On This Day

April 24: Death in 1983 of German-Jewish photographer Avraham Pisarek (24 December 1901 in Przedbórz, Congress Poland – 24 April 1983 in West Berlin). In 1928 he settled in Berlin-Reinickendorf. There he completed a photographic education and worked as a photographer for image publishers and the Berlin theater community. His photos were published in Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung and in the Jewish press. In 1929, he joined the Reich Association of German Press. Pisarek’s contacts with the KPD resulted in a collaboration with John Heartfield. He became a member of the Photography Group Berlin-Nord. As a friend of Max Lieberman, he frequented circles of artists and writers of the Weimar Republic.

Pisarek was officially banned from working in the mainstream press after the Nazis took power in 1933. He was allowed to work only for the Jewish community. In 1936, he, his non-Jewish wife Gerda and their two children were expelled from their Reinickendorf apartment. He worked as a photographer until 1941 for Jewish newspapers as well as for the Jewish Cultural Association of Berlin. During this time, among other things, he took the only photos of Liebermann’s funeral. In addition, he participated in (illegal) anti-fascist work, which led to repeated arrests and summonses to the Gestapo. After the final dissolution of all Jewish organizations in Germany in 1941, Pisarek wa drafted for forced labor and used as an interpreter for Polish and Soviet forced laborers. He survived the Nazi rule thanks to the Rosenstraße protest.

Ream more at Wikipedia here

April 6: Death in 1854 of American William Strickland, one of America’s leading architects, who designed the second synagogue building for congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia in the Egyptian Revival style.

Philadelphia, PA. Congregation Mikveh Israel, Cherry Street.  William Strickland, arch. 1824-25. 

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April 4: Birthday of muralist Bernard Zakheim (1898-1985)

Today is the birthday of artist Bernard Zakheim, a leading muralist in San Francisco during the 1930s.

Part of Zakheim’s “Library” (1934). The man in green is reaching for a copy of Marx’s Das Kapital, while the newspapers have headlines about contemporary art and labor issues.

He was born to a Hasidic Jewish family in Poland and at the age of 13 he expressed his desire to become an artist and to work with his hands, rather than to continue religious training. His mother objected and as a compromise Zakheim was sent to a technical training school to become a furniture designer and upholsterer. However, he did not actually give up on his artistic goal; he studied watercolor art privately and then was awarded a scholarship to the Polish National Academy of Fine Art, where he studied drawing, painting, and sculpture.

After fighting in World War I, Zakheim and his wife arrived in San Francisco in 1920, where he lived and worked as a furniture maker in the heavily Jewish Fillmore District. In the 1930s Zakheim was a Communist. He traveled to Mexico and then turned to mural painting, and was one of the 25 artists who created murals at the Coit Tower in San Francisco. He also painted two large murals at the University of California, San Francisco, titled “The History of Medicine in California”. These were covered over during the late 50s,but later restored by Zakheim’s son. He also painted a mural (titled “The Jewish Wedding” or “The Wedding Ceremony”) at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center. In 1966, Zakheim created six wooden sculptures for one of the first Holocaust memorials in the United States, now displayed at Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.

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April 1: Birthday of Sculptor Aaron J. Goodleman (1890-1978)

Today is the birthday of  Aaron J. Goodleman, and Russian-born American-Jewish sculptor not widely known, but whose work deserves more attention for its formal qualities, its craftsmanship, and its social and political message. Goodelman was also an accomplished illustrator and etcher, and a frequent lecturer and teacher.

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March 31 (1963): Death of Architect Henry Hohauser

On this day in 1963 famed Art Deco architect Henry Hohauser died in Lawrence, New York. Hohauser, who was born in new York and studied at the Pratt Institute before moving to Miami in 1932, designed more than 300 homes, apartment buildings, hotels, stores, restaurants and theaters and helped create the Art Deco look of Miami Beach. In 1936 he designed Congregation Beth El in Miami Beach, now how of the Jewish Museum of Florida.

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March 30: Architect Werner Seligmann (1930-1998)

Today is the birthday of Werner Seligmann, a practicing architect, influential teacher and a Dean of Syracuse University’s School of Architecture. At Syracuse, and before that at Cornell University, he put his stamp on New York State design, and shaped the architectural aesthetic of several generations of architectural students and professionals. Seligmann also designed two innovative modern synagogues in Upstate New York in the 1960s that were custom-made for the unique characteristics of the congregations they served.

Born in Osnabrück, Germany, Seligmann spent the latter part of World War II in a concentration camp; unfortunately his mother and sister did not survive the camps. After the war he was sent to the US to live with relatives in Groton New York, beginning his long association with Central New York.  

In Binghamton, New York, he built the Orthodox Beth David synagogue, a modern structure that combined traditional arrangements, such as the placing the 400-seat sanctuary on a second floor, and the inclusion of a small courtyard, with the use of raw inexpensive materials such as exposed block and concrete for expressive purpose. Nearby, in Cortland, NY, Seligmann designed the even smaller Temple Brith Shalom, a nominally Conservative synagogue dedicated in 1969. Both synagogues are modest urban buildings on a small lots built to maintain local scale.

The Cortland synagogue is very private, and mostly looks in upon itself, in the manner of many small town European synagogues, especially those from Seligmann’s native Germany. Like the Binghamton synagogue, there is a small courtyard that creates a transitional mood. Inside all the spaces are united, though sliding panels can subdivid the space to isolate the small sanctuary. This space has a special purity. At first it appears simply boxlike, but shifts of floor level, lighting and symmetry subtly charge the space with quiet energy. The low ceiling of the central all-purpose hall through which one must pass, creates a pressure that gives way in the sanctuary, where the floor slopes away and the ceiling rises.

Inside, all the space are united, though sliding panels can subdivided the space to isolate the small sanctuary. This space has a special purity. At first it appears simply boxlike, but shifts of floor level, lighting and symmetry subtly charge the space with quiet energy. The low ceiling of the central all-purpose hall through which one must pass, creates a pressure that gives way in the sanctuary, where the floor slopes away and the ceiling rises.

— Samuel Gruber

Read more about Seligmann’s synagogues here:

March 29: Architect Max Fleischer (1841-1905)

Today is the birthday of prolific Viennese synagogue architect Max Fleischer (1841-1905) who was a master of historic styles and helped re-integrate Gothic design into Jewish religious and institutional architecture in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was highly successful in his lifetime as a professional and as a community leader. He was a highly trained, experienced, and well organized architect. He was also a  practicing Jew. Thus, he  was an ideal candidate to take on many official Jewish community projects in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Fleischer was artistically cautious and for the most part a believer in the architectural – and cultural – status quo. His works were prominent and functional and innovative only in their inherent conservatism (that it is, he rejected the Moorish style); not in their overall plans nor in the intricacies of their designs. Read more about Fleischer here: