Wednesday, January 16, 2013

There Used to Be a Synagogue Here: Former Chicago Temples

The above title is similar to two posts in October 2010, detailing my efforts to photograph all (or nearly all) of the remaining former synagogues in Chicago. It’s taken from the song “There Used to Be a Ballpark,” recorded by Frank Sinatra. Old baseball parks are another one of my interests (see 

“I’m going to get these photos published in a book,” I kept saying, month after month, year after year without making more than cursory efforts to find a publisher. Although books have contained photos of former synagogues, none is dedicated to a compilation of what these buildings look like today.

My book – There Used to Be a Synagogue Here: Former Chicago Temples – was published this month. Here’s how it was done.

Former Isaiah Temple (see note at the end)

While driving on the South Side, I passed what remained of the former KAM, the oldest Jewish congregation in Chicago, at E. 33rd St. and S. Indiana Ave. A disastrous fire to the Pilgrim Baptist Church, designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, had left only the front and two side walls standing. I stopped the car and shot the front, sides and back of the building and talked to some church members who were meeting across the street.

My project initially centered on the temples for which our families had worshipped on the South Side. Further research, however, found a much larger web of family connections and the intense desire to discover more about the synagogues of bygone days. I used three main sources for finding the subjects: Chicago’s Forgotten Synagogues by Robert A. Packer (Arcadia Publishing, 2007), American Jewish Committee lists from the early 1920s and the Synagogue Collection from, an online list of 279 institutions from The Newberry Library.

Armed with a myriad of addresses – from Rogers Park to Hegewisch, Maxwell Street to Austin – I now needed to streamline my efforts. The Street View option on Google Maps made the task of determining which buildings still exist much simpler. By entering an address in the search bar and dragging the Street View icon to that location, I could observe one of three situations: a vacant lot (very prevalent), a building that obviously was not or never had been a house of worship or – if lucky – a structure that most definitely looked like a former synagogue.

 My photographic journey took me to many parts of the city. Luckily, I had no trouble shooting in the places like Lawndale, Englewood and Bronzeville, where the people were uniformly friendly (some invited me inside) and interested in why the white guy was taking pictures of Baptist churches. Eventually, I compiled more than 300 photographs, which I posted on Flickr (  Comments on the photos included translations (I don’t know Hebrew), suggestions for places I’d missed and an occasional correction.

After purchasing a new camera in November 2012, I decided to restart the project in earnest. I made a list of buildings to re-shoot and vowed to contact publishers. One month later, at a lunch gathering of the ChiFlickr Chicago Meetup Club, an informal group of photographers who made their initial contacts on Flickr, I voiced my desire to get serious about a publisher. I also said I didn’t really want to self-publish the book. “Why not?” asked Kevin Eatinger, a professional photographer, art director and graphic designer, pointing out he’d done several (and I add excellent) books of his work. He suggested Blurb, his publisher of choice; one doesn’t pay anything until a book is sent in for printing and publication.

Returning from lunch, I went right to Blurb ( and perused the site. The tutorial made it look fairly simple, so I plunged right in. My experience in book and magazine publishing helped greatly on designing the book, for I had to pick out each page layout individually, fit copy into sometimes tight spaces and ensure headers and captions were stylistically consistent. Less than one month later, the books (hardcover and softcover) were in my hands.

Because I controlled all aspects of production, I made the book historical with a personal perspective. My parents grew up on the South Side but one set of grandparents was from the West Side, which provided an impetus to cover all parts of the city. Research found countless interesting facts, many complied for the two blog posts and a later one on the formation of KAM Isaiah Israel ( but the most interesting came from my uncle Adolph.

My father had one brother, Adolph, who turned 101 on January 4. I knew the family originally lived at E. 61st St. and S. Michigan Ave. but did not know they worshipped two blocks up the street at South Side Hebrew Congregation. Its huge sanctuary on the corner burned to the ground in the 1920s and only the religious school on E. 59th St. remains. Adolph told me he attended Hebrew school there before moving to South Shore; my father was too young then. I did not include his claim that the rabbi didn’t like him because he was a better student than his son!

So here's my pitch: the books is sold on Blurb ( and the keyword "synagogue" will get you there) or you can contact me if you live in the area. Please let your friends know about this unique offering, and thank you for your consideration.

NOTE: I'd like to publish a photo of the book but Blogger can't seem to get its act together and restore the link for uploading photos from one's computer. The former Isaiah Temple, pictured above, is the cover photo; I was able to use it because it appeared in a previous blog post.


  1. Hello! Just came across your blog mentioning Ian Kadish. Please let your uncle Adolph know that yes, Ian is Jewish. His twitter handle is @TheBearJew_36. He is currently in Spring Training now and is playing today in Tampa for the Blue Jays vs. Yankees with the big guys...he's thrilled for the opportunity.
    We are members of Wise Temple in Cincinnati, OH. Ian always tries to wear #36 or #18 if possible. Hopefully, one day, your uncle can see him play in the bigs!
    Melissa Kadish, Ian's proud mom

  2. Exterior of Hagro Anshe Wilno at 3901 W. Congress... thought you would appreciate as it's hard to find a photo of it