On Three Pillars
Torah, Worship, and the Practice of Loving Kindness: The Synagogues of Brooklyn
Publication Date: October 2007
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On Three Pillars: Torah, Worship, and Practice of Loving Kindness, The Synagogues of Brooklyn is not meant to be a complete visual inventory of Brooklyn synagogues, past or present, but an evocation of that history into the present day.
Roughly half the photographs in this book are of synagogues functioning today, the balance of buildings that were once synagogues but have since been adapted to other uses (like churches, community centers, government offices). The photographs are divided into five sections, each containing a picture of an empty lot where a synagogue once stood. In these haunting shots, at first we are tempted to wonder which building pictured was once a synagogue, but then we spy the barren ground of the empty lot and understand: none of them.
The work is personal and unavoidably elegiac. Thomas Roma, who with his wife Anna extensively researched Brooklyn synagogues, looking through old real estates records and telephone books, could have easily filled the book with images of presently functioning Jewish houses of prayer, but chose instead to give equal emphasis to buildings deserted by their congregations.
When a congregation quits its house of prayer, do the walls retain a trace of the sacred? If the building is razed do the charred concrete foundations, the weeds, continue to hold a memory of God’s name? Roma leaves the choice up to us.
Phillip Lopate was born in 1943 Brooklyn, New York in and received a B.A. from Columbia in 1964 and later a doctorate from the Union Graduate School in 1979. He spent twelve years working with children as a writer in schools, and taught creative writing and literature at Fordham, Cooper Union, University of Houston, and New York University. Currently, Lopate holds the Adams Chair at Hofstra University and he is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Among his many awards he has received a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a New York Public Library Center for Scholars and Writers Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts grants, and two New York Foundation for the Arts grants. His work includes: These Eyes Don't Always Want to Stay Open (1972), Being With Children (1975), The Daily Round (1976), Confessions of Summer (1979), Bachelorhood: Tales of the Metropolis (1981), The Art of the Personal Essay (1995), Totally, Tenderly, Tragically (1998), Writing New York: A Literary Anthology (2000), Getting Personal (2003), Rudy Burckhardt: Life and Work (2004), Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan (2004), and American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now (2006).