Tucked away between the Beacon Hill brownstones on Phillips Street there stands a synagogue. Walk by too fast and you’d never even notice it. But this is no ordinary synagogue. This is the Vilna Shul, the oldest immigrant era synagogue in the City of Boston, a place that in the 1930′s had a population of more than 100,000 Jews and 50 synagogues. The Vilna Shul is an amazing building, rich with architectural and cultural history.
You can read all about it here. The Vilna Shul
As a photographer lucky enough to shoot the Vilna Shul, I wanted to capture its timeless beauty. Seems easy some might say, but the Vilna shows signs of almost a century of use, and weathered buildings can be a challenge to photograph.
It really was a treat to stand inside and feel the history all around me. The ceilings are high, approx twenty feet, and strategically placed skylights allow for ample amounts of soft light. Some of the features that immediately jumped out at me were the chandeliers, the stained glass and the murals, some of which are still being discovered underneath many years and layers of paint. Other interesting features that caught my eye included members’ plaques, pickle barrels, and an original turn of the century stove.
An interesting anecdote: the eternal light above the ark shines through two hands, each forming the letter shin as a Kohanim would. Leonard Nimoy, aka “Spock” of Star Trek fame, grew up in Boston’s West End and visited the Vilna Shul as a child. Legend has it he conceived his character’s legendary “live long and prosper” Vulcan salute by mimicking the hands.
Below are the photos from the shoot: