Conference Session: From Historicism to Deconstructivism: Reconsidering European Synagogue Architecture
by Samuel D. Gruber
Next week I'll be at the annual meeting of the Association for Jewish Studies in Washington, D.C. to give a paper in the session "From Historicism to Deconstructivism: Reconsidering European Synagogue Architecture." Michael Meng and Gav Rosenfeld, both of whom have new books out, will also be on the panel - so I guess we are reprising our act from last year's AJS, though with slightly new topics.
My paper "What Was New and Why? Synagogue Modernisms in Pre-Holocaust Europe," is, in fact, the prequel to last's years presentation, in which I described the role of refugee and Survivor architects in shaping the modern Jewish aesthetic in post-WWII America. This year I'll talk about the architecture they left behind - the many modernisms of the early 20th century and especially the interwar years. Thanks to the documentation of previously forgotten synagogues by many researchers in different countries, we can now see the broad outlines of the fertile and popular modern movements before the Holocaust.
Mon, Dec 19 - 8:30am - 10:30am
Building/Room: Grand Hyatt Washington, Penn A
From Historicism to Deconstructivism: Reconsidering European Synagogue Architecture
Chair: Michael Meng (Clemson University
"If Only It Were “As Simple As Bonjour”: Synagogue Building in Nineteenth-Century Paris," Saskia Coenen Snyder (University of South Carolina)
"What Was New and Why? Synagogue Modernisms in Pre-Holocaust Europe,
Samuel D. Gruber (Syracuse University)
"“Between Memory and Normalcy: Synagogue Architecture in Postwar Germany,”
Gavriel Rosenfeld (Fairfield University)
Respondent: Michael Meng (Clemson University)
The scholarly literature on Jewish architecture has long been dominated by analyses of synagogue design. In recent years, however, the focus of this literature has begun to change. If prior scholarship concentrated on the construction histories of synagogues, newer studies have begun to take interest in their reception histories as well. This panel follows in the spirit of this new scholarly approach by going beyond construction technique, style, and aesthetics to probe the wider social perceptions of, and reactions to, Jewish synagogues in the communities where they were built. Covering trends from the 19th to the 21st centuries, the three papers discuss how different styles of synagogue design – historicism, modernism, and postmodernism – reveal the interplay between architecture, on the one hand, and Jewish history, memory, and identity on the other. Saskia Coenen Snyder’s paper, “If Only It Were “As Simple As Bonjour”: Synagogue Building in Nineteenth-Century Paris,” investigates the relationship between Jewish building committee members and French political institutions during the Second Empire and the Third Republic. She argues that as synagogues became public buildings, municipal authorities played an increasingly intimate role in the construction process and public representation of Judaism. Samuel Gruber’s paper, “What's New and Why? Synagogue Modernisms in Pre-Holocaust Europe,” focuses on the variety of what was considered new and modern in Jewish architecture in the early 20th century Europe, and especially following World War I. The paper considers the role of architecture in furthering Orthodoxy, Zionism, nationalism, and other disputed religious, political, social and aesthetic movements. Gavriel D. Rosenfeld’s paper, “Between Memory and Normalcy: Synagogue Architecture in Postwar Germany,” discusses three phases of synagogue design in the Federal Republic of Germany between 1945 and the present. He shows how modernist, postmodern, and deconstructivist designs have grappled to varying degrees with the legacy of the Holocaust and how postwar German synagogues collectively reflect lingering uncertainty among German Jews about the extent to which they should remember the Nazi past or move beyond it towards a normalized future.