What You Will See Inside a Synagogue

Rab­bi Lawrence A. Hoff­man; Dr. Ron Wolf­son; pho­tos by Bill Aron
  • Review
By – August 20, 2012

One of the strengths of What You Will See Inside a Syn­a­gogue is also one of its weak­ness­es. The book tries to do too much, so it is over-stim­u­lat­ing and con­fus­ing in its pre­sen­ta­tion of mate­r­i­al. At its best, the book over­flows with full col­or pho­tographs depict­ing var­i­ous aspects of rit­u­al and Judaica from vibrant Amer­i­can syn­a­gogues. Con­verse­ly, many pages over­flow with small pho­tos and expla­na­tions of items used in syn­a­gogues, such as a yad, set aside from the main text by box­es. There­fore, many pages are sim­ply too busy with pho­tos and infor­ma­tion to be eas­i­ly digestible. Some read­ers might find the pro­nun­ci­a­tion guides of translit­er­at­ed Hebrew words relat­ing to Jew­ish hol­i­days or items of Judaica at the bot­tom of most pages help­ful. The guides add more text to pages already crowd­ed by pho­tos and infor­ma­tion, so for some, they might inject more con­fu­sion than nec­es­sary. In addi­tion to edu­cat­ing the read­er about syn­a­gogues, the book devotes sev­er­al pages to the obser­vance of Jew­ish hol­i­days, both in hous­es of prayer and pri­vate homes. The inclu­sion, for exam­ple, of a full page, col­or pho­to of a young boy play­ing drei­del at home con­tra­dicts not only the premise of the book but the title, as well. The book clos­es with two pages of beau­ti­ful pho­tographs of tem­ples and syn­a­gogues through­out the U.S. How­ev­er, in light of the book’s title, it would have made more sense to have also includ­ed pho­tographs of the inte­ri­ors of those hous­es of prayer. 

The authors rec­om­mend the book for ages 6 and up. While the book con­tains noth­ing inap­pro­pri­ate for young chil­dren, its pre­sen­ta­tion is sim­ply too over­whelm­ing for young­sters. The younger child might ben­e­fit from view­ing the page-size col­or pho­tographs scat­tered through­out the work, or per­haps by the read­ing of one or two pages at one sit­ting, but as a sin­gle body of work, this book is sim­ply too much. For ages 8 – 11.

Tami Kamin-Mey­er is a licensed attor­ney who would rather write than fight. Her byline has appeared in a vari­ety of pub­li­ca­tions, includ­ing Bet­ter Homes and Gar­dens, The Rotar­i­an, Ohio Super Lawyers, Ohio Lawyers Week­ly, Ohio Mag­a­zine, Cleve­land Jew­ish News, the Jew­ish Tele­graph­ic Agency, and www​.chabad​.edu. She is also an award-win­ning Hebrew school educator.

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