarks Conservancy embarked in 2006 on a project to survey them.

PHOTO by Samuel D. Gruber www.samgrubersjewishartmonuments. blogspot.com

House Divided

The history of the synagogue in America, a new book shows, is one of rifts, splits, factions and the ever-evolving tension between tradition and modernity.
05/23/2011 - 20:00

A Jew is shipwrecked on a desert island. Ten years later, a passing ship notices his campfire and stops to rescue him. When the captain comes ashore, the castaway thanks him profusely and offers to give him a tour of the little island. He shows off the weapons he made for hunting, the fire pit where he cooks his food, the synagogue he built for praying in and the hammock where he sleeps. On their way back to the ship, however, the captain notices a second synagogue. “I don’t understand,” the captain asks.

Mixed Seating, 2004. PHOTO by michael datikash

Foreign Implants

Immigration and the art of shul-going.
05/23/2011 - 20:00

My father’s shul of choice, a Modern Orthodox congregation, was located a mile from our home, in the school auditorium at the Yeshivah of Flatbush. The men and women were separated by a mechitzah, a partition. I would sit with my friends and chat, as my father did with his, as people do in Orthodox shuls. We talked about the World Series. My father and his friends would tell Yiddish jokes, and argue about Zionism and biblical philology.

ANDREA STRONGWATER,  Nuremburg synagogue on Hans Sachs Platz (built 1874), 2009, painting.

A Shul Where Everyone Knows Your Name

Growing up as the rabbi’s son at the only synagogue in town.
05/23/2011 - 20:00

One Yom Kippur day during my teen years in Annapolis, Md., just after the Musaf service, an elderly member approached me in the lobby of the synagogue.

She wanted to know how old the youngster was who had just joined his father and uncle for the first time in blessing the congregation with the Birchat Kohanim, the priestly benediction.

“He just had his bar mitzvah,” I told her.

1953 graduation:Rabbi Morris Rosenblatt, the author¹s father, served four decades as a chaplain at the U.S. Naval Academy.

In My Father’s Synagogue

A Conservative woman rabbi grapples with her Syrian family’s gender-stratified customs.
05/23/2011 - 20:00

Like virtually all Syrian Jews, my father was a staunch traditionalist. A faithful synagogue goer every Shabbat, he would never have considered Reform or Conservative Judaism as an option for himself or for his family. Instead, clean-shaven, in a dark suit and doused with cologne, he would attend Shabbat services every Saturday morning at the traditional Syrian congregation near our home in Brooklyn’s Midwood neighborhood — and later on go to work.

Magen David Synagogue, Brooklyn, New York, 1984. PHOTOS by Judith Helfand

The Search for Ten Good Men and Women

A rabbi reflects on why American Jews need the minyan now more than ever.
05/23/2011 - 20:00

Depictions of American Jews on television are often a barometer for the way in which Jewish writers, and presumably Jewish viewers, understand their Jewish identity. The 1990s series “Northern Exposure” featured the character of Joel Fleischman, a young Jewish doctor from New York who moved to rural Alaska to practice medicine as the town’s only physician. In one episode, when Joel receives word that his uncle Manny has died, he seeks a minyan with whom to say Kaddish. (Never mind that one is not obligated to say Kaddish for an uncle.)

ANDREA STRONGWATER, Great Synagogue of Lodz (built 1881-1887), 2008, painting.

Unearthing the First Shuls

Excavations from Israel over the past 50 years suggest that synagogues may be older than we initially thought.
05/23/2011 - 20:00

The discovery of the Byzantine-period synagogue at Beit Alpha with its wonderful zodiac mosaic and naïve artistic style, and its subsequent excavation by Eliezer Lipa Sukenik, father of Yigael Yadin, in 1929 put synagogue archaeology on the map.

Jerusalem-facing wall at Nabratein in Galilee with Torah shrine at right.

Editor’s Note

05/23/2011 - 20:00

When we celebrate Shavuot in two weeks, we’ll commemorate the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. Our synagogues are the places we go throughout the year to continue to find echoes of that revelation. But transcendence aside, we also seek out synagogues for community, ritual, learning and shared history — and in some places, the trademark shul with a pool.

JANE TRIGÉRE,Women of the Balcony 3, 2008, collage. PHOTO by Penny Leveritt
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