Where We Once Gath­ered: Lost Syn­a­gogues of Europe

  • Review
By – April 16, 2012

When World War II end­ed in 1945, Europe had lost not only the major­i­ty of its Jews, but also thou­sands of syn­a­gogues. It is these hous­es of wor­ship that Andrea Strong­wa­ter set out to cap­ture in her book Where We Once Gath­ered. Her paint­ings rep­re­sent not only the syn­a­gogues but the com­mu­ni­ties they once rep­re­sent­ed, as well. “…what I am doing is telling a part of Jew­ish his­to­ry that I have missed hear­ing,” she says in her intro­duc­tion. The syn­a­gogues served as cen­ters of Jew­ish life, not just to pray but also to hear the lat­est gos­sip or a lec­ture, see art, hear con­cert music and of course hold…ritual events of Jew­ish life… I present, through my paint­ings, the glo­ry of what exist­ed before the Holocaust.”

Strong­wa­ter depicts twen­ty syn­a­gogues from all over Europe, giv­ing read­ers a glimpse of the archi­tec­ture and inte­ri­ors of shuls both grand and sim­ple. She describes when and why each syn­a­gogue came into exis­tence and how it met its demise. We learn about the ele­gant, tur­ret­ed Quai Kle­ber syn­a­gogue, which dat­ed back to 1898 in Stras­bourg, France. A page lat­er we’re in Przed­borz, Poland, gaz­ing at a more demure, wood­en syna­gogue built in 1760. The walls were cov­ered in mul­ti-col­ored depic­tions of Jerusalem, ani­mals, flo­ral motifs and vines,” she writes. 

It is clear that a huge amount of research has gone into the writ­ing of Where We Once Gath­ered, and Strongwater’s beau­ti­ful illus­tra­tions and the back­ground informa­tion enrich our under­stand­ing of just how much was swal­lowed into obliv­ion in the wake of the Holo­caust. This makes her book a valu­able resource for edu­ca­tion and offers a deep­er under­stand­ing of the Jew­ish life that thrived in Europe a cen­tu­ry ago. Recom­mended for ages 12-adult.

Lau­ren Kramer is a Van­cou­ver-based jour­nal­ist, wife, and moth­er with a life­long pas­sion for lit­er­a­ture. Born in Cape Town, South Africa, she has won awards for her writ­ing and report­ed from many cor­ners of the world. Read more of her work at www​.lau​renkramer​.net.

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