Obj. ID: 33043
Modern Jewish Art Joseph Budko, On the Doorstep of the Synagogue (Al Saf Beyt ha-Midrash), 1923
The following text was written by Alec Mishory.
The subject of On the doorstep of the Synagogue is a young man's return to his childhood realm as described in a poem by Bialik. It speaks of the poet's homecoming during which he visits his old synagogue and witnesses its decay; at the same time, he is sick with his own secular way of life. He is torn between his will to seek refuge in his old world, symbolized by the old edifice of the synagogue and his present way of life which leaves him no way of turning back. The source and model for Budko's depiction of the interior are based on his earlier experience and his personal earlier works. The origin of both poet and artist is Eastern European; their link to the synagogue was similar. They were both Orthodox Jews in their youth and both have forsaken their religious upbringing and adopted a secular way of life. The artist depicts his own, personal Synagogue from Plonsk, his hometown. The illustration shows its interior with a vaulted ceiling; two large pillars support the arches that in turn support the vault. The room is dark; artificial lighting, whose source is hidden, illuminates the pillars. A bookshelf full of books is situated to the right of the left pillar, next to the wall. Budko's theatrical set is dimly lit with many shadows appearing in it.
The portrayal of the speaker, standing at the doorstep shows, as Bialik described him as "Miserable, ashamed, vanquished and desolate like you [the Synagogue]". The young man is dressed in contemporary clothes. His gesture conveys embarrassment; his hands lean on his loins, his head bent, engulfed by his shoulders, according to the poet’s words "Just like a lizard that withdraws itself inside its scales". He stares into space, as if in a daydream. The protagonist's shaven fac, in addition to his secular clothes, portray him as a Jewish Maskil in a most concise, straightforward and direct way which can be done solely in a visual depiction. Budko's illustration makes a precise, realistic depiction of human feelings and sensations: the young man is embarrassed, with feelings of both attraction and rejection storming his heart in confusion.