Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Jewish Monuments and Architecture: New blogs and Facebook Pages

Jewish Monuments and Architecture: New blogs and Facebook Pages
by Samuel D. Gruber

Social media is making the documentation and study of Jewish architecture, cemeteries, monuments, and historic sites much easier more widespread - but harder and harder to keep track of as more and more people ranging from well-meaning (but often mis-informed) enthusiasts to distinguished scholars set up blogs, Facebook and LinkedIn pages and other easy to post and easy to search online resources.  There is great amount of information out there, but it has to be sifted; here are bad, mislabeled and mis-attributed photos, ignorant architectural and historical assessments, and prejudicial opinions.  Still, one can't ignore all this web-based information since the web is where most people are communicating today.  A happy corollary to this amateur web-surge is the appearance of and other sources for the sharing of more scholarly research.  In a coming post I will highlight some of the international scholarship from specialized publications about Jewish art and monuments that is now accessible in free downloads

I started this blog in 2008 and have posted approximately 800 times with what I try to make content-rich and often new and original material, mixed with my own opinions. This has brought the blog about 300,000 page views.  It is a drop in the bucket to some of viral Youtube hits, but still not bad for a blog on a topic few were interested in when I started tracking Jewish monuments 25 years ago.  

Today, it would be a full time job - or more -  just to track all the information and pictures that are posted about Jewish heritage sites, let alone analyze them for importance or do any new research.  Websites like are doing a great job collating news from Europe and disseminating in various media (including Facebook). was the organizing force behind the conference this past April on Managing Jewish Immovable Property held in Krakow and now fully available on vide via the wedsite.  

The blog Point of No Return, which focuses mostly on the exile and diaspora of Jews from Muslim lands (with a moral and political agenda) also includes much valuable information about this history and present plight of Jewish monuments and sites in the Mizrachi World.  

Surprisingly, there is still no similar mechanism for collecting and posting American news, most of which remains unreported.

Here are some links to some new additions in ever-expanding Jewish monuments cyberspace that might interest my readers. They have much to offer - but as always when using web-based sources, caveat lector.

1. I've long been a big admirer of Louis Davidson's website  This summer I had the pleasure to meet Louis when he and his wife came to Syracuse to photograph two architecturally significant synagogues here.  Louis has now started a blog about his work that includes history, methodology, adventure and personal observations on the many synagogues he visits and photographs every year.  Louis - welcome to the blogosphere!  You can follow Louis Davidson here.

2. West Virginia-based synagogue maven Julian H. Priesler has been collecting information about American synagogues for years (decades?).  His massive grab-bag compilation of synagogue images is still the most comprehensive and useful starting point to learn the geographic and architectural variety of the American synagogue experience.  Julian recently published an Arcadia photo-history Jewish West Virginia and he has been working more intensively documenting the scores of former and present synagogues in Pennsylvania.  Julian  regularly posts information and photos from his search on Facebook.

3. For something further afield, you can see scores of images of Romanian synagogues (collected from various sources) at the Facebook page Romanian Endangered Synagogues.  I usually do not promote anonymous websites; I think people should take responsibility for what they write and post. I don't know who maintains this site.  The initiators from Alexandria, Virginia do not announce themselves, merely stating  the "Romanian endangered synagogues is an initiative of a small group of individuals interested in the rehabilitation and preservation of the Romanian Synagogues."  The group tends not to source or date their information or credit their photos - a common abuse on Facebook, Tumbler and other social media sites, including occasionally - though inadvertently - my own).   Still, the plight of Romanian synagogues is very real - and exists for a variety of reasons - and getting out images of these many stately and often beautiful buildings is a good thing.  I hope it will prick the Jewish consciousness and stir some action.   The Jewish world needs to turn the spotlight on this largely forgotten legacy to insure the protection and survival of scores hundreds of important synagogues and cemeteries.  Every little bit helps.  I'll be writing more about Romanian synagogues in the coming months.

Do have other blogs, pages or other sources you'd like to recommend?  Send me your links.

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