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.