Aschkenas comes from the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition, and he created these photographs in an effort to "capture the rich complexity and power of our shared Ashkenazi heritage."
But first, he had to solve a little problem.
"After I bought my tickets, I bought some travel books, and I noticed (in them) the symbol of the camera with a line through it and I thought, how am I going to make photographs there?" he says. At his wife's suggestion, he wrote to the
"I said this wasn't for commercial purposes, that I just wanted to do it," he says. "They granted me permission for two hours, and I thought how can I photograph six synagogues in two hours. After begging, they gave me a day."
Now, 23 remarkably detailed images from that trip, as well as a trip to
Large, lush images, they capture even the tiniest of details, from the well-used desks and threadbare chairs inside each to the curves and swirls of the Moorish architectural details that are pervasive inside and out.
One of the simplest structures though is also the most grand. It is an image of the Old New Synagogue.
"It's the oldest synagogue in the world, it dates to 1270," Aschkenas says. "It was one of the first buildings built in
It has been the main synagogue of the Prague Jewish community for more than 700 years. One of the first things the casual viewer will notice about the photograph is that the windows only let in light from an upper half portion of each. That's because, In accordance with tradition and as a sign of humility, the floor level of the hall and main nave is several degrees below the surrounding terrain.
The main building is surrounded on three sides by low annexes which serve as a vestibule and women's sections; the latter are connected to the main hall only by narrow apertures in the walls, which enable women to hear the services. These are noticeable to the left and right of the images and hearken to the Orthodox tradition.
"It's much smaller inside than it looks in the photograph," Aschkenas says in regard to the image. "In fact, it's not even as big as this room (the exhibit space), and it has that sort of damp-limestone basement smell to it."
The image "Strong Boxes, Old New Synagogue,
There are several legends related to this synagogue, Aschkenas says, among them that the synagogue's attic is home to the golem, the superhero figure made from clay by
The story goes that with the Jewish community of
Another breathtaking image, as well as one full of history, is that of the interior of the Dohany Street Synagogue,
So massive is this structure that, in 1944, it was used as an internment camp for the Jews subsequent to their deportation. "During
Later in the 20th century, during the Communist period, many windows were broken, and the Jews boarded up the synagogue. An ambitious restoration was recently completed, funded in large part by the late actor
Several detailed shots of the elaborate Jubilee Synagogue in
It's worth noting that a similar exhibit of Aschkenas' photographs is on display at the Jubilee Synagogue, and will remain in their collection for future exhibits as well.
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