What it takes to design a synagogue today
21 hours ago
Heritage, travel and history in Europe's Jewish Heartland
|Dancing at the Yiddish Summer Weimar|
|Painted ceiling, replica of Gwozdziec wooden synagogue, in the POLIN museum.|
|In a grand family tomb in the vast Kozma utca Jewish cemetery in Budapest|
|Ark in synagogue in Roman, Romania|
|Exterior Rumbach st. synagogue, Budapest, December 2011. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber|
As more restoration takes place, the need for integrity and creativity in communicating the many dimensions of the Jewish experience will grow. The answer is not just a series of plaques on the buildings. Or more exhibit cases of Jewish ceremonial objects. Or lists of famous Jews. We must strive to evoke a unique encounter between visitor and place. We need to remember that as time passes a n d travel increases, visitors will want to know more about how Jews lived as well as how Jews died.
|Interior of Rumbach st. synagogue, 2011|
We preserve to remember. For decades, Jewish preservation in Eastern Europe has focused primarily on places of death. Chasidim have tended cemeteries, especially the graves of Tzadikim (charismatic leaders), while other Jews have ensured that death camps remain as witnesses to a story that could otherwise become myth.
But preservation means Jewish life as well as death. When we walk in the footsteps of our forebears, contemplate their lives, stand in the places where they lived—and were betrayed—powerful linkages occur between their lives and ours.
We preserve to learn. American architectural historian Carole Herselle Krinsky writes, “Synagogues…reveal especially clearly the connections between architecture and society.” Clues to self-perceptions of Jews over the centuries, the evolution of faith and culture and relations with Gentile neighbors abound in the shapes, materials, designs and settings of synagogues. Did a community choose Gothic or Moorish ar chitecture, site its synagogue on the street or set it back off a courtyard, retain a separate entrance for women or build a gallery in the main hall? Did it raise a dome high or low in the community’s skyline, place the bimah (pulpit) in the center of the main hall or on the east wall? Did it hire a Jewish, Gentile or Viennese architect? Why did poor Jewish artists in old Poland decorate their synagogue walls with colorful, representational frescoes and pious prayers?
We preserve to provide settings for dialogue. It is true that in many places in Eastern Europe few, if any, Jews are left, and to talk about understanding, much less recon ciliation, would be glib. Yet a dialogue that goes beyond the “chamber of horrors” of the Shoah is clearly underway, fostered in special ways by sites embedded with memories. [...]
We preserve to transcend. On Simchat Torah, 1989, Cracow’s revered Remuh Synagogue, rebuilt but used continuously since the mid-1550s, reverberated as 40 Israeli teenagers took over the service from a forlorn group of elderly survivors and vibrantly danced and sang “Am Yisrael Chat”—the people of Israel live. The benefactor who paid for the Szeged synagogue’s restoration put it this way: “I just want to know that the synagogue I remember from my childhood is still there.” [...]
We preserve to fulfill our commit ment to life. For preservation to play this role—or any successful role—in Eastern Europe, sites need to be accessible, marked and interpreted in compelling ways. [...]
|Singer's Warsaw Festival, 2011|
|Synagogue in Orla, Poland. Photo: W. Wejman/Shtetl Routes|
|Bimah and reconstructed Ark in the synagogue in Mikulov. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber|
|Synagogue interior, Polná. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber|