News Release
August 2003
American Synagogues: A Century of Architecture and Jewish Community

Back to home page

CONTACT:
Pam Sommers
(212) 387-3465

AMERICAN SYNAGOGUES: A Century of Architecture and Jewish Community
By Samuel D. Gruber
Photography by Paul Rocheleau
Edited by Scott J. Tilden

 

"Let us arise and build…" - Nehamiah 2:17-18


Samuel Gruber, who has a Ph.D. in Architectural History from Columbia University and teaches in the Judaic Studies program of Syracuse University, has undertaken a survey of the evolution in America of the architecture of Jewish houses of worship in the 20th century. Thirty-six synagogues have been selected to represent the range of designs built by architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson, Walter Gropius, and Minoru Yamasaki, the architect who designed the World Trade Center's twin towers.

In his introduction, Dr. Gruber examines the nature and history of synagogues from biblical times, through European, and contemporary American forms. He notes that the earliest mention of a synagogue in America is on a map of New York dated 1695, and describes the Touro synagogue in Newport, RI, which dates from 1753 and is an austerely classic building still in use today. Throughout this new book he illustrates how changing architectural conceptions of the synagogue both reflect and influence dramatic changes in the structure and identity of the American Jewish community.

The 19th century saw a rise in ambitiously designed temples ranging from Greek ancient and medieval revival styles to the Moorish forms embraced by German Jews starting in the 1860s. In the 20th century, on which American Synagogues entirely focuses, congregations started to commission classically influenced designs using columns, pediments, and arched windows resulting in monumental temples with a timeless dignity. For examples, one can look at Arnold Brunner's Temple Society of Concord in Syracuse, NY (one of the oldest Reform congregations in the US), or Ely Blount's Stone Avenue Temple in Tucson, both from 1910. The subsequent adoption of Classical forms in the boom years of the 1920s led to the building of some the most ambitious and sometimes ostentatious synagogues of the century.

After World War II, American Jews eagerly embraced modernism in important buildings across the country. What was a first a functional style responding to economic and demographic pressures, developed into an expressive and artistic language. In addition to Frank Lloyd Wright's well-known Beth Sholom Synagogue (1957) designed as a towering 'mountain of light' that filters the sun through a translucent white glass skin onto congregants, many synagogues featured in the book are by perhaps lesser-known, yet incredibly innovative architects. Early modern synagogues (still in use) include Eric Mendelsohn's Park Synagogue (1953) in Cleveland and Percival Goodman's Beth El (1954) in Providence, RI. The Temple Sinai (1962) in El Paso, TX, by Sidney Eisenshtat is a dramatically sculptural building perfect for its austere setting, and Kenneth Triester's Gumenick Chapel at Temple Israel of Greater Miami (1969) has a distinctive façade that brings to mind sheltering caves carved out of a desert environment. Chosen for the cover of American Synagogues is the sanctuary Minoru Yamasaki created in Glencoe, IL, for the North Shore Congregation Israel (1960). With a soaring vaulted ceiling that truly achieves the goal of a house of worship, Yamasaki created an environment that inspires reflection and peace.

In his descriptions of each, Dr. Gruber discusses in great detail the building materials, quality of light, interiors, furnishings, decoration, and use of art in these synagogues, all of which are shown to spectacular advantage through the specially commissioned photography of Paul Rocheleau. No book has ever shown so many synagogues so fully. Gruber and Rocheleau have brought together a collection of strikingly expressive buildings that span the century and the American continent.

The American Synagogues chosen are a testament to the expression of faith made manifest through eloquent architecture, and this book will be treasured by the spiritually inclined, as well as those with interest in architecture and the history of Jews in America.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Samuel D. Gruber is Director of the Jewish Heritage Research Center (Syracuse, NY); Research Director of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad (USCPAHA), and Consultant for the World Monuments Fund (WMF). From 1989 until 1995 he served as founding director of the Jewish Heritage Council of WMF, overseeing many projects including conservation studies for the Jewish catacombs in Rome, the restoration of the Tempel Synagogue (Krakow, Poland), and other projects in over a dozen countries. Gruber is a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, and has taught courses in architectural history and Jewish Studies at several American Universities. He is a frequent lecturer on Jewish art and architecture in America and abroad.

Paul Rocheleau is the photographer of over 15 book projects devoted to capturing America's architectural heritage. His books include Frank Lloyd Wright: The Masterworks, Treehouses, Daniel H. Burnham: Visionary Architect and Planner, published by Rizzoli, and The One-Room Schoolhouse, due out this fall.

Dr. Gruber is available for interviews and speaking engagements. To arrange, or to obtain images to accompany your coverage, please contact Pam Sommers at 212 387 3465 or psommers@rizzoliusa.com.

Credit for images from the book must read: ©AMERICAN SYNAGOGUES: A Century of Architecture and Jewish Community by Samuel D. Gruber, Rizzoli International Publications 2003

AMERICAN SYNAGOGUES: A Century of Architecture and Jewish Community
by Samuel D. Gruber/ Photos by Paul Rocheleau / Edited by Scott J. Tilden
Rizzoli International Publications
Hardcover, $50 US / $75 Canadian
9.25" X 10.25" / 240 pages / 200 color photographs
ISBN: 0-8478-2549-3
Release date: September 2003


International Survey of Jewish Monuments
c/o Jewish Heritage Research Center
Box 210, 118 Julian Pl.
Syracuse, New York 13210-3419, USA

tel: (315) 474-2350
fax: (315) 474-2347

Last Updated: September 27, 2003
http://www.isjm.org/news/americansynagogues.htm