These pictures are from inside one of my favorite places in New York, Anschei Chesed, a now liberal egalitarian congregation, with deep historical roots in the 19th century German immigration.
AC was founded in 1829. The new site was dedicated in 1928, just before the Crash. There is something indigenous to this form of “the American religion.” Time is a funny that way.
The building itself is described on the congregation website as a “majestic, buff, brick synagogue.” Designed by architecture Edward I. Shire, the exterior combines neo Romanesque and neo Byzantine styles. (All this I’ve cribbed from the synagogue website.)
Inside, the interior design details are all Bezalel design, which was a faux biblical style developed by the Bezalel school in Jerusalem at the start of the twentieth century. The design was an attempt to reconstruct a Hebrew art style in Palestine that was both “new” and “indigenous.” I’m not sure about any neo-Byzantine influence on Bezalel. Certainly, there’s a lot of art nouveau at work in the decorative motifs.
I used to hang out upstairs at another minyan with the professors. They are a smaller, more intense group that occupies a smaller space. I have since come to like the big empty space downstairs in the main sanctuary. The big space in the sanctuary is sensitive to ambient light and to the sounds of automobile traffic just outside on West End Avenue.
My attention always goes to:
–the soaring arched columns in combination with electric light sources (the “eternal lamp” [ner Tamid] over the ark and also the pink-red EXIT sign.
–objects made of wood –the rectangular verticality of the doors to the ark, the square like memorial plaque at the back of the sanctuary, and the long pews in the middle.
–the light and sound and the tactile value of old, dark wood.
About what, for me, are the pleasing effects of (my) bad amateur photography, namely how the fuzzy focus makes for a sense of vagueness, about this I wrote below re: “mezuzah.”
I’ve been writing here at Jewish Philosophy Place about the interface between human and non-human elements in religion and science. I think the same dynamics define absorbtive architectural interiors. Over time, I have come to feel very much a part of this building, a bit of its brain and a piece of its flesh.
In religion, I think that cognitive, propositional, and dogmatic contents about this or that are almost always secondary. I’m more interested in the physical and mental back and forth movements into and out of these kinds of place.