From the desk of Irene Kronhill Pletka, Distinguished Benefactor
Let me tell you about a synagogue that I’d never seen, that no longer exists, and how it changed my life.
In 2008 the American Joint Distribution Committee, which had kept my parents and me alive during World War
II, asked me to go to Poland to investigate the rebirth of Jewish life in Poland. I told them I’d been in Poland in the
1970s and again when communism fell, and I said, “It’s a graveyard,”They answered, “This time it’s different.”
Shortly before I left, a French photographer visited me and exclaimed, “Oh! You’re going to Poland. Then you’ll be seeing Barbara Kirshenblatt Gimblett! ”He answered to my querying look. “I know her by reputation, but I don’t know her.”
“But she’s a foodie like you,” and he proceeded to connect us by email.
She invited me to attend a regional food fair in Warsaw the day after I arrived. We met and spent a wonderful day sampling our way through every region of Poland, every variety of schmaltz, cheese, bread, pickle and pastry that you could think of. Around five, in a total food coma, I asked her what she was doing in Poland. “I’m the leader of the core design team for a new museum of the thousand-year history of Polish Jews.”
Not much surprises me, but my jaw dropped open.
She invited me to her office the next morning to view her project.
She explained that everything about the project was a first in Poland: the first ever international competition for a public building— won by a relatively unknown Finnish architect against international superstars; the first ever public-private partnership with the national government, the city of Warsaw and the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute and that while the Holocaust was, of course, part of the narrative, it would be about honoring those who had died by celebrating the way Jews had lived.
As she scrolled through the architectural plans and the designs for the galleries the image of a glorious 17th
century painted wooden synagogue ceiling, roof and bimah, to be recreated in the exact way it had been done originally, filled her computer screen.
“Wow! ” I exclaimed. “I thought we were the People of the Book! I never thought we were the People of the Image.”
She explained that there had been more than 200 of these painted wooden synagogues, none of which remains.
“And no one knows about them.”
“That will look amazing when it is up in the museum,” I stammered.
“Unfortunately, we are starting the building process and would have to create the opening in the ceiling for it, and we don’t have the money, “she said. I blurted out “I’ll give you the money. “I didn’t quite know where I would get it, I just knew that it had to happen.
This wooden synagogue in Gwozdziec (today in Ukraine), constructed in the late 17th century and renovated in the early 18th century, was 49 feet high. The ceiling and walls were covered with intricate signs of the zodiac, colorful plants, animals and sacred texts. The Jewish artists proudly signed their names. During the first World War the synagogue was burnt to the ground as the Russian front moved through the town.
That decision changed my life. It has been an enormous privilege to be a part of the creation of this
museum. I was thrilled to hammer in one of the last pegs of the wooden roof and paint one of the flowers
on the Bimah alongside my granddaughter who painted a pillar and carved a piece of the cornice.
It is the gift that keeps on giving back to me in so many ways.
The image of the ceiling as the centerpiece of the museum has become the one that stays with all visitors. When I walk through the museum today and see school children lying on their backs to get a better view of the ceiling, or see Israeli groups marvel at an exquisite portion of their history, see Polish parents explain to their youngsters that this is also part of their history, or hear from people that they saw the film Raising the Roof on television— it brings home the message that reclaiming our own heritage, grasping it with both hands, is something that will enrich us usually…
That is what POLIN Museum is to me, an institution proudly dedicated to educating the widest and most
diverse public about the history and legacy of Polish Jews.
Now more than ever is the time to support POLIN Museum, winner of the 2016 European museum of the year award. We urge you to please consider a donation of $1,000 to help our efforts.
Please join me and make your gift to POLIN today.
Your tax-deductible donation can be made online or by check (see enclosed reply card and envelope).
Irene Kronhill Pletka
For more information please contact:
Lynda Kraar, Senior Consultant
North American Council Museum of the History of Polish Jews
lkraar@ szih.org.pl • Tel: +1 551 486 3772 • www.polin.pl/en
POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews is the first public-private partnership institution of its kind in Poland created by the Ministry of
Culture, City of Warsaw, and the Association of the Jewish Historical institute of Poland.
Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland, established in 1951, initiated and co-founded POLIN Museum and supports its program activities annually. The Association is a Jewish philanthropic organization in Poland dedicated to the civilization of Polish Jews and their contribution
to world culture.