Pittsburgh photographer offers rare view of Eastern European synagogues

Posted By on May 18, 2014

Published: Saturday, May 17, 2014, 8:36p.m. Updated 7 hours ago

Each year, legions of tourists flock to the churches and synagogues of Prague to take in the beauty and history of each. But few get the chance to investigate them more closely than Pittsburgh photographer David Aschkenas, who first traveled to the Eastern European city in November 2011 to photograph synagogues, and later to Budapest, Hungary.

Aschkenas comes from the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition, and he created these photographs in an effort to capture the rich complexity and power of our shared Ashkenazi heritage.

But first, he had to solve a little problem.

After I bought my tickets, I bought some travel books, and I noticed (in them) the symbol of the camera with a line through it and I thought, how am I going to make photographs there? he says. At his wife's suggestion, he wrote to the Jewish Museum in Prague, and sent them some images he had created a few years earlier of Rodef Shalom, a synagogue in Oakland.

I said this wasn't for commercial purposes, that I just wanted to do it, he says. They granted me permission for two hours, and I thought how can I photograph six synagogues in two hours. After begging, they gave me a day.

Now, 23 remarkably detailed images from that trip, as well as a trip to Budapest in May 2013, make up the exhibit Synagogues of Prague and Budapest: David Aschkenas, at the American Jewish Museum at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill.

Large, lush images, they capture even the tiniest of details, from the well-used desks and threadbare chairs inside each to the curves and swirls of the Moorish architectural details that are pervasive inside and out.

One of the simplest structures though is also the most grand. It is an image of the Old New Synagogue.

It's the oldest synagogue in the world, it dates to 1270, Aschkenas says. It was one of the first buildings built in Prague.

The rest is here:

Pittsburgh photographer offers rare view of Eastern European synagogues

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