Former Synagogue Portraits in Progress

My research into former Synagogue buildings has coalesced in the past few months as a series of watercolor portraits of buildings in West Philadelphia and Dorchester, Boston, that were built as Synagogues and are now in use as Churches of various denominations. I currently live in West Philadelphia, and my father’s family was living in Dorchester at the height of the Jewish community there, from 1940-1960. Though their histories and demographics are quite different, both neighborhoods once contained hubs of Jewish life, and are now predominantly African-American.

I am working from photographs of these buildings that I find online, and that I take myself. As I transcribe their images onto paper, I remove the detailed information of signage, as well as omitting the Jewish iconography sometimes left visible on the buildings. The spaces become neutral in these images, existing in between their past and their present.

Shul drawings in progress

The future for many of these buildings is uncertain. Last week I received word that the former West Philadelphia Jewish Community Center was being torn down, and I rushed over to photograph it. This is the building from which I collected some architectural patterns that I used for the Kol Tzedek Synagogue bookplate. Its destruction, and the view directly into the interior,  leaves me full of longing to know more about the histories that the building contained.

Former West Philadelphia Jewish Community Center demolition

As I do this work, I am also preparing to interview leaders of the Church congregations who are currently using the buildings. I’d also love to interview people who used to attend services in any of these congregations, or family members of former congregants. Please be in touch.


About zoecohenart


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