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A Portal to Gwoździec: Raise the Roof

By Handshouse Studio

Published Apr 18, 2023



This Curation is part of A Portal to Gwoździec.

Explore the full collection

A Portal to Gwoździec

Above: Poster for Raise the Roof, the 2014 documentary about the Gwoździec Re!construction.


Project Overview:

Through the MAKING/HISTORY Wooden Synagogue Project, Handshouse produced an extensive collection of historical material research that is vital to the continued work of recovering lost heritage. We have also established a powerful educational model for learning-by-doing through workshops that collaboratively remake lost historic objects, reawakening whole worlds of both tangible and intangible cultural heritage. The calls for access to our research and continued interest in our unique hands-on educational approach are leading us to explore new ways to expand our capacity to share our process and resources. 

Through the support of Mass Humanities grant funding, and collaboration with the POLIN Museum, we are starting the next chapter of the MAKING/HISTORY: Wooden Synagogue Project, creating A Portal to Gwoździec: a window illuminating the history of wooden synagogues for a wider public.

Raise the Roof

Above: (2 min) Trailer for the 2014 documentary Raise the Roof. Courtesy of Trillium Studios.


Raise the Roof

1 hr 24 min

Producer: Cary Wolinsky • Executive Producer: John Rubin • Directer & Editor: Yari Wolinsky
Featuring music by Di Galitzyaner Klezmorim, John Kusiak, and Neoklez


Rivaling the greatest wooden architecture in history, the synagogues of 18th-century Poland inspired Handshouse Studio to embark on a 10-year pursuit—to reconstruct the elaborate roof and painted ceiling of the Gwoździec synagogue. Leading more than 350 students and professionals from 16 countries, Handshouse grapples not just with the echoes of World War II, when these buildings were destroyed by the Nazis, but also with warped timbers, tricky paints, and period hand tools. By the end of the project, they have done more than reconstruct a lost synagogue: they have recovered a lost world. In 2013, the Gwozdziec roof was unveiled as the centerpiece of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. 

“Raise the Roof is about a remarkable dream and a journey of rediscovery—one that starts with tragedy and ends in triumph,” said director Yari Wolinsky. “It highlights the optimism of a new generation and a growing dialogue between Jews and Poles about the past and the future, providing a unique and positive way to connect with history.” The film sparked out of Handshouse’s passion for the subject, as well as their incredible track record in reconstructing lost wooden structures. But getting into the story of the Jews of Poland was something that grew as the film developed. “Just learning that Poland, before World War II, was home to the largest Jewish community in the world was something that surprised us and drew us in. The more we learned about the history, the more we came to understand the relationship between Jews and non-Jews in the period—it wasn’t what we expected–and appreciate the huge significance of the Polish wooden synagogues to the communities they served,” said Wolinsky.


Stream it here (Rent or Buy on Amazon).

Find a screening near you or arrange a screening for your community here.


Handshouse Studio is a non-profit, educational organization that works to illuminate history, understand science, and perpetuate the arts.


What is a replica?

Is the Handshouse Studio reconstruction of the Gwoździec synagogue a replica? What is the difference between a replica and a reconstruction?

What is the meaning of repair?

If the original is gone, and there is nothing to be restored, is a reconstruction a restoration? How can rebuilding still be an act of repair?

If it is not original, is it an authentic object?

As Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett Ronald S. Lauder Chief Curator, Core Exhibition of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, asks “What constitutes an “original” or “actual” or “authentic” object?”

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