Meet the Mezuzah Hunters
Warsaw Ghetto mezuzah by Mi Polin; The trace of a mezuzah in the Warsaw Ghetto.
By Danielle Frum
"Mi Polin" means "From Poland." It's the name that Warsaw-based artists Aleksander Prugar and Helena Czernek gave to its first-of-its-kind-in-Poland studio that produces fine works of Judaica.
But I think the pair should have named their company: "Prugar & Czernek, Private Detectives." The two, both 30 years old, met three years ago at Moishe House, a non-profit international organization that, well, pretty much introduces 20-something Jews to other 20-something Jews. Aleksander studied as a social scientist and journalist; Helena attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, and went on to spend a year at the prestigious Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem.
They decided they liked each other, a lot -- but Mi Polin was born one day when Helena, traveling to Kracow, noticed traces of mezuzahs in doorways where Jews once lived. She called Aleksander. "What should we do about these?"
This proved an inspiration for what would become an extraordinary series of historical mezuzahs from the abandoned homes of the millions of Jews who lived in Poland before WWII. Aleksander and Helena take molds of the indents, or traces, where the mezuzahs once hung. Then they cast the traces in bronze. On the left side they engraved the address of where the mezuzah was found; on the right, simply, the Hebrew letter "shin."
Since then, Aleksander and Helena have visited 26 cities across Poland, tracking down similar traces and casting them in bronze mezuzahs. They called this series, "Mezuzah From This Home." Every mezuzah arrives with the story of the address from which it was taken.
"When you affix the mezuzah to your doorframe, you fill the emptiness and give it a second life," Aleksander says. "Touching the mezuzah activates a link between past and present. Sitting untouched for many years, these mezuzot can now fulfill their holy function. Again. 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."
We are truly honored to be able to offer this collection of mezuzahs to our Fig Tree & Vine subscribers and website customers. Currently we are offering mezuzahs from 15 cities, including Warsaw and Kracow. If you don't see a city represented, don't hesitate to inquire. Aleksander and Helena will also do private commissions -- as in, tell them the city your family descended from, and they will go find a mezuzah trace for you (contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information).
The pair have other beautiful products -- such as menorahs and a whimsical Polish spice holder -- that we look forward to featuring soon. As Aleksander said, "We are tradition realized through contemporary objects" -- which certainly describes our mission here at Fig Tree & Vine.