Painting as Prayer in Poland

Recreating a Forgotten Synagogue, Rediscovering Family

Evelyn Tauben paints a flower on a ceiling panel of a replica of a Polish synagogue.
Yari Wolinsky
Evelyn Tauben paints a flower on a ceiling panel of a replica of a Polish synagogue.

By Evelyn Tauben

Published October 03, 2012, issue of October 05, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

This summer I traveled for the first time to Poland, where my grandparents were born, to help recreate an 18th-century wooden synagogue from the town of Gwoździec. This trip was an expression of a deep desire to connect with my own “Polishness.” I wanted to engage in a creative activity in a place often associated only with destruction and loss. I was compelled, also, to make a tangible contribution to Polish life; the Gwoździec replica, which includes a roof structure, a painted dome ceiling and a bimah, will be showcased in the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, opening in Warsaw in 2013.

In July, I joined a group of mainly art students from the United States and a handful of young Poles for a workshop in the town of Szczebrzeszyn hosted by Handshouse Studio, a Massachusetts-based arts organization conducting a decades-long project to rebuild Polish wooden synagogues that were destroyed by the Nazis.

The Handshouse core team, a group of about 15 professional artists, led us in recreating the vibrant ceiling murals of the Gwoździec synagogue. The section we worked on features a griffin and a dragon in a fighting embrace surrounded by a network of vines and stylized flowers. A lower band of the mural depicts several beasts including a leopard, a turkey and a deer.

With awe, I watched the Handshouse team, who had spent years dedicated to remaking the Gwoździec synagogue. Only one of them had Jewish heritage. Among them, I felt both bolstered and weighed down by my background.

Szczebrzeszyn is 113 miles from Lutsk, where my grandfather was born. He was an artist who never realized his dream of attending art school. He escaped the Nazis by fleeing with his father and uncle to the Soviet Union. After the war, he opened an engraving shop in Los Angeles, supporting his family by the work of his fine hands. I inherited his eye, if not his raw talent, and channeled the family business of color and form into a career as a curator and producer.

As the Handshouse team doled out the tasks, someone suggested I help with Hebrew text. But I desperately wanted to paint a flower. My Hebrew name is Vered, or “rose.” It is a reference to my zayde’s sister’s name, Blumeh, which means “flower” in Yiddish. When the men in her family fled, Blumeh followed them but was sent back home to her mother and little brother to wait out the war. Instead, the war came for them. Blumeh was just 15. Among the blossoms on the ceiling would be my quiet tribute — a bloom for Blumeh.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.