Photo Essay | Synagogues, by Andrew Pico, Israel

I noticed recently how modest synagogues usually are. They hardly ever have much decoration, and if they do it’s just a small picture here and there. The most elaborately decorated item is the cabinet where the Torah scrolls are stored, and even that is very simple. I noticed the difference more when I went into more Masjid’s and Churches. Some Masjid’s in the Middle East have expertly-crafted walls and fixtures designed by some of the best designers of their time. Many Churches are filled with beautiful stained glass portraits of Biblical events, and are built with grandeur.

I had a theory that maybe the distinction has a lot to do with Jews spending so much time in the Diaspora, and being persecuted pretty much everywhere they go. Perhaps due to being oppressed minorities, they learned to deal with the minimal amount you need in order to fulfil prayer obligations – a small, simple room with benches or chairs to sit. There was perhaps little opportunity to build “loud” structures of religious service, and Jews simply got used to it after a time.

Perhaps it is happening to Islam as well in the Diaspora. Some of the Masjid’s I went to in NY were similarly tiny, simply-designed and modest. I think it’s a sign of resilience. Resilience to keep your community alive. Your traditions are alive. Resilience to sticking to your faith and your values, even in places where you feel like you “don’t belong,” or don’t have the freedoms and luxuries you had in a nation that necessarily had your interests in mind because the whole nation generally shared your values.



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