In 2020, Shmuel Polin began The Opening the Ark Project of Cincinnati, which is currently reconstructing one of the great wooden arks of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth right here in the United States. The ark being rebuilt was among the jewels of European Jewry. Towering and coated in vibrant colors, it stood in Sidra, Poland, but was destroyed by the Nazis in 1942. With Polish, Sephardic, Ashkenazi, and Russian influences, it was a testament to a Jewish dialogue, as well as Jewish art, artistry, and carpentry. The current project responds to some of the dilemmas affecting Jewish life in America today and will redefine how many engage with Judaism and Holocaust education.
The reconstruction effort is an open canvas for people who want to experiment with a new kind of relationship with Judaism. As a matter of engagement, this project reaches inside (and even potentially outside) our Jewish community and involves people in new ways. The ark will be exhibited in the Midwest, starting in the Cincinnati area at the Skirball Museum in February of 2021. The project has also received attention and grants from various organizations, including the Reconstructing Judaism/Auerbach Foundation, the Refusnik Project/Jewish Learning Works, and the Adath Israel Congregation of Cincinnati, Men of Reform Judaism as well as a direct grant from GoFundMe Charity for projects impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout summer and fall 2020, artists architects, and structural engineers convened to rebuild the carved wooden ark in Cincinnati. Many found the project to be a functional escape from the endless constraints presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, production is 95% complete—all that remains to be completed is the painting. In addition, the project is now forming into a 501(c)(3) and points toward a new horizon in Jewish life and Holocaust education.
Making a Panel
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The Sidra Ark
The Aron HaKodesh being built as part of the Opening the Ark Project may be seen below. The original black and white image has been colorized by Marina Amaral, the artist behind the scenes of Dan Jones's book The Colour of Time: A New History of the World, 1850–1960 and also behind the Faces of Auschwitz exhibition. Marina's work may be accessed here.