This story ran in the NYT a couple weeks back about a synagogue mural created in 1910 at Chai Adam congregation in Burlington Vermont. My interest was drawn in part because my colleague Samuel Gruber here at SU is involved in the project, which I’m going to read as a diaspora parable. The mural is done up in an old nineteenth century (?) Lithuanian Jewish popular folk-art vernacular. Covered for years behind sheetrock, the object of rumors as to its very existence, the mural is now, after twenty-five years being uncovered and restored.
It’s a remarkable diaspora story, a happy and charming one, the discovery of something strange, a little bit of Jewish color in a corner of the American north-northeast where you never would have expected to find it. Maybe it’s a sad story also, tied up with the sense of isolation and the passage of time. A synagogue is turned into a retail store, which is then converted into apartments; the mural is discovered only haphazardly. “This is about as close as it gets to self-destructing,” Ms. Silver said. The work, she said, was painted directly onto the plaster of the synagogue’s wall, which has absorbed the paint’s oils, rendering them dry as cornflakes, which she is now securing, square by square.”