This spring the PJCC Art Gallery is proud to present an exhibition highlighting the multifaceted projects of Mi Polin, (Hebrew for “From Poland”). Mi Polin, founded by the couple Helena Czernek and Aleksander Prugar, is the first post-war brand that designs and produces Judaica in Poland. Mi Polin’s mission is two-fold: to create a new contemporary look of Jewish ritual objects, and to prove that Jewish life in Poland is vibrant. They embrace the future by giving great reverence to the past.
The PJCC reached out via email with a few questions for Helena and Aleksander, who are based in Poland.
Can you give an overview of the work you create as Mi Polin?
We are a design studio specializing in contemporary Jewish design. We have three fields of activity: we design, produce and distribute top quality contemporary Judaica, using only the finest bronze, crystal, ceramics, or wood. We also provide promotional graphic design for Jewish
institutions; for example, we designed a logo and commemorative art project for the anniversary of Warsaw Getto uprising. Last, we run Jewish design workshops for all ages and faiths.
We’re struck by your Mezuzah from this Home project, where you visit Pre-war Polish Jewish homes to recreate a mezuzah (a prayer casing found on doorposts of Jewish homes) from the original doorframe a mezuzah once inhabited.
“This is a series of new mezuzot—bronze casts of mezuzah traces. When you affix the mezuzah to your doorframe, you fill the emptiness and give it a second life. Sitting untouched for many years, these mezuzot can now fulfill their holy function. This realization is about the past. It brings memory about pre-war Jewish Poland and is also about life because remembrance is
a proof of life.”
Mi Polin offers to custom-make a mezuzah from a relative’s ancestor’s home town. Has this genealogy project uncovered any memorable stories or connections?
“We were commissioned to do a mezuzah for a Polish-Jewish press journalist. We arrived to Sokołów and noticed the front part of the building was under reconstruction. When we came closer we saw that old door was replaced by a new, plastic one. We were shocked because we thought that we lost this mezuzah trace. Then we met a resident who told us that the door had been replaced on Friday and on Monday it would be taken to a dump. We found the original
doorframe with the mezuzah trace in the back yard! Imagine how lucky we were to find a doorpost of an 80 year-old building on the last possible day. Immediately we decided to take it with us. We transported it by bus, by bicycle and on our backs to Helena’s home 25 miles away. Now this doorpost is in our studio.
“Another story—we did a bronze cast of mezuzah trace that was found at doorpost of Szeroka 38 in Kazimierz. We found that the most notable resident of Szeroka 38 was a very famous rabbi Joel Sirkes (1561-1640), called BaCH from the title of his book Bait Chadash. He was a Chief Rabbi of Krakow and the head of yeshiva in 1618-1640. He was buried in Remuh Cemetery behind this building. Our documents show, and we are almost 100% sure, that this mezuzah was mounted by Rabbi Sirkes by himself! We already done casts from 15 cities in southeast Poland.”
Your exhibition at the PJCC will include a brand new series documenting a multi-faith holiday art installation. Can you explain the site-specific setting, project, and response to the piece?
“This year Hannukah and Christmas are near the same time and we wanted to create a holiday atmosphere common for all Jews and Christians of Poland. The place of the event was carefully selected. It was organized at Brzozowa Square placed in Kazimierz, the former Jewish district in Kraków. Before the war, this area was a place where Jews and Christians lived together. Jews lived in buildings at left side, Christians at right. In the middle was a square where these people used to meet every day.
“We prepared 500 Christmas and Hannukah ornaments cut from mirror plexiglass and hung them on trees in the middle of Brzozowa Square, resulting in bright, ecumenical Trees of Light (pictured above). To create a magical atmosphere we added fog. The final work looked beautiful and dreamlike. Mirror ornaments were bouncing light in every direction. We planned Trees of Light as a viral event. Photos of Trees of Light were shared via social media and have been seen by more than 40,000 people.”
Visit the Mi Polin (From Poland) Exhibit at the PJCC April 1 – June 25, 2015.