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Photographs by Thomas Roma
Essay by Phillip Lopate
Religion / New York City / Judiasm / Photograph / Monograph
Hardcover, 12.25 x 14.25 inches, 136 pages, 111 duotone photos
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.
Thomas Roma, a two-time recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, has had solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and the International Center of Photography, New York. He is the author of In Prison Air, Sicilian Passage, Show & Tell (powerHouse Books, 2005, 2003, 2002), Sanctuary (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), Enduring Justice (powerHouse Books, 2001), Higher Ground (Distributed Art Publishers Inc., 1999), Sunset Park (Smithsonian Books, 1998), Found in Brooklyn (W.W. Norton & Co., 1996), and Come Sunday (Museum of Modern Art/Abrams, 1996). Director of Photography at Columbia University, Roma lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son.
Phillip Lopate, born in Brooklyn in 1943, has written three personal essay collections, two novels, two poetry collections, a memoir of his teaching experiences, a collection of his movie criticism, and a biographical monograph. Lopate’s essays have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Essays, The Paris Review, Harper’s, Vogue, Esquire, The New York Times, and many other periodicals and anthologies. He has been awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts grants, and two New York Foundation for the Arts grants. He currently teaches in the MFA graduate programs at Columbia, the New School and Bennington.