Meir Panim’s Tiberias Free Restaurant not only provides warm meals, but the opportunity to socialize as well.
The sacred is that which is removed, eternal and ultimately untouchable, something we must always have in our lives and yet can never possess. Synagogues are certainly sacred, but they paradoxically enjoy the opposite qualities. Synagogues embody the sacred that we internalize, the holy gates to heaven that we can grasp. Jews build them, inhabit them, possess them, and if they are destroyed, mourn the loss of their houses of worship, their places of gathering.
That is precisely why this brilliant exhibition, “Longing for the Sacred” at the Yeshiva University Museum is so effective. It brings together two artists who through their mourning for the synagogues lost in the Holocaust plumb the depths of our loss and simultaneously express the sacred and communal nature of each and every house of Jewish worship.
G-d expresses His love of the Jewish people in the Torah by counting us, naming us in our travails as we entered the Wilderness. So too, a parallel naming occurs in this exhibition as each artist lovingly names the synagogue depicted. Felix Reisner has chosen to commemorate the great urban synagogues of Warsaw, Danzig, Lodz, and Frankfurt au Main in a unique format, stained glass models. A survivor of the war (he fought the Nazis in the First Polish Division of the Soviet Army) Reisner came to America and worked in the knitting business before he retired and began a second career as a self-taught stained glass artist. Inspired by
his memories of the destroyed Warsaw synagogue and subsequent first person survivor testimonies of other destroyed synagogues, he created a series of five stained glass models of major urban synagogues.
Reisner has painstakingly fashioned his models based on extensive research and photographic study of the original buildings. Nonetheless, these are not your typical architectural models. His creations are intense condensations of the buildings, most not more than 24″ high. He has summarized the salient architectural features of the synagogues and compressed them into unified images contrasting off-white with brilliantly colored stained glass.
While this is not immediately apparent, a close inspection of the scale of the buildings, comparing the size of the “bricks,” windows, other building elements and the scale of the tiny pews and interiors reveals a wonderful tension between an apparent reconstruction and the illusion of a work of art. The extensive text panels explain the history of each synagogue before its destruction, and the current use of the site. The captions also tell us how many people each could hold.
The elegant Altshtot Stara Synagogue in Lodz, contained two women’s galleries, had 1500 seats and its Aron held 36 Torah scrolls. In Reisner’s recreation, the exterior facade is massive and imposing while the interior, viewed through a magically transparent roof, is diminutive, welcoming, and intimate. This contrast, seen in each of his models, poignantly captures the fond memories, longing and loss of a beloved communal home. Reisner further emphasizes the
feeling of a warm inviting sanctuary by providing clear glass windows, lighting each interior and imaginatively decorating the shul down to inlaid floors and an open Sefer Torah ready to be read on the bima. It practically asks you to join the minyan and take a seat.
The opposite emotion dominates Greta Schreyer’s six, deeply disturbing oil paintings of the burnt synagogues of Poland. Each painting is a portrait of a conflagration or imminent destruction of what was a unique architectural expression of the Jewish people. Throughout Poland and western Russia, rural Jewish communities built wooden synagogues from the 17th century onwards. These synagogues reflected local Polish building styles, but also allowed
considerable creativity and innovation for each Jewish community. Many of the interiors were colorfully decorated with folk paintings.
We have records of their dimensions thanks to a major survey of Jewish art and synagogues done in the 1920′s and 1930′s by the Institute of Polish Architecture of the Polytechnic of Warsaw and published in 1959 as “Wooden Synagogues” by Maria and Kazimierz Piechotka. This work establishes the tragic scale of what was lost when the Nazis burned them all in the Shoah.
Each one of these recent paintings evokes a different mood for us to contemplate the very structure of loss. The Wooden Synagogue at Nasielsk is lit by a distant moon, its three sectioned pitched roofs and multiple levels shimmering in whites, grays and blues as the roaring flames surround all sides. We gasp with horror at the Piaski Shul, its massive roof shuddering under the assault of fire, its façade breaking up in a fractured asymmetry of odd shapes and displaced windows and doors. Schreyer’s expressionistic style serves her well to communicate how violent these destructions are.
As if to alleviate the suffering, the artist presents us with a vision of the Volpa Shul delicately glowing in pinks, greens and eerie yellows as if illuminated from within. Again, a full moon oversees the scene even as a violent crimson and purple sky threatens every edge of the sacred structure. The contrast between the whitish shul and the calamitous sky is deeply unnerving.
Greta Schreyer was born in Vienna, pursued a family career of gold and silversmithing and jewelry design. She was forced to flee Austria in 1939 and arrived to a new life in New York. Later in life she reclaimed her youthful interest in painting and has recently shown widely in Europe and in New York. These six paintings represent a complete series on the destruction of the wooden synagogues that revisits not the events she witnessed but the overwhelming turmoil, destruction and violence that forced her, and thousands like her, to flee their
homeland in Europe. The destruction of the world of Polish Jewry, seen in the infernos of these synagogues, was part of the massive destruction that exiled her and that continues to invade our consciousness to the present.
Burning Synagogue, Lutsk, Russia gnaws at our emotions by depicting the mostly intact façade, white with green roofs under a fiery assault from the rear, the sky blazing behind the tower and square main building. Already some of the windows are glowing red while the left side of the shul is deceptively calm with the exception of a slash of red just seen through the partially open front door. The inherent violence of the image is enhanced as the whole shul lists to the right, seemingly drawn to the inferno itself.
Curator Reba Wulkan has brilliantly combined two deeply contrasting visions of the Shoah as embodied in the potent symbol of the synagogue. Reisner invites us to revisit the solidity of the urban grand synagogues and re-experience the warmth of community while Schreyer eulogizes the terrible fragility and vulnerability of our holy structures.
Both views break our hearts until we enter the thousands and thousands of synagogues that we now call home. Enter the doors and sit down so that we can be thankful for the sacred world the Jewish people have recreated out of the ashes.
Richard McBee is a painter of Torah subject matter and writer on Jewish Art.
Please feel free to contact him with comments at www.richardmcbee.com.
About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
No tweets found.
Unfortunately, a map of the Middle East with no mention of Israel is nothing new… It is surprising however, that the world’s largest publisher of children’s literature, Scholastic Books, has joined in this trend.
About six months ago my parents and I started discussing ideas for a mitzvah project in honor of my bat mitzvah. I wanted to do something unique that would be meaningful to me and also do something that my friends could participate in. Immediately I thought of an organization called Sharsheret.
“I’m disappointed that the agreement reached with Iran leaves our unfulfilled our ultimate objective: a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program and related activities.
Southern NCSY will be holding a leadership training Shabbaton at the Young Israel of Bal Harbour December 6 and December 7. Rabbi Steven Weil, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, will be the special guest speaker.
Is there a beginning and an end to the universe? What role can medical breakthroughs play in conception or genetic engineering? Can science help us pinpoint the end of human life? Does the soul emanate from the brain or vice-versa?
Last month’s column sketched the myriad of social programs in which the Orthodox American communal worker and leader Adolphus S. Solomons (1826-1910) was involved. Adolphus married Rachel Seixas Phillips (1828-1881), a descendant of colonial patriot families and together they had eight daughters and a son.
This year’s parade, the 87th annual extravaganza of marching bands, floats, and giant balloons, featured something really unique and different: a balloon/float of a large blue dreidel.
He strengthened his resolve
Knew his life he would lose,
But when the king uttered the words
With great pride he refused.
Just like you
I too have a soul
A soul that is G-dly
Just like you.
Now my friend
I ask you,
Am I different from you?
It’s not Chanukah without latkes! That’s true; but don’t make the same boring latkes this year. Go for something healthier, more vibrant, and flavorful.
Each year at our family Chanukah party, we try to introduce a new activity, to keep things fun and exciting for the children and adults alike. Last year’s addition – a huge hit – was a menorah-making contest.
Prof. Malka Schaps was born Mary Kramer, a Protestant, in Cleveland, Ohio. When she was sixteen, she started questioning the rationale of moral conduct: Why be good?
The fact that the Jewish Museum’s curator Susan Tumarkin Goodman presents these issues as the inescapable core of her exhibition demonstrates the courage to challenge her audience with deeply discomforting images and concepts.
Lynda Caspe’s current exhibition at the Derfner Museum is an extraordinary event. In this show of 12 bronze relief sculptures and 14 cityscape paintings we have the opportunity to see the full scope of her last six years of work that, as least with the sculptures, marked a radical change in subject matter and technique.
The philosopher Theodor Adorno famously wrote in 1949, “cultural criticism finds itself with the final stage of the dialectic of culture and barbarism. To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” This statement posited that the Holocaust exposed the unredeemable rotten underbelly of Western culture and therefore the very notion of creating beauty and sensitivity was at an insurmountable impasse. Alas, as cultural history has shown, he was wrong. Strikingly, it might be said that one of the few ways still provocatively available to speak about the Holocaust is in fact through poetry.
“Hyman Bloom: Paintings and Drawings (1940 – 2005),” currently at White Box (the cutting edge international art space on Broome Street), is a rare opportunity to observe the creative process of one of the most important practitioners of 20th century Jewish Art in America.
The “book” is a mighty big place these days and the current exhibition at MOBIA, “As Subject and Object: Contemporary Book Artists Explore Sacred Hebrew Texts,” is no exception. Highly mobile ebooks compete with online publications and traditionally bound volumes, scrolls, accordion-style tomes and folios that present equally exciting options for contemporary artists to interact with image and text in one unifying medium.
At the Chassidic Art Institute one artist, Harry McCormick, has rather amazingly fathomed the authentic heartbeat of the individual Jewish life. This exhibition, running until July 25, shows a mere 16 paintings, but six of them reveal a deeply perceptive and sensitive chronicle of Yiddishkeit.
Judaica Auctions and the exhibition that precede them at Kestenbaum & Company are always a cornucopia of aesthetic delights. The sheer variety and overall quality of the ceremonial objects and works of art make the exhibition and catalogue a museum-like experience. The current exhibition is no exception.
Whether it is the disastrous report of the 12 spies or the furious condemnation that doomed an entire generation to die in the wilderness, the Torah narrative in Bamidbar turns terribly grim after the glorious inauguration of the Mishkan in the second year after leaving Egypt. With this in mind, just imagine my surprise at an encounter with two artists who address these (and other Biblical) themes right around the corner.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/longing-for-the-sacred-lost-synagogues-of-the-shoah-stained-glass-models-by-felix-reisner-paintings-by-greta-schreyer/2004/07/21/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: