Why was a synagogue mural hidden behind a wall in a Vermont apartment? | Smart News
For nearly 30 years, a historic mural painted by a Lithuanian immigrant in the early 20th century was hidden behind a wall in a Vermont apartment complex.
Today, after years of painstaking preservation work, the colorful triptych known as the “Lost Mural” is back in the limelight. Members of the Burlington, Vermont community unveiled the restored mural in his new home at Ohavi Zedek Synagogue earlier this summer.
The mural is “a treasure and also an important work, both in American Jewish religious life and in the art world of this country,” Josh Perelman, chief curator at the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, Lisa Rathke tells Associated Press (AP).
The saga of the work begins in 1910, when the religious leaders of Burlington’s Second Synagogue, Chai Adamhired 24 years Ben Zion Black to paint the 155 square foot mural and synagogue ceiling for $200. Black was a talented sign painter, poet, playwright, mandolin conductor and, as Vittoria Benzine writes for clean arta “champion of Yiddish culture”.
With his brush, Black skilfully depicts the Tent of Tabernacles, a portable shrine that played an important role in Jewish history. Using rich hues of red, gold and blue, Black painted a dazzling sun shining over two lions and a floating crown above the Decalogue, also known as the Ten Commandments.
The Chai Adam Synagogue merged with the congregation of the neighboring Ohavi Zedek Synagogue and closed in 1939. The building subsequently served various other purposes; at one point it became a carpet store and warehouse.
Eventually, new owners purchased the old synagogue and began converting it into apartments in 1986. But first, Burlington residents convinced the new owners to build a wall in front of the mural to preserve it for posterity. .
In 2012, working with the building’s owners, mural advocates tore down the wall. They found the mural to be in poor condition, with peeling paint and damaged plaster, but community members continued with their plans to bring it back to life.
They carefully moved in 2015 at the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, where restorers began the restoration process. In total, residents raised $1 million from local, state, national and international donors for the ambitious project, according to the AP, which involved removing the roof from the synagogue-turned-apartment complex and then use a crane to lift the delicate artwork onto a flatbed truck for transport.
“So much could have gone wrong with the mural, but it survived through fate and circumstance,” Adam Goldberg, who directs the Lost Mural Project, tells Seven days” Alison Novak. “It’s not just a surviving remnant. It’s a surviving piece with an amazing story.
The Vermont mural is also significant in art history, as many synagogue murals in Europe were destroyed during the Holocaust. According to the Lost Mural Project website, it is “one of the few remaining examples of this once joyful art form.”
“It is a benefit for the Jewish people internationally to have a popular work of art from around the world that the Nazis destroyed,” said Joshua Chasa, former rabbi of the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue. Burlington Free Press‘ Zach Despart in 2015. “In that sense, it is a memorial to those who died in the Holocaust and…to this Jewish world that perished.”