Sunday, October 25, 2009

Poland -- Good News (Maybe) about Przysucha synagogue

 Synagogue in Przysucha, 2006. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (FODZ) reports that progress seems to be being made regarding the restoration and preservation of the imposing, 18th century synagogue building the Przysucha. The FODZ web site reports that a meeting will be held tomorrow about the synagogue's fate.
On October 26th, 2009 in Przysucha representatives of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland will meet with representatives of the local NGO’s: Oskar Kolberg Cultural Society and Music Education Society as well as the Oskar Kolberg Museum in Przysucha. The meeting will be dedicated to the concept of the historical synagogue’s development.
Przysucha was a major center of Hasidism in Poland -- Martin Buber mentione d seven Tzaddikim from the town. It was the seat of the influential Hasidic masters Abraham of Przysucha (d. 1806) and Jacob Yitzhak ben Asher (1766-1813), known in lore simply as the Holy Jew of Przysucha, who is credited with being the first propagator of Hasidism in Central Poland.  Jacob Yitzhak's disciple Simcha Bunem (1784-1827) also lived here. Their tombs in the Jewish cemetery, which is near the synagogue, are places of pilgrimage.

Przysucha was founded in 1910 as a settlement of German ironworkers. Jews lived here from the beginning, and by 1921 made up two-thirds of the population of 3,200.

The synagogue is one of the largest of Poland's surviving synagogues. It was heavily damaged in World War II when the Germans used it as a warehouse.  It conserves traces of structural and decorative detail, including the central bimah, the women's gallery, a few faded frescoes and much of the Aron ha Kodesh, with stucco work above it. Attached to the outside wall is a rare example of a kune, or pillory, where Jews sentenced by the Jewish community court would be locked in punishment.

The Kune. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber.

FODZ, which took possession of the badly deteriorated building two years ago, has a web page dedicated to the synagogue and efforts to revitalize it. On the page you can see architectural drawings and other material.
In 2008, we carried out essential protective renovations, but the building still needs urgent repairs. The roof is in a very bad condition and the interior is rapidly deteriorating due to excess moisture. Currently we are working on the construction and conservation documentation. Once it is completed, we will be able to apply for funding necessary to start the restoration and adaptation works.

The synagogue in Przysucha (yid. Parshishe vel Przishe) was built between 1774 and 1777. With an area of nearly 600m², it is a massive limestone building towering over a small town (current population: 6800). The main prayer chamber is rectangular, with a vaulted ceiling descending in the middle towards a four-piered structure formerly framing the bima (reader’s podium). The aron ha-kodesh, framed by a portal topped with stucco griffins, has also been preserved. Some polychromies remain on the walls.

  Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber, 2006

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