'Congregation Beth El of Borough Park' by Thomas Roma
Congregation Beth El of Borough Park

Brooklyn, New York, is a central location on the map of Jewish American migration. At its height, in the 1950s, the borough’s Jewish population numbered more than a million. Today, many thousands still make their home there, as evidenced by the vast number of synagogues thriving in neighborhoods as diverse as Park Slope (mostly reform and conservative) and Borough Park (mostly Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox). But Jews have long since abandoned other neighborhoods, leaving their synagogues to fend for themselves. Some have been converted into churches or commercial spaces, others simply leveled.

Photographer Thomas Roma has spent years photographing Brooklyn’s houses of worship—of every denomination. But he found himself particularly drawn to synagogues for the stories the buildings seemed to tell about their neighborhood’s and congregation’s past, present, and future. He’s now collected his beautiful, large-scale, black-and-white photographs of these places in a book titled On Three Pillars: Torah, Worship, and the Practice of Loving Kindness.

We visited with Roma to find out what draws him to these houses of worship—even those that, today, are nothing more than vacant lots.

Photos copyright © 2007 Thomas Roma. All rights reserved