Jewish Week: The Synagogue in America

The Synagogue in America, forthcoming in April 2011 by Marc Lee Raphael, was reviewed in The Jewish Week’s arts preview.

Marc Raphael opens his new book, “The Synagogue in America: A Short History” (New York University Press, April) by reporting that when George Washington was elected president of the United States, leaders of all six synagogues in the new nation sent him notes of congratulation. He responded to four of them in a single letter and wrote individual letters to two of them. In 1789, more than a century after Jews first came to these shores, the 1,500 members of the community “proudly announced their religious institutions to the country and were recognized by its new leader.”

In the first ever study to look at American Jewish history through its synagogues, Raphael looks at the changing role of the synagogue from colonial days when it was the central address of the community to the present, when other institutions also dominate. Reporting on synagogues in cities and suburbs around the country, he writes about prayer, rabbinic leadership, architecture, fund-raising, feminism and social life.

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