In Burlington's Old North End there are still hints of what used to be -- a bustling Little Jerusalem years go. But one symbol of the area's past is not so obvious.
"It's priceless, it literally is one of a kind," said Jeff Potash. Potash and Aaron Goldberg are working to restore the Lost Shul Mural, a rare piece of synagogue folk artwork painted on the wall of what used to be the Chai Adam synagogue in 1910. "At the time this was painted it would have been literally one of thousands of works of it's type -- it's now a unique survivor," Potash said.
The work has special features characteristic of synagogue folk art. Art historians say that symbols such as the Lion of Judah, the Ten Commandments and the Crown of Torah are unique to only this type of folk art. The work was a labor of love in many ways. The artist, Ben Zion Black, was known for his murals throughout Europe in the early 20th century and was brought from Lithuania to Burlington to create a special work for the synagogue. "The artist was a fascinating individual," Potash said.
But he had another reason to come to Vermont. A girl he had courted in Lithuania was whisked away to Burlington by her parents because they disapproved of her dating the artist. Black came to Burlington to find her. He eventually married Rachel Black and they settled in the area. "Hope over despair, it's symbolic of freedom over oppression," said Aaron Goldberg.
Years later the synagogue was converted to an apartment building and the work deteriorated to it's current state. Goldberg and Potash coordinated with the landlord to lease the unit and begin the restoration process. They say the piece is an important memento of Burlington's history. "A symbol of the Jewish people and all people who have come as immigrants to the United States," Goldberg said.
Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin has endorsed the project and says what it symbolizes is close to her heart. "I can connect to that immigrant experience. Many years later I came to the United States as an immigrant from Switzerland," she said in a video supporting the project.
Art historians say the work could enrich Burlington's attractiveness to art enthusiasts. "I think it adds immeasurably to the richness of Burlington because it offers us a chance to explore the whole role that art plays in immigrant communities," said William Mierse, a UVM Professor of Art History.
When it is fully restored, the project will sit in the lobby of the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue and will be free to the public to enjoy. Potash and Goldberg say the project will take several months and cost about $350,000 to complete.
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