Judaica studio Mi Polin casts Polish Jewish history in bronze

When Helena Czernek and Aleksander Prugar opened their email inbox several weeks ago, they found a message from a customer who had bought one of their bronze mezuzahs as an engagement gift.

“The connection my family now has with the past was so overwhelming that it made my wife cry,” the customer wrote. “It will now be proudly displayed in our home and I will make sure every visitor knows the story. This bronze will truly be eternal.”

Czernek and Prugar are the founders of Mi Polin, a Polish design studio specializing in the production of contemporary Judaica. For their Mezuzah From This House series, the pair traveled across Poland searching for traces of mezuzahs in the door frames of homes where Jews once lived. From the depressions left in the frame, Czernek and Prugar produce a plaster cast they then use to create a bronze mezuzah engraved with the traditional Hebrew letter shin and the address where the original mezuzah once hung.

“We decided to use bronze because it is known from antiquity,” Prugar told JTA. “It is completely resistant to external conditions, does not rust. Without any problems our mezuzah will survive 1,000 years. Our casts are eternal.”

One of the bronze mezuzahs made by Mi Polin from a trace of an old Polish mezuzah. (Mi Polin)A bronze mezuzah made by Mi Polin from a trace of an old Polish mezuzah. Photo courtesy of Mi Polin

Last year, Czernek and Prugar traveled to Sokolow Podlaski, a small town about 60 miles east of Warsaw. They stopped by the building at 4 Wilczynskiego St., which housed a kosher butcher shop before the Holocaust. The old door frame wasn’t there anymore, but amazingly, Czernek and Prugar found a door from the house lying nearby in a dumpster that had a trace of a mezuzah.

Orie Niedzviecki, a Canadian lawyer whose grandparents came from Sokolow Podlaski, bought two mezuzahs made from depressions found there by Czernek and Prugar. One he gave to his parents, the other to a niece who had just moved to Israel.

“The idea that this mezuzah is now in Israel along with some members of my family, and hopefully myself soon, provides some link to the past as the Jewish people move forward to its inevitable future as a free nation in its own homeland,” Niedzviecki said.

Though some 3 million Jews lived in Poland prior to the Holocaust, most Poles do not realize that the marks still remaining on door posts were likely the spots where Jews had hung their mezuzahs. When the doors are replaced, one of the last traces of the Jewish inhabitants of those homes often disappears as well.

Helena Czernek and Aleksander Prugar making a plaster cast from the impression left by a mezuzah. (Katarzyna Markusz)Helena Czernek and Aleksander Prugar making a plaster cast from the impression left by a mezuzah. Photo by Katarzyna Markusz/JTA

In the town of Ostroleka, Czernek and Prugar last year found a home with traces of 10 mezuzahs. During a renovation, the owners had stripped them out and burned them, not understanding their significance.

“In contrast to synagogues and cemeteries, mezuzah traces are the least visible part of the material legacy of more than 3 million Jews who once lived in Poland,” said Krzysztof Bielawski, who runs the Virtual Shtetl project at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. “Few people are turning attention to them. Helena’s and Alexander’s design is not only a documentation of the traces, it shows that each mezuzah is linked to the history of specific individuals.”

Mi Polin has also produced a crystal mezuzah for the blind, with one of the Hebrew names for God written in braille. They are also working on a spice box used in the Sabbath-ending service Havdalah that is based on the shape of the Tower of David in Jerusalem.

Czernek and Prugar have produced 25 bronze mezuzahs from casts made in over a dozens cities and towns across Poland. They also take special orders from Jews abroad who wish to have mezuzahs from casts made in towns where their families once lived.

For each cast they make, Czernek and Prugar send information about it to a local museum or municipal office to educate local residents about the Jewish legacy in their particular town and to increase the likelihood that more mezuzah traces can be found. They also organize training workshops to teach tour guides how to locate former Jewish sites around Poland.

“We are working so that each of our products is not only a thing,” Prugar said. “We want to give some content, message, special meaning for each of them. Judaism is full of different meanings. It is tangible through our items.”

Israeli-American coach David Blatt leads Russian national basketball team to bronze

The Russian Olympic men’s basketball team, coached by Israeli-American David Blatt, took a bronze medal at the London games.

The Russians played Argentina’s national team for the third place medal. The final score was Russia 81, Argentina 77.

It is the first time Russia has won an Olympic medal in basketball since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Blatt, who is currently the coach of Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv team, has helped rebuild the Russian national team since being brought on as head coach in 2006, Sports Illustrated reported. Under Blatt, the Russian national team won the 2007 European Championship.

He played for Princeton University from 1977 to 1981 and on the gold medal-winning U.S. team in the 1981 Maccabiah Games. Following the Maccabiah Games, Blatt joined an Israeli Super League team. He played for several Israeli teams until he was injured in 1993 and took up coaching.

Aly Raisman says she was for Munich 11 moment of silence [SLIDESHOW]

Slideshow highlighting Aly Raisman‘s Olympics at bottom

Jewish-American gymnast Aly Raisman expressed her support for a moment of silence at the Olympics for the Israelis killed at the 1972 Munich Games.

Raisman was speaking to reporters Tuesday following her gold medal performance in the floor exercise.

“Having that floor music wasn’t intentional,” she said of her floor routine to the music of “Hava Nagila,” the New York Post reported Wednesday. “But the fact it was on the 40th anniversary is special, and winning the gold today means a lot to me. If there had been a moment’s silence, I would have supported it and respected it.”

A memorial ceremony for the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches murdered in Munich was held Monday in London, organized by the Israeli Embassy in London and the National Olympic Committee of Israel along with the London Jewish community.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge held a moment of silence for the Israelis at a small ceremony in the Olympic Village late last month, but he said a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies in London would not be appropriate. He spoke at Monday’s memorial.

International politicians and public figures, including President Obama and presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and the governments of several countries had called for an official moment of silence at the London opening.

[Aly Raisman’s results: team / all-around / balance beam / floor exercise]

Aly Raisman, after protest, wins bronze on balance beam

Jewish-American gymnast Aly Raisman won a bronze medal on the balance beam after the U.S. lodged a protest against the original result.

Raisman had finished fourth behind Catalina Ponor of Romania, who fell off the beam in the finals on Tuesday.  Following the Americans’ protest, the rescoring put the two gymnasts in a tie. Under the tie-breaking procedure, Raisman took the bronze with a higher execution score. She had lost a bronze in the all-around on the same tie-breaker.

China took the gold and silver in the event. American Gabby Douglas, who won the all-around, also fell off the apparatus and finished in seventh among the eight competitors.

Raisman, of Needham, Mass., helped Team USA take the women’s team gold on Tuesday—the first Olympic gold medal for the U.S. gymnastics squad since the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Raisman, 18, won the floor exercise while performing her routine to a string-heavy version of “Hava Nagila.”

[For more Olympics coverage, visit jewishjournal.com/olympics]

She will compete later Tuesday in the individual floor exercise event.

Also Tuesday, Israeli windsurfer Lee Korzits had problems in the final and finished in sixth place after entering the medal race in second. She was ninth in the medal round.

Team Israel likely will go home without any medals for the first time since the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Korzits, 28, won world windsurfing titles in 2011 and 2012. She did not qualify to represent Israel at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and considered retiring.

The following year she suffered a near-fatal surfing accident while working on the Professional Windsurfers Association’s tour in Hawaii. She was told by doctors that she would never surf again but she rededicated herself to the sport.

Rude Israeli Olympic medalist ticks off Chinese, Peres apologizes

BEIJING (JTA)—Israel’s biggest source of pride at the Beijing 2008 Olympics became its biggest blight this past week, after ” title=”interview published September 5th”>interview published September 5th in Israel’s Yediot Aharanot.

That was his answer when the reporter asked him to describe his hosts in one word.

Zubari also said he didn’t feel very comfortable during the month and a half he spent in China, and was happy he wouldn’t have to see any more Chinese people.

“They are difficult,” he said. “They don’t speak the language, their rituals are strange and even their pronunciation is weird.”
He added he didn’t like Chinese food and missed his usual food. “I can live off hummus.”

His comments could be especially damaging considering China is about to send its ” title=”Chinese citizen living in Israel”>Chinese citizen living in Israel who takes issue with comments by Israeli telecasters during the Games.

Since Zubari’s story broke in the Chinese online press, articles and posts on the web in Mandarin are numerous. They range from outrage to observations that Zubari is just an ignorant youth.

The Shanghaiist in an ” title=”Talkback”>Talkback” section on the Ha’aertz website also has international comments including some Chinese readers.

Zubari clearly offended beyond the online message boards, however, as the Chinese embassy in Tel Aviv canceled a reception for Israeli Olympians set to be held last Wednesday.

President Shimon Peres even apologized to the Chinese ambassador on Wednesday, and Ghaleb Majadle, Israeli Minister of Sport, Science and Culture made an ” title=”op-ed”>op-ed suggesting that better PR training for athletes (especially young ones like 22-year-old Zubari) could have prevented the gaffe.

Israel finally medals, but it’s not in Beijing

BEIJING (JTA) — Not surprisingly, Israel’s first medal of the Beijing Olympics was not won in Beijing, but rather in Qingdao, where the Sailing competition is being held.

In recent days, many Israelis in China have flocked to Qingdao in hopes of seeing better results than they had in Beijing.

” title=”Xinhua news service”>Xinhua news service even wrote a story about Olmert calling to congratulate Zubari.

Quotes from bronze medalist Shahar Zubari from the Olympic News Service:

“I’m going to get drunk.”

Jason Lezak earns first individual medal

BEIJING (JTA)—Jewish Olympic swimmer Jason Lezak followed up his relay heroics with a bronze medal in the 100-meter men’s freestyle.

Lezak, whose late dash in the 4 x 100-meter men’s freestyle relay propelled the U.S. team to the gold medal and a world record, finished in a time of 47.67 seconds Wednesday at the Water Cube in Beijing. He trailed Alain Bernard of France at 47.21 seconds and Australian Eamon Sullivan at 47.32.

For Lezak, at 32 the oldest male swimmer to ever qualify for an Olympic team, it was his first individual medal in his third Olympic Games. He had won five relay medals, including three gold.

“That’s what’s been driving me the last four years since Athens,” Lezak said when asked how it feels to earn his first individual medal.  “It definitely feels good.”

Lezak, of Irvine, Calif., had overtaken Bernard in Monday’s 4 x 100 freestyle relay. Bernard and Sullivan had exchanged the world record in the semifinals.