A rare and historic mural dating to 1910 was moved to a new home in Burlington, Vermont’s Ohavi Zedek Synagogue Wednesday.
"I’m holding my breath," Rabbi Joshua Chasan chuckled. "I’m holding my breath!"
Chasan was one of many who gathered to watch a delicate flight, as the Lost Shul Mural of Burlington was plucked by crane from the place where it sat for many decades, and traveled by truck a few blocks to the synagogue.
"Everything’s in God’s hands," Chasan told necn, describing the smoothness of the operation and the perfect weather for the event.
In December, necn broadcast the story of the vibrant Jewish mural, painted by artist Ben Zion Black in the former Chai Adam synagogue in the city's Old North End.
The mural depicts the Ten Commandments, the Lions of Judah, and the ancient Tabernacle. The mural also contains other references to liturgy, explained Jeff Potash, a historian and the president of Ohavi Zedek.
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 the synagogue. Chai Adam was built in 1889 by a group of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, Potash explained.
As necn reported last year, the neighborhood, once called Little Jerusalem, saw a big population boom in the early twentieth century, according to Potash. The Ben Zion Black mural evoked a traditional Eastern European Jewish design, meant to bring worshippers closer to their faith, he said.
"It was just heavenly to sit up there and look at this mural," recalled Harriet Rosenthal, who said she worshipped at Chai Adam with her family when she was a child.
The wooden synagogue closed in the late 1930s when it merged with another congregation nearby. When that happened, Rosenthal and her husband Mark said their families switched to the new synagogue, but fondly remembered the old mural.
"I think this is something that I will never forget," Mark Rosenthal said, describing watching Wednesday’s mural move unfold.
Carefully removed from the apartment building, the mural crawled a couple blocks up the road to the Ohavi Zedek synagogue on a large truck belonging to Demag Riggers & Crane Service in Williston. Once it arrived at its destination, the crane operators delicately placed it onto a ramp from which a team of workers pushed it on wheels inside Ohavi Zedek.
Synagogue leaders said so much Jewish art was lost to Nazi destruction during World War II, and to neglect over the decades, that Burlington’s Lost Shul Mural, in its Eastern European style, is a rare surviving example.
"The life of this thing has gone on for a hundred-plus years and it’s destined for another God knows how many years," Potash said. "And what we’re looking at is the initiation of a new youth; a new beginning."
There’s still more construction and restoration work to do; fundraising, too. But finally, after years of planning, a once lost artifact has found a new home.
Click here for more information on the Lost Shul Mural, including how to support the ongoing project.