Saturday, February 11, 2012

Poland: Virtual Tour of Przysucha Synagogue

Poland:  Renovation Plans and Virtual Tour of Przysucha Synagogue

Przysucha, Poland. Synagogue. Photo: Ruth Ellen Gruber (1990s)

Przysucha, Poland. Synagogue. Photo: FODZ (2009)

Now that the restoration of the synagogue in Zamosc, Poland is complete, the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Monuments in Poland (FODZ) is turning its attention to the great synagogue of Przysucha (Yiddish: Parshishe vel Przishe).   FODZ has begun efforts aimed at revitalizing the 18th-century synagogue into a vibrant cultural center to serve the needs of the visiting Jewish groups and the local community.

Even if you cannot go to Poland, you can get a good sense of what si left of the structure from a  virtual walk through the 18th century synagogue in Przysucha.  The big masonry synagogue was built between 1774 and 1777, during a period when Przysucha was an important center of Hassidism and gained considerable renown for its tzadikkim (religious leaders) Abraham of Przysucha (d. 1806), Jacob Yitzhak ben Asher (1766-1813), known as the Holy Jew of Przysucha and credited with being the first propagator of Chassidism in Central Poland, and the latter’s disciple Simcha Bunem (1784-1827).  Their ohelot (small structure protecting their graves in the Jewish cemetery), were (re?)built  in the 1980’s are regularly stops for  Hassidim religious pilgrims.

 FODZ took ownership of the long neglected site in 2007 and the following year carried out protective renovations. The building, however, still needs urgent repairs. In December 2009 construction and conservation documentation was completed, and FODZ can now apply for European Union funds to start the restoration and adaptive use work.  Private funds will also be needed for significant parts of the work.

The massive limestone synagogue has an area of 650m², and it towers over the small town (current population: 6800).  The rectangular prayer hall has a vaulted ceiling that descends in its central part on to the four-piered central bima (reader’s podium).  A typical example of the once-common Polish 'bimah support' masonry synagogue. The aron ha-kodesh (Ark) niche in the is framed by a portal topped with stucco griffins.  The synagogue originally would have had brightly colored wall decorations.  A few fragments are preserved on the walls.

See picture galleries here:

Before the Second World War Jews constituted over 60% of the town’s population.  The community was entirely destroyed - the people murdered and a two centuries of Jewish life and culture
ended and were mostly forgotten.  Only the synagogue survived as an abandoned ruin.  There were some unsuccessful efforts at restoration undertaken in the 1960s and in 1970, including repairs to the roof, but overall, the building condition is very bad will need extraordinary measures to make it whole and useful once again.  I do not know how fine a restoration is planned.  I would propose that the space not be over restored, but left with some of raw ruined appearance.  No need to replace lost decoration here.  Better to let the bones of the building speak.  Its a fine big space and can serve many uses, inclusion exhibits, concerts, lectures and prayer.

Przysucha, Poland. Synagogue. Photo: FODZ (2009)

 Przysucha, Poland. Elevation of present state. Courtesy of FODZ

Contributions can be made to  FODZ towards this work. For more information visit the website of the Revitalization of the synagogue in Przysucha project.

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