Do Jews have an architectural style? The man behind the Babyn Yar Synagogue says yes—with a catch

The Babyn Yar Synagogye, by architect Manuel Herz, opens like a pop-up book: an homage to the "People of the Book". (Photo by Iwan Baan)

Among the first major massacres of the Holocaust infamously took place in Babyn Yar, Ukraine, where Nazis murdered more than 33,000 Jews in 1941. Today, the harrowing site—when not under fire by invading Russian forces—is a rising tourist attraction, not just for its historical significance, but also a mesmerizing new synagogue and memorial that was completed 80 years later, in April 2021. Designed by international architect Manuel Herz, the synagogue literally unfolds like a pop-up book, celebrating life, optimisim, creativity and the Jewish literary spirit.

The story of the synagogue, from its historical origins to its construction and completion, is now an art exhibit at the Koffler Centre of the Arts in Toronto, running until Nov. 12, 2023. We spoke to Herz shortly after its opening in April about his incredible monument, his take on Jewish architecture and why so many Holocaust memorials seem obligated to be dreary and serious.

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Culturally Jewish is hosted by Ilana Zackon and David Sklar. Our producer is Michael Fraiman, and our theme music is by Sarah Segal-Lazar. We’re a member of The CJN Podcast Network. To support The CJN and receive a charitable tax receipt, please consider a monthly donation by clicking here.