Model Congregations
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Model Congregations

YU Museum gathers together its scale models of synagogues the world over.

Beginning this weekend, the Yeshiva University Museum is offering the opportunity to engage in Jewish tourism from its West 16th Street galleries.

The museum will be exhibiting models of synagogues from around the world and from various time periods; they range from Florence, Italy’s 19th-century Tempio Israelitico to Syria’s ancient Dura-Europos Synagogue.

The 10 models will be accompanied by photographs, maps, architectural plans, correspondence about the conception of the building commissions, as well as original artifacts, books and manuscripts from the synagogue communities.

When it was founded in 1973, the museum commissioned the 10 scale models to form the core of its collection. The purpose of the synagogue models was to display the breadth of the Jewish world across the centuries. After the 10 were executed, the Beit Hatfutsot museum in Tel Aviv acquired the plans and made their own set of models, and added others.

The Yeshiva models, which have not been exhibited together in over two decades, show us more than just synagogue architecture. Through the models the exhibit explores the various Jewish communities that constructed the originals, the process of model making, and snippets of the history of the Yeshiva University Museum itself. The models in and of themselves are unique representations of a wide array of communities, while the other parts of the exhibit further explore the culture of each population.

In a walk-through of the exhibit, Jacob Wisse, the museum’s director, emphasized the similarity of historic Jewish communities to ours today. He stressed the long history of secular influence on synagogue architecture, and the continued multi-functionality of synagogue buildings. “People think of synagogues as having been more purely about prayer, which was not the case. They served similar functions as now.”

Sadly, locations outside of Europe were largely ignored for this project, neglecting synagogues from communities in Asia and South America. Additions from Persia or Brazil would have made it a richer experience.

“Modeling the Synagogue – from Dura to Touro” opens Sept. 21 and runs through May 15, 2015 at the Yeshiva University Museum, 15 W. 16th St., yumuseum.org.

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