Arts and Culture | Local

New film festival entry chronicles dramatic reconstruction of lost Polish synagogue

(Copyright 2014 Trillium Studios)
Artist Rick Brown holds the photo of the Gwozdziec Synagogue that inspired the reconstruction project. (Copyright 2014 Trillium Studios)

Eight of Tucson’s long-running film festivals have come together to create the Tucson Festival of Films, a three day event showcasing features, documentaries and shorts from Oct. 8-10.

Among those is the Arizona premiere of “Raise the Roof,” a documentary presented by the Tucson International Jewish Film Festival about the work of artists Rick and Laura Brown to reconstruct the elaborate roof and painted ceiling of the Gwozdziec synagogue in Poland. Gwozdziec was one of the many 18th century Polish wooden synagogues destroyed by the Nazis in World War II. The Browns, who are neither Polish nor Jewish, assembled an international team of students and artisans to recreate the synagogue’s roof and bimah using original tools and authentic paints.

“We’ve done a lot of projects with different time periods, but nothing was quite like this,” says Rick Brown, who cofounded the nonprofit Handshouse Studio with his wife. “It was not just a replication project; it was something cross-cultural.”

The roof and bimah are now on permanent display at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, the museum on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto.

“Raise the Roof” will premiere Thursday, Oct. 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Rick and Laura Brown will be in attendance and will take part in a post-screening Q&A. For more information, visit

As a complement to the documentary, the Jewish History Museum is holding an exhibit on the second floor of the Tucson Jewish Community Center that focuses on the building that houses the JHM, which was the first synagogue built in the Arizona Territory.

“The history of the JHM runs a similar path” to the Gwozdziec project, says Julie Lauterbach-Colby, JHM director of operations. “The land was bought and the building constructed through the efforts of a small group, both Jewish and non-Jewish alike, to ensure a place of worship and sanctuary for recently arrived Jewish families. The exhibition will focus on the first construction of the synagogue, its contributions to the community over the years, its abandonment and disrepair in later years, and finally, its full restoration and opening as a museum in the early 2000s.”

The exhibition, which opens today, features photographs, original documents and objects from the JHM’s permanent collection.