|Picture from www.handshouse.org|
by Ruth Ellen Gruber
You can sign up to help build replicas of some of the components of the destroyed 17th century Gwozdziec wooden synagogue, which will then be placed as a key installation in the upcoming Museum of the History of Polish Jews now under construction in Warsaw.
The work is coordinated by the Handshouse Studio, which has already carried out a big project and exhibition on wooden synagogues, including reconstruction of part of the Gwozdziec ceiling, in collaboration with Tom Hubka, the author of a book about the synagogue, Resplendent Synagogue: Architecture and Worship in an Eighteenth Century Polish Community.
Wooden Synagogues of Poland An Exhibition: "A Lost World Revisited"
"Wooden Synagogues: A Lost World Revisited" is an exhibition about the 17th and 18th century wooden synagogues from the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth with a particular focus on the Zabludow and Gwozdziec Synagogues.
These magnificent buildings were destroyed during the Nazi invasion of Poland in World War II. Fortunately, an extensive collection of architectural drawings and photographic documentation has survived in several Polish archives. The exhibition displays reproductions of this historic documentation as well as scale models of the buildings themselves. Through this exhibition, the public will gain an understanding and appreciation of the architectural significance of the wooden synagogues and the nearly lost cultural heritage of the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe.
The exhibition is a collaboration between Handshouse Studio and Tom Hubka, professor of Architecture and author of Resplendent Synagogue: Architecture and Worship in an Eighteenth Century Polish Community.Exhibition Contents
The exhibit includes six large scale B&W prints of photographs of the interior of Gwozdziec Synagogue; a large 1/2 scale colored painted replica of a portion of the Gwozdziec Synagogue ceiling and wall painting; a large-scale wooden model of the Zabludow Synagogue; reproductions of drawings (mostly produced by faculty and students from the Institute of Polish Architecture of the Polytechnic of Warsaw in 1920s and 1930s); and photographs of 14 additional synagogues along with descriptions of their Polish Jewish communities. There is also a full scale replica of a hewn timber framed brace, the roof truss and log wall connection from the Zabludow Synagogue structure.
The project web site offers this history of wooden synagogues in Polish lands:
During the period between the two world wars, the approximately 3.5 million Jews living in the Polish Republic constituted the largest Jewish community in the world outside of the United States. The Jews of Poland had a tradition of many centuries of peaceful existence alongside the other inhabitants – Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Belarusians, Germans, Armenians, Gypsies – creating a culture of richness and diversity. During the Nazi invasion of Poland and the Holocaust, this part of Poland's cultural richness was lost. Over two hundred wooden synagogues were completely destroyed and only through photographs, drawings and documentation compiled before the war are we able to envision a handful of the hundreds of synagogues that once existed.
A common misconception is that the Polish Jewish communities who built wooden synagogues were blighted by poverty. This image may be an appropriate 19th and 20th century description, but Zabludow and similar synagogues from the 17th and 18th centuries were built by cosmopolitan, relatively affluent communities who could afford the highest regional standards of construction and craftsmanship. These wooden synagogues are an extraordinary phenomenon, worthy of high artistic standing among the wooden architecture of Europe and the world. They represent a high point in Jewish architectural art and religious painting, a tradition that was later abandoned by Eastern European Jews. This gives greater importance to the study of the subject. Today, these historic wooden synagogues remain only in the memories of a handful of survivors and in the limited but significant documentation.
[...] The image of the impoverished shtetl is an appropriate 19th and 20th century description but these buildings are monuments of the 17th and 18th century, a time referred to by some scholars as "a golden age" of shtetl Jewish history. These wooden synagogues were built by cosmopolitan, relatively affluent communities who could afford the highest regional standards of construction and craftsmanship. Conforming to the style of that period, wooden synagogues were an extraordinary architectural phenomenon, worthy of high artistic standing among the wooden architecture of Europe and the world.