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Educators Think Small With Model Shul

By Sarah Kricheff

January 14, 2005 From the Forward at Reprinted by permission

An international effort is under way to build a full-scale reproduction of the Zabludow Synagogue, a 17th-century wooden synagogue in the Podlaise region of Poland that was destroyed by the Nazis during World War II.

In the meantime, however, some people are thinking small.

Handshouse Studio, a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to revisiting moments in history and to rebuilding them through collaborative, hands-on projects, is giving students a peek at the past with a 12:1 scale wooden model of the synagogue. The replica is currently on exhibition at American college campuses, with the ultimate goal of raising awareness of the effort to build the full-scale structure in Poland.

Constructed based on archival drawings and photographs, the 4-by-4 miniature consists of wooden shingles and features a timber-framed roof, two completed sides with windows and dormers, indoor and outdoor balconies, stairs and doors. Two walls were left unfinished to reveal the workmanship that went into the piece.

Handshouse, co-founded by Massachusetts College of Art professor Rick Brown and lecturer Laura Brown, uses three-dimensional models to teach students about history, the arts, science, literature and mathematics, and works with universities to create individualized programs for students, faculty and the general public. Other Handshouse projects include a one-man submarine from the American Revolution, and a human-powered crane designed in France in the 1750s.

The Zabludow Synagogue model, a prime example of the unique architectural style of wooden synagogues in Poland, provided visual reference for lectures at the Massachusetts College of Art and at the Wentworth Institute of Technology; the Boston-area colleges hosted talks about 18th-century wall paintings from Polish wooden synagogues and the history of Eastern European Jewry, to coincide with the miniature's display at Handshouse Studio in nearby Norwell, Mass. The model was presented in the recent exhibition Common Heritage: The Wooden Synagogues of Poland, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and is set to move to Oberlin College in February.

While on display at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Zabludow model was the centerpiece for lectures on the architecture of Polish synagogues, the history of the town of Zabludow and timber-framing techniques. The exhibit provided a bridge between departments within the school and extended into the community the model also was featured in the Polish Center of Wisconsin's exhibition, Annihilated Heritage: The Wooden Synagogues of Poland.

"It's really an ecumenical group," said Thomas Hubka, professor of architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and author of "Resplendent Synagogue: Architecture and Worship in an Eighteenth-Century Polish Community" (Brandeis University Press, 2003). "The architecture department and the Jewish studies department, as well as the Polish Center of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Society for Jewish Learning, all came together and were involved in programming."

The Zabludow miniature "is a spectacular scale model, and it's captivating," he added. "It pays serious attention to the architectural scale, and it's marvelously detailed."


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