In 1910, Lithuanian artist Ben Zion Black painted an extravagant floor-to-ceiling mural in the Chai Adam synagogue in Burlington, Vermont. The building was eventually converted into apartment units and much of the painting was destroyed during renovations. Now, a century later, the Burlington Jewish community is determined to preserve the artwork, which may be the only surviving example of a long tradition of Jewish art that was almost entirely obliterated during the Holocaust.
Burlington native Aaron Goldberg first spotted the Lost Shul Mural—as the Vermont masterpiece has been nicknamed—in the 1970s on the back wall of a carpet store that had once been a synagogue. Goldberg’s family was among the mostly Lithuanian Jewish immigrants who settled in the area in the late 1800s. In a new NPR story, Goldberg recalls admiring the painting as a child: the rays of sunlight, a crown hovering above a tablet with the Ten Commandments, and a throne supported by two lions of Judah.
When the building later became an apartment complex, developers agreed, at Goldberg’s request, to build a protective wall over the artwork to preserve it temporarily. The Burlington Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, where Goldberg now works as an archivist, now rents the apartment containing the mural wall and has hired an art conservator to restore the mural.
At 18 feet wide and 10 feet tall, the mural covers a 3,000 pound section of wall and roof which the restoration team hopes to eventually cut out and relocate to the nearby synagogue. The restoration and relocation is expensive, though—the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue has so far raised nearly $80,000 in donations for the project.
Here’s the full NPR segment: