Long-Hidden Vermont Mural to be Moved, Restored

The Lost Shul Mural of Burlington, Vermont dates to 1910

Work is underway to protect and restore a rare piece of pre-Holocaust Jewish art in Burlington, Vermont. In 1910, the congregation of the Chai Adam synagogue in the city's Old North End commissioned artist Ben Zion Black to paint a mural inside their wooden synagogue. Now known as the Lost Shul Mural, the colorful and rare piece is at the center of an international fundraising effort aimed at protecting and restoring the artwork.

"You can see the colors are just magical," said Ohavi Zedek Synagogue archivist Aaron Goldberg as he showed New England Cable News the painting. "By saving and preserving the mural, we are saving a piece of the past."

The mural had been hidden behind wall boards inside a Burlington apartment for nearly 30 years. Prior to being an apartment house, the structure was a carpet store, and prior to that, it was a synagogue. Chai Adam was built in 1889 by a group of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, Goldberg explained.

The neighborhood, once called Little Jerusalem, saw a big population boom in the early twentieth century, explained historian Jeff Potash. The Ben Zion Black mural evoked a traditional Eastern European Jewish design, meant to bring worshippers closer to their faith, Potash added. The mural depicts the Ten Commandments, the Lions of Judah, and ancient Tabernacle. The mural also contains other references to liturgy.

"These were remarkable people," Potash said of the immigrants who settled in Little Jerusalem. "We are the inheritors of their legacy. So at some level, [the restoration project is] an opportunity to be grateful; to say thanks for who they were."

Potash and Goldberg are part of the fundraising push, and said they still need well over $100,000 for the mural to be carefully moved. Next year, planners expect to relocate the mural, which contains large faceted panels that form corners in the shape in the former synagogue’s architecture. It is destined for the current Ohavi Zedek synagogue, where the Burlington community will be able to learn more about the city's immigrant history.

"To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that a mural like this, in three dimensions, will be picked up and moved," said structural engineer Bob Neeld of the firm Engineering Ventures.

Neeld first needs a temporary structure built around the outside of the old building to offer protection for the mural as teams of specialist shore it up from behind and prepare the wall for the move, which is still months away. "It is quite complicated," Neeld added.

Project planners said with so many examples of pre-Holocaust Jewish art destroyed during the lead-up to World War II, or otherwise lost to neglect and the passage of time, this Burlington treasure needs to shine again.

For more information on the project, and fundraising effort, visit this website: http://lostshulmural.org/

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