2016-04-27 / Home

Film Festival movie documents recreation of historic synagogue


A volunteer paints the ceiling of the Gwozdziec Synagogue. A volunteer paints the ceiling of the Gwozdziec Synagogue. “How often do you get a chance to reach deep into history and bring something back?”

That question, posed by visionary artist Rick Brown, fueled him and his artist wife Laura to take on a challenge thought by many to be impossible: The reconstruction of a magnificent 18th Century Polish wooden synagogue in modern-day Poland.

The incredible story of the Gwozdziec Synagogue project— a multi-year, international endeavor—is documented in “Raise the Roof,” which was featured during the Cherry Hill Volvo Cars Jewish Film Festival of the JCC on April 7.

To the soundtrack of klezmer music, the acclaimed movie captures not only the 10-year pursuit, but also the glorious history and tragic ending to Poland’s wooden synagogues, destroyed by the Nazis. At a time of a resurgence of interest in Polish-Jewish history, the Browns—both professors on the 3-D faculty at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston—led an international team of 300 students and artisans in Poland, where they recreated the nearly full-scale timber frame roof and painted ceiling of the Gwozdziec Synagogue, originally located in what is now the Ukraine.

The stunning structure—built by hand using methods and materials that would have been used at the time—is the centerpiece exhibit of the new Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.

Following the local viewing, directors Cary and Yari Wolinsky, a father and son team, spoke about the experience of filming the project. The Browns, who are actually neighbors of the Wolinskys in Southern Massachusetts, have an infectious enthusiasm that draws people in, said Cary Wolinsky.

Still, he initially questioned why they would want to move the massive project every few weeks to different Polish cities while doing the elaborate paintwork.

“What happened is that the towns would announce that we were coming, and people from the towns streamed through all day to meet the people working on it. It was a great opportunity for dialogue,” Wolinsky said.

Asked about anti-Semitism in Poland, he said he does not question that it exists. However, the Browns insist they were met only with open arms and curiosity.

“If you go to Warsaw now, you get off the plane, go downstairs to get your baggage, and there is a floor-to-ceiling, back-lit photograph of the interior of the Gwozdziec Synagogue that greets you,” he said. “If you’re driving down the streets, you see billboard pictures of the Gwozdziec Synagogue. Can you imagine that? Fifteen years ago, that would have been impossible. Let’s hope it’s a step in the right direction.” .

Return to top