Reconstructing a 17th-Century Wooden Synagogue

The husband-and-wife team of Rick and Laura Brown has reconstructed the synagogue of the Polish town of Gwoździec. In an interview, Rick Brown discusses the project itself and the building’s elaborate architecture, ornate wooden carvings, and paintings. In a visual idiom lost and nearly forgotten today, the artwork borrowed symbols and motifs from local Christians but blended them with uniquely Jewish features like the “centralized architectural element” of a high cupola:

Now, we believe Gwoździec was where they came up with this new idea of creating a very elaborate, multi-tiered wooden panel ceiling—we call it a cupola, and it moves upward and inward toward the top. . . . This is where the synagogue was creating its own architectural identity separate from the Christian churches. See, the Christian churches were based on the basilica: a long, straight nave, this processional. You come up the staircase, you go through the doors, you go down the aisle, and you come to the altar at the end. In this synagogue, in Gwoździec, the bimah was in the center; this is where the Torah scrolls were brought during a service, this is where the rabbi would speak, and the congregation would move around the bimah in a kind of circular fashion.

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More about: Jewish architecture, Jewish art, Poland, Shtetl, Synagogue

Understanding the Background of the White House Ruling on Anti-Semitism and the Civil Rights Act

Dec. 13 2019

On Wednesday, the president signed an executive order allowing federal officials to extend the protections of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to Jews. (The order, promptly condemned for classifying Jews as a separate nationality, did nothing of the sort.) In 2010, Kenneth Marcus called for precisely such a ruling in the pages of Commentary, citing in particular the Department of Education’s lax response to a series of incidents at the University of California at Irvine, where, among much elase, Jewish property was vandalized and Jewish students were pelted with rocks, called “dirty Jew” and other epithets, and were told, “Jewish students are the plague of mankind.”

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, U.S. Politics