In 2012 the Lost Shul Mural was revealed behind the walls of an apartment building that was once the Orthodox Chai Adam Synagogue. This synagogue was founded in 1889, after breaking off from Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, which was founded in 1885. Like an episode of Ancient Mysteries, removal of a wall opened a window into the past. Chai Adam Synagogue was decorated in 1910, when the congregation engaged a young Lithuanian-Jewish artist, Ben Zion Black, who spent six months painting the synagogue for which he was paid $200.
Today, because of its historical and artistic associations, and the many stories it helps tell, the mural is priceless.
The Lost Shul Mural is a rare and striking painting; one of only a small number of extant synagogue murals in North America painted by immigrant Jewish artists for congregations still tied to their distant homelands, the Yiddish language, and traditional Jewish religious practice – all while undergoing their transformation into American Jews and citizens. It is a survivor of a pre-Holocaust Jewish artistic tradition and of the religious and cultural beliefs and practices of America’s Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Just as the mural was meant to be a visual link between the physical and spiritual worlds, it is also a physical link between the Old World and the New.
The Lost Shul Mural is a rare survivor of a centuries-old Jewish artistic tradition in Eastern Europe. This world of Jewish art was destroyed in the Holocaust and it is still poorly understood. While the Burlington mural has its own artistic merit, its greatest value is as a surrogate for all the other works destroyed by oppression in Europe and lost to “progress” in America.
Now, a hundred years later, we have the once in a lifetime opportunity to preserve this priceless treasure before it too is lost to history. As we honor the lives of all those lost in the Shoah, we here in the Burlington, VT Jewish community, led by Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, have taken upon ourselves the role of preserving this art and protecting it for future generations. We hope that you can lend your support to this cause before the Lost Shul Mural is lost forever.