The synagogue is one of the most important institutions in Judaism. It is viewed as the centre of the community.
The synagogue houses the Torah scrolls, which are kept in an Ark. The Ark always faces towards Jerusalem, so that Jews will have their minds turned in that direction when praying. A curtain covers the front of the Ark. In front of the Ark or hanging by the side of it is an eternal light. All these artefacts represent features in the ancient Temple of Jerusalem.
In the synagogue there is usually a bimah from which the services are led and the Torah is read.
However, this is often not the case in a Reform synagogue, where religious practices differ from those in an Orthodox community.
During the course of the Second World War, many of the synagogues in Europe were destroyed by the Nazis, or converted into buildings with other purposes.