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Project celebrating Polish shuls brings together area organizations
October 8th, 2004
The word synagogue derives from Greek words that mean, to bring together. So it seems appropriate that a project focusing on synagogues should be the means for bringing together some local institutions that have seldom if ever collaborated as a group before.
The institutions are the Polish Center of Wisconsin; the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukees Center for Jewish Studies and School of Architecture and Urban Planning; and the Wisconsin Society of Jewish Learning.
And the project is a series of events titled Common Heritage: The Wooden Synagogues of Poland. The events will take place Oct. 20-22 and Oct. 24; while two exhibitions, one at the Polish Center and the other at UWM, will run through November.
This subject and the events planned will be extremely compelling, said Chava Frankfort-Nachmias, associate professor of sociology at UWM and director of the Center for Jewish Studies.
Were talking about part of the Jewish heritage, the synagogue and the culture surrounding it, that was completely obliterated during the Holocaust, she said. This work is extremely important. It is not simply about architecture; it is about bringing back our lost heritage.
But there is more than purely Jewish interest in this. To the Polish Center and the WSJL, this is a way to build relationships between the Polish and Jewish communities here.
We want to ensure that both communities become active participants and can bridge the issues between them, said Kathleen R. Jendusa, executive director of the WSJL. We hope [this event] will allow both communities to see what they share in common, which is why we came up with the title, Common Heritage.
The events will include demonstrations of the techniques used to build the Polish wooden synagogues.
Indeed, according to Thomas Hubka, professor of architecture at UWM and an authority on Polish synagogue buildings, these demonstrations should result in a structure that will be incorporated into a full-size replica of one of the destroyed synagogues, which is planned to be constructed in Poland.
The first event of the project will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 20, and will constitute demonstrations of timber framing by master millwright James Kricker. These will take place in UWMs Architecture Building, with demonstrations at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., separated by a lecture at noon on Timber Joinery, East and West.
Then at 4 p.m., Tilford Bartman, historian of the Jewish community of Zabludow in eastern Poland, will speak about that community and its synagogue. That synagogue building, constructed in 1638, is the one that will be replicated in Poland.
In fact, a scale model of that building, built by the Handshouse Studio of Boston, will be among the items featured in the Annihilated Heritage: The Wooden Synagogues of Poland touring exhibit that will open the following day, Thursday, Oct. 21, 6 p.m., at the Polish Center, 6941 S. 68th St. in Franklin.
The opening will feature an introduction by Witold Karwowski of the Association of Historic Monuments Conservators, which put together the exhibition in Poland; and presentations by Hubka and Samuel D. Gruber, director of the Jewish Heritage Research Center in Syracuse, N.Y. An 8 p.m. reception with kosher food and klezmer music will follow.
On Friday, Oct. 22, 4:30 p.m., the second exhibit based on Hubkas book, Resplendent Synagogue: The Architecture of a Polish Synagogue, will open at the UWM Architecture Building. Hubka and Gruber will give presentations on The Architectural Symbolism of the Synagogue. A reception with kosher food and klezmer music will follow.
The events will conclude with Gruber speaking on The American Synagogue and Jewish Identity: From Old World to New on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2 p.m., at UWMs Golda Meir Library. A reception with kosher food will follow.
The idea for this project snowballed, according to Jendusa. It began with Hubkas book, published last year and which The Chronicle featured in a Books in Brief column in the Jan. 23 issue.
According to Susan Mikos, chair of the Polish Centers cultural committee, the center at first thought it would be nice to have Hubka speak about the book and sign copies at the center. (Hubka is a former member of the committee and designed the centers building, she said.)
But Hubka saw the Annihilated Heritage exhibit in Boston in 2002, and Mikos was also aware of it. Hubka also knew about the effort to reconstruct the Zabludow synagogue. From these, the idea was born bring them to Milwaukee.
We do try to highlight many different aspects of Polish culture, and the Jewish heritage is part of that, said Mikos. To do something along that line is something we had been thinking about, but the right project or topic hadnt come along yet. This seemed to be a perfect opportunity to do that.
They contacted the Center for Jewish Studies and the WSJL, which signed on. The project has obtained funding from the Helen Bader Foundation and from local patrons Cynthia and Joseph Rewolinski and Nathaniel K. Zelazo.
For more information, contact any of the four sponsoring organizations.