The Beauty of Synagogues

by Richard Santos
The Jewish Museum of Maryland is featuring an exhibit highlighting the world’s synagogues as documented by renowned photographer Neil Folberg. The exhibit continues until December 6.
      Barry Kessler, curator of the museum at 15 Lloyd Street, explained that since the Diaspora, the Jewish community has been quite mobile. The synagogues reflect this movement.
     Unlike other religions, the synagogue is not seen as a particularly holy building. It is what is inside that makes it holy. The Torah scrolls are kept under an arch in every synagogue; this design element is the unifying factor in synagogue architecture.
     Mr. Kessler explains that the synagogue shows cultural diversity within the Jewish people. These buildings might be culturally far apart, but they all have common elements.
     The synagogue also marks areas of Jewish settlement. Since it is against the conservative and orthodox Jewish faith to drive on holy days, the synagogue must be built within walking distance to the Jewish community.
      The museum’s exhibit is organized in a circular fashion. The images start in Israel and continue through to the Americas. In between are pictures of synagogues in Morocco, Turkey, Italy, Uzbekistan, India, Eastern Europe, England, Holland, France, and the Caribbean.
     Folberg’s cibachrome photographs make use of light and tonality. His technique includes taking multiple exposures of one subject with different lighting effects. He then layers these exposures and produces the finished print. The result is celestial. His images have a painting-like character.
     Mr. Kessler chose an American synagogue for the final image of the exhibit. It is quite striking; the light coming through one window is actually a light shade of purple, reminding the viewer more of a watercolor painting than a color photograph.
      Mr. Kessler says the Jewish Heritage Museum’s purpose is to educate the public about the culture of the Jewish faith. It offers all visitors an opportunity to explore the Jewish culture in a welcoming environment. Viewing the Folberg exhibit would be an excellent way to start this exploration.
     As part of the museum’s synagogue theme, on October 19 a bus tour will visit three of the most important synagogue buildings in Baltimore--which no longer happen to be used as synagogues. African-American congregations that now own and love these buildings.

For those interested in the Baltimore synagogue bus tour, call Claudine Davison at the Jewish Community Center at 410-542-4900, ext. 239.
     For information and hours of the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland, call 732-6400.
     Richard Santos, a recent graduate of the University of Delaware, is embarking on a career in writing and public relations.

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This story was published on Oct. 7, 1998.