Thursday, December 30, 2010

USA: Boston's Ohabei Shalom's Byzantine Grandeur

Boston (Brookline), MA. Temple Ohabei Shalom (1922-28). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber, 2010.

Boston (Brookline), MA. Temple Ohabei Shalom, 11 Union Park St (synagogue 1887-mid-1920s). American Jewish Historical Society as reproduced in The Jews of Boston, p 183.

USA: Boston's Ohabei Shalom's Byzantine Grandeur
by Samuel D. Gruber

I was in Boston last week for the Association of Jewish Studies meeting, and stayed in Brookline with a friend. Riding the Green Line T I had to hop off two stops early to take some photos of the grand domed Temple Ohabei Shalom (OS), at the corner of Beacon and Kent Streets. Dedicated in 1928, the synagogue was Boston's entry into the national Byzantine synagogue sweepstakes of the 1920s, where Boston set to compete with similar Byzantine-style buildings in Newark, NJ; Chicago (Temple Isaiah), IL; Portland, OR and elsewhere. A free interpretation of the style was first successfully used for synagogue architecture in Sofia, Bulgaria in the early 1900s, and was soon adapted by American architects.

Sofia, Bulgaria. Great Synagogue. Friedrich Gruenanger (1856-1929), architect (1905-10). This was the first major synagogue inspired in part by Hagia Sofia and other Byzantine buildings, but it also continues use of Islamic motifs. In Bulgaria (unlike Boston) Muslim and Byzantine styles are part of the local heritage. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber.

Portland, Oregon. Temple Beth Israel, Morris H. Whitehouse & Herman Brookman, architects (1923). In the building the Byzantine style is influenced by Art Deco motifs. Photo: from postcard.

Chicago, Illinois. Temple Isaiah, Alfred S. Alschuler, Architect (1924). This is one the most fully realzied Byzantine style synagogues, but it is more influenced by San Vitale in Ravenna than Hagia Sofia in Istanbul. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber.

Newark, NJ. Congregation B'nai Jeshurun (now Hopewell Baptist Church), Albert Gottleib, arch (1915). One of the earliest American examples of the Byzantine style. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber.

As David Kaufman has written in his essential article "Temples in the American Athens: A History of Synagogues in Boston," in Sarna et al, eds, The Jewish of Boston (1995, 2005), OS was also an fine example of the era's Synagogue-Center movement, where urban architectural monumentality was joined to the more many more mundane activities of sustaining a Jewish religious community. OS, Boston's oldest congregation (founded 1842) felt the need to position itself as a leader in architecture as well as communal education and programming.

The building, designed by Clarance Blackall is one of many contemporary designs that derive from Istanbul's 6th century Hagia Sofia in the latest and last serious bout of Jewish architectural historicism. Blacknell had previously designed Congregation Adath Israel in 1907. The popular Classical style of the first decade of the century had, if anything, become too ubiquitous after World War I, and congregation strove for new ways to establish Jewish and congregational identity in the American world of religious and denomination competition. In Chicago, architect Alfred Alschuler first made the claim that the Byzantine style directly referenced ancient newly excavated synagogues of the 4th-8th century, thereby establishing legitimacy and precedent for the style, but it remains unknown whether anyone really believed this. Architecturally, the Byzantine style as adapted for synagogues allowed the prominent incorporation of a domed sanctuary space and its exterior expression, an architectural and communal element that had been evolving dressed in other styles since the 1890s. The domed interior space gave a great sense of communal unity, and usually also provided better acoustics and sight lines.

David Kaufman quotes congregation Rabbi Samuel J. Abrams remarks at a 1922 find raising banquet for the project:

"what is this New Temple Ohabei Shalom? Let me tell you at least what we shall strive to make it - a monument of the standing of the Jews of this metropolis of the 20th century! more than that; it is to be a witness to the fact that though we have risen in wealth and power, and though we yield to none of our fellow-citizens in love of country, we have not forgotten the rock whence we were hewn. in its artistic completeness, it is to be an offering recording for years, or - may God grant - for centuries to come, at once the prosperity and the gratitude which are ours in being privileged to be counted among those who served this holy cause."

Boston (Brookline), MA. Temple Ohabei Shalom presentation drawing, ca. 1922.
Reproduced in The Jews of Boston, p 204.

Blackall's original design called for a tall campanile-like tower to be set at the corner of the building, which would have been visible from afar, and also would have linked the building to the previous Ohabei Shalom (at 11 Union Park Street, now a Greek Orthodox church) which had a corner tower, and to the many Boston churches which employed this device of architectural advertising in the tightly built urban environment. The arrangement is described ca. 1925 as: "The dome is about ninety feet high and the tower is one hundred and seventy to the top of its Menorah. The tower, which has a lantern top, will provide a most distinguishing landmark on the long perspective of Beacon street. The lantern has a gilded patterned top surmounted by the Menorah and will have a large light source to stream from its arcaded windows." This tower is very different from the slender minaret-like tower Alschuler used at Temple Isaiah in Chicago, which actually masks a chimney.

In the end the Ohabei Shalom tower was not built, which actually better emphasizes the geometrical integrity of the synagogue design. The dome drum windows were also changed, and it was until a recent renovation of the building that a towering menorah was installed, now atop the dome replacing an earlier simple Star of David. There is rich and intricate brick, carved stone and metalwork detailing throughout the building. My favorite element are the bronze shofars sculpted as door handles on the entrance doors.

Boston (Brookline), MA. Temple Ohabei Shalom. Shofar shaped door handles. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber, 2010.

The interior is also impressive, and over the past two decades the sanctuary has been restored to it original appearance. I'll report more on that space when I have a longer time to visit.

Even before the sanctuary was built the congregation erected an adjacent school, activities and office building that still serves these functions. It was normal for synagogue centers at the time to be built in phases - and remains so today. I can think of several instances where congregations built their school buildings first with flexible space to be used for worship as well, and then never went to build their planned sanctuaries. The best known instance of this is Union Temple in Brooklyn. Ohabei Shalom's school wing is now as often reached by car as by public transport or on foot, so an ample parking lot is in the rear, and a new modern style entrance has been created in the back of the building - which now serves as the de facto front.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Poland: New Director at Krakow's Galicia Jewish Museum

Krakow, Poland. Galicia Jewish Museum. All photos Samuel D. Gruber, 2008.

Poland: New Director at Krakow's Galicia Jewish Museum

The Galicia Jewish Museum founded in April 2004 in Krakow's Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, has appointed a new director, Kazimierz-born Jakub Nowakowski. Nowakowski has worked at the museum since 2005, most recently as its education direction. The museum is located in a former mill building (see photo above) on the edge of Kazimierz, the former suburb to Krakow's Old Town where Jews were permitted to live, and where a vibrant Jewish culture developed over a period of five centuries. The mission of the museum is "to challenge the stereotypes and misconceptions typically associated with the Jewish past in Poland and to educate both Poles and Jews about their own histories, whilst encouraging them to think about the future."

Nowakowski will replace Kate Craddy who has returned to England, to take up an appointment at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham. Craddy herself became director after the death in 2007 of the museum's founder, the British photographer Chris Schwarz. The museum's core exhibition is formed by Chris's photographs of Jewish heritage sites, taken mainly in the 1990s -- they also form the basis for the book Recovering Traces of Memory, with text by Jonathan Webber.
I congratulate Kate on all she has achieved at the museum, and wish Jakub all the best in his new position.

Nowakowski has an MA in History from the Department of Jewish Studies at the Jagiellonian University, as well as a postgraduate diploma in Management and Marketing from the Kraków School of Economics and Computer Science. He also holds a Tour Leader’s License from the City of Kraków.

In addition to its permanent photographic exhibition, the museum hosts traveling exhibitions about history and art, and also has one of Poland's best Jewish book stores and gift shops, and a hospitable cafe that provides a good rest and meeting place in Kazimierz. My family was pleased to donate one of my mother's (Shirley Moskowitz) monoprints from her Polish synagogue series to the museum in 2009, based on her visits to ruined synagogues in 1993. The wntire series had previously been exhibited at the museum.

The Galicia Jewish Museum employs over 20 full- and part-time staff, in Museum Operations; Education and Research; Projects and Publications; External Relations and Communications; and Finances and Administration. New Museum Director Nowakowski is supported by an active Board of Directors in Poland and a Board of Trustees in the UK, led by Chairman Prof. Jonathan Webber (UNESCO Chair of Jewish and Interfaith Studies, University of Birmingham).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Photographer Vincent Giordano, Who Documented Romaniote Life, Dies at Age 58

Vincent Giordano in 2005. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

Vincent Giordano (1952-2010)

by Samuel D. Gruber

Photographer and filmmaker Vincent Giordano died on December 11, 2010. Vincent was an accomplished photographer with an artist’s eye, and a mastery of craft (especially visible in his beautifully handmade palladium prints) and the sensibility of a trained ethnographer. He was a man of warmth, humor, and modesty, but also of talent, ambition and tenacity. These were all qualities he maintained, even when in great pain, until his very last hour.

In recent years Vincent brought these talents together in an intensive investigation of the small community of Romaniote Jews in New York, centered on the synagogue of Kehila Kedosha Janina synagogue on New York’s Lower East Side. Since 2002, soon after he began work in his documentary project Before the Flame Goes Out, he has been a friend and unexpected colleague. What began by my writing a simple cover letter for a grant became a continuing collaboration, with the International Survey of Jewish Monuments serving as a sponsor for Vincent’s work.

Over a period of about six years Vincent created a remarkable series of photos of the building, and many of the people who still call it their religious and cultural home and related community events. What began as a documentation of the synagogue building and its liturgical and historical artifacts evolved into a deeper and more meaningful investigation including photos, film and audio. Vincent found that it was not enough to look at a building without knowing the things inside or to know the objects without understanding their history and use. He believed that knowledge can only come through knowing the people who made these things, and who continue to use and cherish them today. Similarly, he felt he could not see full picture of this Romaniote community without its other half: the community of Ioannina, or what survives of it in post-Holocaust Greece. So the project which at first was quite modest kept growing. And in this process I was always impressed with Vincent’s adaptability, organization skills, diplomacy, patience, tenacity and overriding belief in the integrity and meaning of the task.

Vincent forged excellent ties with the Romaniote community. His photos, which often involved long set up times and exposures, drew many of the synagogue community into his work so that many aspects of Before the Flame Goes Out were collaborative efforts with the community itself. His patience was often rewarded by the stories told by those watching, many of who subsequently became portrait subjects, and he often donated prints of his work to these new friends and the community. Photography developed into oral history that became an important part of the work. Vincent also reached out to historians and other specialists (such as myself) to expand and refine his knowledge of his subject, so that photography and oral history now link with more traditional lines of historical inquiry.

For his work on Before the Flames Goes Out Vincent received grants from the Memorial Foundation of Jewish Culture and he was a Fullbright Scholar in Greece in 2007. His talent was recognized by many generous donors who supported Before the Flame Goes Out. These included The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation, The Lucius and Eva Eastman Fund, The Cahnman Foundation, The Rothschild Foundation, and The David and Goldie Blanksteen Fund.

Vincent received his B.A. from SUNY, Oswego where he majored in history and anthropology, tw0 disciplines he remained dedicated to in his subsequent career. He went on to study photography at C.W. Post College (Glendale, NY), the International Center of Photography, and with Arthur Leipzig. In the 1980s he worked for R/ Greenberg Associates as Head of the Animation Camera and Stills Department, during which time he won seven Clio awards for television advertising campaigns. And the GT Group in New York as head of the still photography department.

For the past 25 years Vincent worked as photographer, filmmaker and technical consultant for scores of book, film and other photo-related projects. In more recent years he took on projects for himself, and developed impressive portfolios of memorable and artistic work, most of which seemed to dwell with modes of memory. A skilled portraitist, he brought that careful steady observant eye to his photos of architecture and landscape. As a New York photographer two of the most meaningful to Vincent were Hidden New York (Rutgers University Press, 2006), for which he was a contributing photographer and remembrance, a book of portraits from September 11, 2001.

Vincent was so often behind the camera there are few photos of him. I include this one snapshot, when I caught him by surprise at Kehila Kedosha Janina back in 2005. The picture captures for me his mix of toughness and playfulness. He combined a no-nonsense attitude of getting the shot, with humor and constant enthusiasm for his subject.

Vincent will be missed by his many friends and colleagues, and especially by his loving wife Hilda and his step-children Elizabeth and Thomas, and grandchildren, Matthew, Analisa and Rachel. A memorial gathering takes place today in New york at the Museum of Biblical Art where Vincent’s work was exhibited in 2008. A celebration of his life and art will also be scheduled in 2011. I will shortly post a gallery of some of Vincent's photos. You can also see images on the website

Here are four photos which show a mix of his work with 8 x 10 negatives, and two shots from Greece done "on the fly" with a 35mm camera. These are low-res digital copies. The originals are especially gorgeous.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Algeria: Fifty Years Since Sacking of Algiers Great Synagogue

Algeria: Fifty Years Since Sacking of Algiers Great Synagogue (ISJM) On 11 December 1960, Algerian Arabs attacked the Great Synagogue in Algiers. Two years later Algeria gained independence from the France. The anti-French synagogue attackers "entered the holy place and went on the rampage, tore the memorial plaques off the walls, ripped up the symbols of our faith, sullied books and Torah scrolls, emptied the lockers where people stored tallit, tephilin and prayer books, and torched everything." Albert Bensoussan and Julien Zenouda have written an account of the events leading up to the pillage and what happened to Algiers' Jews afterward. Read article in full - Via Blog du site terre d'Israel (French) The article has been summarized in English on the blog Point of no Return. The building was erected in 1885, and is now a popular centrally-sited mosque. A tall minaret was added ca. 1961. In the 1990s, a covered ablution area was built on the forecourt of the former Great Synagogue. Inhabitants of Algiers reportedly refer to the building as "the mosque of the Jews" (Djamaa Lihoud) it is also known as the "Djamaa Ben Fares".

Sunday, December 12, 2010

USA: Should We Call Classicism in Georgia Georgian?

USA: Should We Call Classicism in Georgia Georgian?
by Samuel D. Gruber

Atlanta, Georgia. Hebrew Benevolent Congregation. W. F. Denny, architect (1902). From postcard.

Architectural historian Richard Funderburke has referred me to the Macon Georgia Living history map webpage for some fine photos of Congregation Beth Israel in Macon, Georgia. Richard is a font of knowledge about Georgia architecture, and I've referred to his work elsewhere on this blog.

I've been to Savannah, but never to Macon and a score of other towns that have or had Jewish communities. Sometime I hope to afford the time and money to make my own march through Georgia and adjacent southern states to more fully investigate the rich Jewish and architectural history of that region.

At present, I'm particularly interested in the persistence of classicism, which in the south has its own particular overlapping and intersecting levels of meaning. Classicism was the style of the elite in the ante-bellum period and we are fortunate to have Beth Elohim in Charleston - literally a touchstone building for American Reform Judaism - as a reminder of how Jews were close to that elite in aspirations if not always in social status. They were not Christians, but they were white. Therefore the widespread use of Greek and Roman classicism beginning around 1900 is only due in part to national trends, since it is also steeped in a strong regional affinity and sense of history. One has to remember that it was a Jew - Commodore Uriah Levy - who undertook to preserve the Jeffersonian (and Palladian) appearance of Monticello. The Palladian form of Monticello - which derives from Rome's Pantheon and is a seen is many types of American civic architecture plays a role in Southern synagogue design, too. I discuss this in brief - but not to the extent that it deserves - in a new article "Arnold W. Brunner and the new classical synagogue in America" that will appear shortly in Jewish History.

While the famed Touro Synagogue at Newport, designed by colonial-era architect Peter Harrison and completed in 1763 is typically described as of "the Georgian Style," since it was erected during the English Georgian period, in this article I touch upon a very different Georgian classicism - that found in Atlanta and Macon a century ago.Meridian, Mississippi. Temple Beth Israel (1905, demolished 1964). From postcard.

Alexandria, Louisiana. Gemiluth Chassodim (1908, destroyed by fire 1956)

In recognition of Richard's link about Macon, I include a few paragraphs from that article - though they are out of their full context, and without their full accompanying end notes.
Already in 1902, two Roman temple style synagogues were erected in Georgia. In Atlanta, the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation dedicated on September 12, 1902, a large new Roman temple style home, designed by Louisville-born W. F. Denny (1875 - 1905), at the corner of South Pryor and Richardson Streets. The Atlanta Constitution called this structure “one of the handsomest church buildings in the city.” Actually, in old photographs the building appears to have been mostly Renaissance in style, but it had a projecting porch facing the street consisting of six large Ionic columns supporting a robust entablature and pediment. Denny also was the architect of the Jefferson County Courthouse in Louisville in 1904, so perhaps it is no surprise that the synagogue looks something like a courthouse. Rabbis from several states attended the dedication. Rabbis were there from both Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Richmond, Virginia, both cities where classical style synagogues were subsequently dedicated in 1904.
Congregation Beth Israel in Macon, Georgia, also built an imposing Roman-temple type building in 1902, designed by local architect Peter E. Dennis. In 1905, a year before Brunner’s Brickbuilder article, three “modern classic” temples had been dedicated in Mississippi alone; in Meridian (demolished 1964), Natchez, and Greenville. A similar 450-seat synagogue in Alexandria, Louisiana opened in 1907.
In Mississippi especially, the motive for the classical designs might have been patriotic. While the forms of the new synagogues recall those of Kahn’s Beth El in Detroit, they closely resemble those of the Pantheon-like Illinois State Monument dedicated at the Vicksburg Battlefield, also in Elsewhere, throughout the country, classicism could be equally tied to civic life and could be seen in the architecture of libraries, courthouses and universities, many of which were quickly adopting the new “White City” classicism.vii
Significant classical style synagogues were erected in Chattanooga (1904), Richmond (1904), Louisville (1906), Kansas City (1907), St. Louis (1908) and New Bern, North Carolina (1908), among many other places. The normality of these buildings and their religiously neutral or ecumenical appearance is seen in a postcard from Louisville that pairs the new Temple Adath Israel with the First Christian Church. The two buildings are virtually indistinguishable, except that the synagogue displays a Decalogue (Ten Commandments) set within its pediment though historian Lee Shai Weissbach has pointed out that this Decalogue was never installed. Many of the other classical synagogues of the period did include Jewish symbols as pediment decorations, particularly the Star of David, though on most of these buildings symbols were unobtrusive and façade inscriptions were usually in English, not Hebrew. A favorite line used on the façades of Reform Temples is “My house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples (Isaiah 56:7). The quotation, always presented in English, was a proclamation intended as much for the general community as it was for the Jewish congregants. It signified – as did the classical architecture – the attempt at near-ecumenicalism of the Reform Movement. In the 1920s, when the classical style became widespread among Conservative and Orthodox congregations, their buildings always had inscriptions in Hebrew, though sometimes English was also included.
Louisville’s Temple Adath Israel had staged a competition for the design (one of the first competitions for synagogues in America), to which Louisville architect William G. Tachau had submitted an entry. Despite his local Jewish roots, Tachau did not receive the commission, which went to Kenneth McDonald and John Francis Sheblessy, prominent local architects and both Christians. We do not know what specifically the architect and congregation were thinking when they chose the Roman temple-style design. According to Weissbach, “There is no way of determining whether they were aware of recent Greco-Roman synagogue discoveries in Palestine, for example, or how important it was that a member of the congregation, Alfred Joseph, served as senior draftsman on the project.” xii Still, it is easy to agree with Weissbach that, “Adath Israel was attempting to associate itself with the most sophisticated artistic sentiment of the time and the latest developments in American culture. In doing so, the commonwealth’s oldest congregation was declaring its strong sense of self-confidence and its feeling of security as a part of Kentucky society.”

Richard D. Funderburke, "Willis F. Denny II, Architect: A Brief Career, a Lasting Influence," Preservation Bulletin (January 1995); and “W. F. Denny (1874-1905),” in New Georgia Encyclopedia, (posted 2002, accessed Nov 14, 2008). According to Funderburke, Denny’s work “reflects the major shifts in design that took place at that time when the picturesque, eclectic forms of the Victorian era gave way to neoclassicism and more historically accurate period revival styles.” For more on the synagogue, see Janice Rothschild Blumberg, As But a Day to Hundred and Twenty, 1867-1987 (Atlanta: Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, 1987), 55 ff.
Steven H. Moffson, “Identity and Assimilation in Synagogue Architecture in Georgia, 1870-1920,” in Alison K. Hoagland and Kenneth A. Breisch, editors, Constructing Image, Identity, and Place: Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, volume 9, (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2003), 151-165.
Lee Shai Weissbach, The Synagogues of Kentucky: Architecture and History (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1995), 74-75.