Shul with a Pool: The “Synagogue-Center" in American Jewish History by David Kaufman


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Around the turn of the 20th century the idea of combining the Jewish house of worship with a center for community, educational, and social activities arose as a way of melding and meeting the needs of Jews in a changing social and religious environment. David Kaufman's fascinating examination shows how a quintessentially American institution -- the "synagogue-center" -- evolved into the primary locus of Jewish identification in this country. This study encompasses social, religious, architectural, and American Jewish history to clarify the synagogue-center's many roles: as service agency, communal gathering place, unifying symbol, and sectarian institution fostering Jewish culture and education. But Kaufman also shows that as a unique amalgam of the religious and the secular, these centers embody a basic duality of American Jewish identity, a fundamental tension between Jews who see themselves primarily as members of a religious faith, and those who define themselves in more sociopolitical terms, that is, as nationality, as ethnic group, as "a people." By presenting itself as an alternative to the traditional synagogue, the synagogue-center serves as an historic departure in the construction of Jewish community and remains one of the most significant innovations of American Judaism.

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