The Lost Shul Mural project shares one of Vermont's unparalleled Jewish and artistic treasures with the world. By rescuing, interpreting and celebrating this distinctive work, we inspire memories of ancestors, help illuminate a vanished world - Eastern Europe before WWII - and forge connections with those inspired by the mural's story.



On a recent trip to Lithuania, project advisor Sam Gruber lectured at Vilnius University, helping to share the story of our once-lost mural and the plans to restore and interpret it. The Jewish art and architecture specialist also met with colleagues at several museums and agencies regarding possible joint research efforts and preparation of educational and exhibition material on Lithuanian-Jewish art, history, religion, and the Holocaust. Here, Sam's photo of an installation at the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, featuring surviving elements from the Great Synagogue, which dated from the 1630s and was destroyed by the Soviets during and after World War II. 


A mong the religious symbols that artist Ben Zion Black painted on the Burlington triptych were musical instruments, referencing both Psalm 150 ("Praise Him with trumpet sound; praise Him with harp and lyre. Praise Him with timbrel and dancing...") and the artist's own passion for the mandolin (he was an avid player). For a taste of the glorious sound, here are two one-minute works ( A and B) by Nov Mandolin Ensemble on SoundCloud. 


According to historian Myron Samuelson, Jews owned land in Vermont in Colonial times, but there is no evidence of actual Jewish residents before the early 19th century. One may have been an eccentric cave-dweller, as described in Poulsons Daily American Advertiser  (Feb. 23, 1802): "The inhabitants call him Hermit of the Mountain, but he calls himself Nathan Ben Ashur. He is evidently of Jewish extraction; he retains all the rites and ceremonies of the Hebrews and his style and manner bear a near similitude to that of the Ancient Scribes. ... The fruit of the woods is his food, and water of the spring allays his thirst; his devotion is fervent and sincere, and those within the circle of his acquaintance revere him for the sanctity of his manners and more especially for that foresight unto the futurity, for which he is eminently remarkable."  Read more Vermont Jewish history  here.


You may know of Little Jerusalem: the shtetl-like section of Burlington's Old North Side that, in the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries, hosted three synagogues, a Hebrew Free School and social hall, a Jewish business center, and a tight-knit, community of Lithuanian Jews -- some of whose descendants still live in the area today. We were curious to know about other Little Jerusalems, and so we did some digging. We found: a mile-long rock formation in western Kansas; restaurants in Louisville, KY and on St. Maarten; miniature historic buildings and shrines created by a Benedictine monk in Alabama; a religious theme park in Orlando, FL; a 2005 film from French director Karin Albou; and a medieval village in Tuscany (Pitigliano, or La Piccola Gerusalemme, above). Perhaps some sort of linked tour is in order!


The Little Jerusalem documentary produced by Vermont Public Television in 2012 is available online , or you can purchase a copy for $16.95 (with part of the proceeds benefiting the Mural Project) by contacting Tari Santor at (802) 864-0218. 


Joshua Perelman
, Chief Curator at the National Museum of American Jewish History, offered a wonderful testimonial to our project when he wrote, "This remarkable folk art mural recalls a heartfelt desire of refugees to channel sacred memories of their Eastern European traditions and sanctify their new houses of worship. The mural's survival makes an invaluable contribution to the larger legacy of Jewish culture that was largely destroyed in the Holocaust. In saving it, we preserve a sacred past that must not be forgotten."


On March 5th, best-selling author Chris Bohjalian will be our special guest for a talk about his writing, the Lost Shul Mural, and  the Armenian Genocide. Refreshments will be served; books will be available for purchase. See next issue for information about advance purchasing of event tickets ($30).


We invite you to come see our renowned artwork, as have so many people from around the world. We encourage you to visit our website, filled with information and imagery, to learn about our progress. And, finally, we appeal to you for financial support so that we can carry out the restoration and educational initiative efficiently, economically, and in ways that are certain to inspire!


Lost Shul Mural Project
188 North Prospect St., Burlington, VT 05401