We went to the old shul on Lyndale, the Lyndale shul. That was a beautiful building, it was just gorgeous, it really was the prettiest one ever built in this whole state. It had the columns. When you walked in there you felt you were in a shul, you were in a house of worship. You weren’t just in a fancy place where this one had candy and this one was serving…No you went to a shul. And of course the women sat upstairs. I sat upstairs with my mother. And I don’t know how anybody would pray there because everybody was talking to somebody else, kissing all the kids and talking to someone else.
And if it got late, they’d go to shul and they’d have services, a week before the holidays they’d have a late service until 11 o’clock at night. It was always later with the orthodox shuls because they had more to say. It always took more than it said so in the book. They had more to read, they had more to say, then they would stop and they would talk to somebody here and they’d talk to somebody there and they’d stand there with a big gavel and say, “Lozan shah”. You know people would talk so they would say “Lozan shah”. Well so that’s what they did so we didn’t get home until late. The kids, a lot of us, I was a kid then, my mother would give me her coat and I’d cover up and lay down on the empty seats around there and sleep until they were through. My father would carry me home.
I searched for a picture of the old Lyndale shul and was unable to find any of its interior. I have been in an Orthodox synagogue on very few occasions and it represented a somewhat foreign world to me. In fact I realized that most of my experiences were literally foreign and occurred overseas. On my last night in Vilnius we went to the one remaining synagogue for Shabbat services and sat in the balcony. I remembered I had some photos of the synagogue from before the service and used that for reference. It fit the description she offered as it had soaring columns.
In the Vilnius synagogue I remembered feeling rather detached from what was going on below as the women were not active participants. When I painted this image I thought about the women's balcony as a unique world, separate from that of the men. I wanted it to be defined while the world of the men was blurred and indistinct. I pictured it from a child's perspective, being lulled to sleep by the voices and with her mother's hand resting on her creating a sense of safety and security.
In order to create a sense of mystery in the synagogue below I first did a painting with some detail and then did a veil of white paint to make it less distinct. I used gold and a transparent yellow ochre to literally make it glow, a sense that I imagined must have been heightened for my interviewee when she was a child. I wanted to create the suggestion of figures in the women’s balcony as it angled around the synagogue interior and random gatherings of men below, both as she described and as I witnessed in Vilnius.
This project has been made possible in part through the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on November 4, 2008. Administered by the Minnesota Historical Society.