AMERICAN ARCHITECT AND ARCHITECTURAL HISTORIAN
Professor Jay A. Waronker’s work presented in
this website involves the first-ever survey of synagogues and other Jewish architecture constructed throughout vast sub-Saharan Africa.
Since the focus of this website is architecture,
a portfolio of one hundred twenty watercolor renderings of sub-Saharan African synagogues, synagogue social halls, and Jewish cemetery chapels in thirteen regional countries is included here.
All the paintings were completed by Waronker, a self-taught artist, during his rounds of travels to Africa as a research scholar from 2005 to 2012. Waronker, long interested in the synagogue as a building typology, set out to meticulously reveal what the exteriors and interiors of these buildings look like not in their original pristine conditions but as much-used buildings at the time of his visit.
THE CURRENT-DAY JEWISH COMMUNITIES
throughout sub-Saharan Africa, some always small, others once relatively large but today much diminished, and even more in marked contrast becoming sizable as are the cases with various black African enclaves, represent significant lesser known examples of the Jewish Diaspora. Too many of these clusters of Jews are at present uncounted or relegated to the sidelines. Yet the reality is that Jews arrived in sub-Saharan Africa at a wide range of times, organized themselves in an assortment of locations, and they in many instances led or continue to lead productive lives. To those living in these places and practicing their faith, being Jewish came to be natural and commonplace. This tradition of dispersion, which has been endlessly undertaken over many years, began no later than the sixth century BCE, when Jews shifted from Judea to Babylonia, Egypt, and other regional lands before moving even more afar. Through waves of immigration, Jews located themselves literally throughout the world, including in the vast sub-Saharan region of Africa.
This website helps establish a greater awareness of groups of Jews in lesser-known and understudied places of sub-Saharan Africa who formed communities and, for religious and communal needs, built synagogues and other Jewish architecture. Even though the original creators and patrons of these buildings were temporal, examples of the built form remain as evidence of the way things once were. This is particularly the case with many contracted white European and Middle Eastern Jewish communities. Or, in instances of newly established and awakened black Jewish com-munities in sub-Saharan Africa—including the Igbo, Abayudaya, House of Ghana, Beta Abraham, Lemba, and Beth Yeshourun groups—the architecture newly built or in the planning stages is a reflection of a changing demographic. What is revealed through this website is a Jewish religion that is becoming less Western and increasingly more diverse, nationally varied, and multiracial.
—Jay A. Waronker