Sunday, October 12, 2008

Poland: Jewish Culture Programs in Former Leczna Synagogue (now museum)

Photo: Sam Gruber lecturing in the Leczna synagogue in the 1993.

Poland: Jewish Culture Programs in Former Leczna Synagogue (now museum)

by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) On October 22, the 1937 Yiddish language film version of An-Sky’s play “The Dybbuk" will be shown in former synagogue of Leczna, now the seat of the Regional Museum in Leczna (Lubelskie province). The synagogue is one of the best preserved synagogues of the “bimah-support” type. Built in 1648, it was damaged by fire in 1846, and again by the Germans during the Second World War, when it was used for storage. Perhaps because of its massive walls, the building survived as a ruin until it was rebuilt from1953-1964 as the Museum of the Lublin Coal Region. It now houses a Regional Judaica Museum, housing a collection of liturgical objects, clothing and everyday items.

The film showing is organized by the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland and the Regional Museum in Leczna within the frames of the 'Leczna - Common Past, Two Cultures' project, supported by the Town Office and the 'Research on the Attitude Towards Jews and Their Heritage. Cooperation with Local Partners in Selected 15 Towns. Education for Tolerance' program, supported by the Batory Foundation. The film showing is intended to maintain a Jewish cultural identity within the former synagogue, but also to bring attention to Jewish cultural contribution to pre-War Poland, where the film was made. Throughout October, a series of five intercultural dialogue workshops for students will also be held in Leczna, organized by the experts of the Holocaust Research Center of the Institute of the Jagiellonian University.

The Renaissance-style synagogue is a simple rectangle in plan, fifteen meters long, with massive walls reaching a thickness in places of as much as 2.4 meters. Round-headed windows are deeply set in recessed arcades. Sloping buttresses brace the building's corners. There was once a vestibule on the west side, but this was destroyed some time in the past. Inside, the massive two-level bimah is the most notable feature. Its four thick columns once supported a dome under which would have been a raised platform with table for reading the Torah. When I first visited the synagogue when it was being prepared as the museum, the interior was entirely whitewashed. Now, some of the original polychrome decoration has been restored, including rich color on the bimah.

Click here for more history of the site and pictures of how it looks now.

Today, on the south wall, there is a plaque commemorating the 1,046 local Jews killed by the Germans.

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