Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
(This post also appears on my blog at jewish-heritage-travel.blogspot.com)
Two long-awaiting events are happening in Poland next weekend -- the opening of the Jewish museum installed in the restored synagogue in the little town of Chmielnik, and the opening of the restored synagogue in the town of Wielkie Oczy, which will now be used as the public library.
I've actually never seen the elegant synagogue in Wielkie Oczy, located in the southeastern corner of Poland on the Ukrainian border -- but I have long loved it from its photographs: its state of disrepair made it a particularly poignant image. Distinguished by its arched windows and doors, it was built in 1910 but rebuilt in 1927 after suffering serious damage in World War I. It was long used as a warehouse and office after World War II but had languished derelict for years in a steadily deteriorating condition.
A series of events on June 16 will celebrate its reopening after a restoration funded by the town, with support from the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland. These will include the unveiling of a memorial plaque to the destroyed Jewish community, speeches, and a concert.
The development of the Jewish museum in Chmielnik, north of Krakow, is something that I have followed for years -- and it all comes to fruition June 15-16, with two days of events including a conference, concerts, talks and more.
Partially renovated Chmielnik synagogue, July 2012. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber
I first saw the ruined synagogue, one of the largest buildings in the little town, back in 1990, when I made my first forays into documenting Jewish heritage sites. Originally built in the 1630s, it was, though derelict, still a splendid building, a massive masonry structure with barrel vaulting. The Nazis turned it into a warehouse, but the interior still retained stucco work dating from the 18th century, and the walls still bore traces of delicate polychrome decoration, including frescoes of lions, neoclassical geometric forms, and signs of the zodiac.
About a dozen years ago, young local activists, in particular Piotr Krawczyk, became interested in the Jewish history of the town -- which Krawczyk noted to me actually meant the history of the town: before the Holocaust, Jews made up about 80 percent of the population, but their memory and the memory of their contribution was long suppressed or forgotten.
Me & Piotr Krawczyk, July 2012.
Inspired by the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, Krawczyk and other activists, cooperating with the municipality, launched an annual Jewish culture festival in Chmielnik, held each June. They also started other initiatives, including clean-up of the ravaged Jewish cemeteries and erection of the memorial, as well as a web site about Jewish heritage, history and culture of the region.
The museum project has been the most ambitious project, entailing the renovation and transformation of the synagogue -- the design has been somewhat controversial because of a glass bimah installation.
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June 9, 2013 | 4:25 pm
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
I know, I've really let things slide on this blog. Partly it's because there has been so much going on that I have not found time to write a decent post. Partly it's because I've been putting a lot of energy into the news feed of the web site www.jewish-heritage-europe.eu, which I coordinate as a project of the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe. I urge everyone to subscribe to the Jewish Heritage Europe news feed -- you can do it from the home page of the web site, or from any of the news pages. (And -- why not like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter, too...?)
One of my main projects over the past few months, linked to Jewish Heritage Europe, was being the main hands-on organizer of the working seminar on Managing Jewish Immovable Heritage, which took place in Krakow April 23-25. Our partner on the ground in Krakow was the Jewish Community Center, whose young staff and volunteers were fantastic to work with and did an extraordinary job and making everything work....and everyone agreed that the kosher food provided from the JCC kitchen was the best anyone had ever had at such a gathering.
We had about 100 participants from about 20 or 22 countries -- as broad a mix of people involved in Jewish heritage preservation, documentation and promotion as possible: culture ministry representatives; Jewish community representatives; academics; architects and architectural historians; grass-roots activists -- and more.
All the sessions (except for a session with funders) were recorded -- and I have posted all of them, in their entirety -- on the web site. Click here to see them. I have also posted the texts or power points of some of the presentations.
There were three plenary sessions -- an introductory session with keynote by Samuel D. Gruber; a session on managing Jewish heritage in Poland; and a summing up "looking toward the future" session. All were held in the ornate, 19th century Tempel Synagogue, in mark to mark the 20th anniversary of the start of the restoration of that building.
April 22, 2013 | 2:23 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
I've spent much of the past five or six months working on the organization of an international conference called Managing Jewish Immovable Heritage in Europe: A Working Seminar on Projects, Challenges and Strategic Thinking -- a three-day, invitation-only working seminar convened to discuss a wide range of issues, challenges, strategies and successes regarding the care, maintenance, preservation, use and promotion of Jewish material heritage. It is a direct follow-up to a seminar on Jewish heritage management that took place in Bratislava, Slovakia, in March 2009 and issued the Bratislava Statement, including best practices recommendations.
The conference takes place April 23-25.
The opening session April 23 will take place in the historic Tempel Synagogue, whose restoration, spearheaded by the World Monuments Fund and initiatied in the early 1990s, was one of the first major post-communist Jewish heritage restorations in Poland.
The session -- at 2 p.m. CET -- will be live streamed on internet. Keynote speaker will be Dr. Samuel D. Gruber, a pioneer in Jewish heritage preservation and documentation. You can watch it on the www.jewish-heritage-europe.eu web site, or right here:
The seminar is being convened by the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe; the David Berg Foundation; the Cahnman Foundation, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; the World Monuments Fund; and the Taube Foundation, in cooperation with the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland; the Jewish Community Centre in Krakow; the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow; and the European Council of Jewish Communities. The U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad will also have a presence.
WHY: The restitution of Jewish property seized by the Nazis or nationalized by post-war communist regimes has been a hot-button international issue since the Iron Curtain fell. But the slow and often painful legal battles to gain restitution have often overshadowed the pressing practical concerns of what to do with such properties, whether they are owned by Jewish communities or by others. Many of them are huge. Many are dilapidated. Many are recognized as historic sites. And most stand in towns where few if any Jews now live. Even basic care and maintenance can stretch already strapped financial and professional resources. How to preserve, manage and promote these historic Jewish properties is a key issue faced by Jewish communities, civic bodies, NGOs., governments, municipalities, grassroots activists and others.
WHO: About 90 invited participants from about 20 countries, including experts in the field as well as a variety of direct stakeholders: Jewish community representatives, grassroots activists, NGOs, civic bodies, funders, researchers, government officials, etc.
ISSUES: Sessions will examine the issues that arose and the recommendations that emerged out of the Bratislava meeting, as expressed in the final Bratislava Statement of best practices. They will also consider new conditions that have arisen in the past four years – including new technology developments; the financial crunch and changed funding possibilities; changed local attitudes, etc. – and look toward the future.
The meeting will include general discussion as well as thematic workshops, and there will be a half-day trip to visit Jewish heritage solutions near Krakow.
Focal points of discussion will include:
– Sharing experience/strategic thinking: Though each situation is specific, there are many shared problems and needs that can be addressed collectively. Importantly, there are also solutions that can be shared.
– Making information available/using new digital technologies: Information on Jewish sites is most useful when it is most widely available. Efforts should continue and expand to make documentation available in publicly accessible research centers and through publications and on-line presentation, all the while considering safety, security and privacy concerns. New technology – ranging from smartphone apps to digital documentation to enhanced scanning – needs to be addressed as part of research, documentation and promotion of Jewish heritage.
– Networking and collaboration/strategic thinking: Jewish communities and institutions should work together as much as possible to share existing information, methodologies and technologies, and to develop new and compatible goals and strategies to optimize the care and management of historic Jewish properties. They should also seek partners among NGOs, local, civic and government bodies, and individuals outside the Jewish community. And vice versa.
– End-user development: Jewish communities and local heritage, cultural and tourist bodies (as well as NGOs, civic bodies, individuals and others) should work together to develop regional, national and trans-border heritage routes as well as local projects.
April 16, 2013 | 3:16 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
I'm in Warsaw for events marking the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising -- and yesterday I filed a story for JTA on the "soft" opening of the long-awaited, long-delayed Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
Though I am not in love with the exterior of the buildng -- except for its location opposite the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes Memorial -- I was very impressed with the interior. In particular the way the big glass gash of an entrance frames the memorial when you look out from inside.
For me, who has followed the development of the museum for nearly 20 years, it was a rather emotional (and emotionally satisfying) moment to finally be inside -- and to connect and reconnect with so many people I've encountered here in Poland since the 1980s.
WARSAW, Poland (JTA) -- Krzysztof Sliwinski, a longtime Catholic activist in Jewish-Polish relations, gazed wide-eyed at the swooping interior of this city's Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
Nearly two decades in the making, the more than $100 million institution officially opens to the public this week amid a month of high-profile, state-sponsored events marking the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
“It’s incredible, incredible, incredible how things have changed,” Sliwinski told JTA. “I remember commemorations of the ghetto uprising under communism when only a few people showed up. How good it was that we were optimistic.”Sliwinski organized Jewish cemetery cleanups and other pro-Jewish initiatives under communism, when Jewish practice and culture were suppressed by the regime.
In 1995, then-Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, an Auschwitz survivor, appointed him post-Communist Poland’s first official ambassador to the Jewish Diaspora, part of the state’s unprecedented outreach policy.On Sunday, both Sliwinski, now 73, and Bartoszewski, 91, joined hundreds of local Jews and other VIPs as Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, unveiled a mezuzah at the museum’s main entrance.
In writing this peice, it was fascinating to go back and see what I -- and others -- had written back in the 1990s.
February 13, 2013 | 5:10 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
Ben G. Frank is one of the most prolific -- and well-traveled -- writers about Jewish sights, sites, communities, attractions and travels worldwide.
Huffington Post runs a lengthy interview/conversation with him, conducted by Bernard Starr, sparked Frank's most recent book, The Scattered Tribe: Traveling the Diaspora from Cuba to India to Tahiti & Beyond (Globe Pequot Press, 2011).
Frank's curiosity about this extraordinary phenomenon of the Diaspora sparked his mission to find and visit remote and isolated -- sometimes forgotten -- Jewish communities in surprising locations. As a travel writer with a passion for Jewish history, Ben Frank is the perfect person to have undertaken the task. He eventually visited 89 Jewish communities. I interviewed him to learn more about his fascinating journey.
When did you first get the urge to undertake this demanding adventure? Did you have concerns about the difficulties you might face in remote locations?
It all began in 1964 on a trip to Algeria. As a reporter/journalist, I was fascinated by the emigration of Jews from that war-torn country to France, where they were guaranteed the rights and privileges of French citizens, since, according to the Cremieux Decree, they too were French. When I landed I met with the last few Jewish residents in Algiers. They called themselves "le Dernier Carre," the last unit in Napoleon's army to stand in battle and defend themselves in the form of a square.
How did you find out about these scattered wandering Jews?
In the case of Algeria, I contacted organizations, such as the Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and others who follow and aid Jews in the Diaspora. I discovered that Jews were scattered globally, including concentrations in Asia and South America. Jews have lived in India, for instance, for 2,000 years and they are still there. With contacts and research tools, I located them.
February 10, 2013 | 9:34 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
When I was in Budapest last month, I took a look at some of the new cafe and restaurant offerings in the heart of the 7th District -- the city's historic downtown Jewish neighborhood, where I myself have a little apartment.
The district has become known in recent years for its new and growing crop of trendy boutiques and restaurants and funky clubs, bars and pubs, including the famous "ruin pubs" that mainly operate in the summer on the site of vacant lots and torn-down buildings.
The inner part of the 7th is also known as the "Jewish triangle" as it is anchored by three magnificent synagogues -- the Dohany St. synagogue, the largest in Europe and the Kazinczy street Orthodox synagogue, both of which have been beautifully restored and are used by active congregations, and the Rumbach st. synagogue, a beautiful building designed by Otto Wagner that is in dire need of restoration but is use now for occasional cultural events.
(I've posted a lot on these and other developments over the years -- click HERE to see some of the posts.)
Last month, though, I was interested to see that one street corner -- the corner of Dob and Kazinczy streets -- is becoming something of a hub for a rather more upscale (though still sort of funky), overtly Jewish restaurant and cafe scene.
Two (or really three) new places opened since I had last been there in the fall.
One is the Macesz Huszar -- a self-proclaimed "Jewish Bistro," right on the corner. It actually occupies the spot that used to be the very nice (and also "Jewishy" restaurant Koleves, which has now moved around the corner, on Kazinczy, nearer to its summer ruin garden.)
The Macesz Huszar is not kosher, but it doesn't serve pork. Its menu features a variety of traditional Jewish dishes -- including stuffed goose neck & barley, cholent (solet), borscht. Instead of a hamburger, it offers a "gooseburger" from smoked ground goose.
I wasn't terribly impressed with the borscht, and the service was spotty -- but all in all, it was worth going there to support the effort.
The owner of Macesz Huszar is David Popovits, who also runs the wonderful Doblo wine bar, a dimly lit place with bare brick walls, just a few steps away on Dob street. My friend Eszter and I went there one night to celebrate her receiving a major grant for a project she's working on about the Jewish district -- and we had far too much to eat, even though we only ordered a couple of antipasto dishes. Not to mention a fabulous Cabernet -- I wish I could remember what it was! The staff, though are very helpful in counseling you on which of the many Hungarian wines on the menu to choose..
Just a few steps further down Dob street is the Spinoza cafe and restaurant, owned by an energetic Israeli, Tal Lev. Spinoza offers bagels and other light dishes, some with an Israeli flavor, as well as heavier fare. There is also a theater which hosts concerts and other performances. And just a few steps from Spinoza is the Dob St. entry to Gozsdu Udvar, a series of connected courtyards that stretches from Dob all the way to Kiraly street. The courtyards were renovated and restored several years ago, and they are finally attracting enough bistros, cafes, boutiques and other businesses to make the unique setting lively. And I shouldn't forget the Frohlich kosher pastry shop, also on Dob street.....
But, back to the intersection of Dob and Kazinczy....
Catty-corner across the street from Macesz Huszar is a newly renovated old building that now houses the Kazimir bistro and Info point. The name clearly refers to Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter of Krakow, which has become a major Jewish tourist attraction and includes several nostalgia-tinged "Jewish style" cafes aimed at evoking pre-war times.
Budapest's Kazimir has an old-world look, but doesn't hype the Jewishness -- its menu includes pork dishes as well as cholent (which is, in fact, a staple at many Budapest restaurants and even sold in cans in supermarkets.) It also features some Asian dishes -- and has a program of mainstream music and other events.
Across the entry hall, the Info Point serves as a little tourist center for the 7th District, including its Jewish sites. The helpful young woman at the desk when I dropped by spoke good English, but it was clear that the operation was still not up to full speed. There were a few books about the city and Jewish quarter for sale, and some brochures were available. The Info point web site is packed with information, but so far is only in Hungarian.
Kazimir - Info Point is located directly across the street from the Kazinczy street Orthodox synagogue -- the photo at the top of this post was taken from the Kazimir doorway.
The synagogue was built in 1911-1913, as part of a complex designed by Béla and Sándor Loeffler: built in a sort of Byzantine-art Nouveau style, the complex includes a courtyard surrounded by other buildings, with entrances on both Kazinczy street and Dob street. The rather simple Hanna kosher restaurant is located in the courtyard. Next door on Kazinczy there is an upscale kosher restaurant, Carmel. And by the Dob st. entrance there is a kosher butcher and salami-maker.
January 18, 2013 | 1:08 pm
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
I’m delighted to report that an essay I wrote about Jewish museums in Europe under communism has been published in the latest volume of Studies in Contemporary Jewry: Visualizing and Exhibiting Jewish Space and History (edited by Richard I. Cohen, Oxford University Press).
The OUP web site notes that the volume is probably the first in English that is devoted to Jewish museums and exhibitions in the 20th century, with special attention given to the period after the Holocaust.
[It] examines the visual revolution that has overtaken Jewish cultural life in the twentieth century onwards, with special attention given to the evolution of Jewish museums. Bringing together leading curators and scholars,Visualizing and Exhibiting Jewish Space and History treats various forms of Jewish representation in museums in Europe and the United States before the Second World War and inquires into the nature and proliferation of Jewish museums following the Holocaust and the fall of Communism in Western and Eastern Europe. In addition, a pair of essays dedicated to six exhibitions that took place in Israel in 2008 to mark six decades of Israeli art raises significant issues on the relationship between art and gender, and art and politics. An introductory essay highlights the dramatic transformation in the appreciation of the visual in Jewish culture. The scope of the symposium offers one of the first scholarly attempts to treat this theme in several countries.
I’m proud to be part of this! In my essay I describe the role played by Jewish museums under Communism in Poland, Czech Republic, Yugoslavia, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria: they were, I wrote, "often political places of memory shaped by both the absence of Jews and the pressures of Cold War ideology."
These museums, I wrote,
fulfilled several roles, consciously or not. Though they differed in size, administrative status, and type of location, they all served to conserve the “precious legacy” of the past, to memorialize (if only for a limited audience) the destroyed Jewish people and their world, and (in some cases) also to portray and/or illustrate the Jewish experience during the Holocaust. They were often among the few if not the only institutions to do so in countries whose Jewish populations were, for the most part, annihilated during the Second World War—and where, to varying degrees, postwar Jewish life and expression were suppressed by the Communist state and “collective amnesia” about Jews and the Jewish past generally “seemed to be much stronger than collective memory.” Yet these museums were often inadequately funded and understaffed. Moreover, given official pressures, their exhibits and/or operational policies implicitly and sometimes overtly reflected the prevailing party lines toward Jews, though these lines changed somewhat over the years depending on local developments or external “anti-Zionist” and other directives from Moscow.
Table of Contents:
The Visual Revolution in Jewish Life — An Overview, Richard I. Cohen
Displaying Judaica in 18th-Century Central Europe: A Non-Jewish Curiosity, Michael Korey
Collecting Community: The Berlin Jewish Museum as Narrator between Past and Present, 1906-1939, Tobias Metzler
Jewish Museums in the Federal Republic of Germany, Inka Bertz
Post-trauma “Precious Legacies”: Jewish Museums in Eastern Europe after the Holocaust and before the Fall of Communism, Ruth Ellen Gruber
From Wandering Jew to Immigrant Ethnic: Musealizing Jewish Immigration, Robin Ostow
Six Exhibitions, Six Decades: Toward the Recanonization of Contemporary Israeli Art,Ruth Direktor
In Between Past and Future: Time and Relatedness in the Six Decades Exhibitions,Osnat Zukerman Rechter
A Matrix of Matrilineal Memory in the Museum: Charlotte Salomon and Chantal Akerman in Berlin, Lisa Saltzman
Between Two Worlds: Ghost Stories under Glass in Vienna and Chicago, Abigail Glogower and Margaret Olin
Thoughts on the Role of a European Jewish Museum in the 21st Century, Felicitas Heimann-Jelinek
“The Forces of Darkness”: Leonard Woolf, Isaiah Berlin, and English Antisemitism,Elliott Horowitz
It’s Not All Religious Fundamentalism, Chaim I. Waxman
One Step before the Abyss: Recent Scholarship on the Jews in Occupied Soviet Territories during the Second World War, Kiril Feferman
December 12, 2012 | 4:19 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
I've written an article for JTA about the Czech Republic's 10 Stars project -- and innovative Jewish heritage project that will amount to a nationwide Jewish Museum with 10 thematic exhibits located in 10 restored synagogue in 10 different towns and cities around the country: Úštěk, Jičín, and Brandýs nad Labem to the north; Plzeň and Březnice to the west; Nová Cerekev and Polná in the south-central part of the country; Boskovice, Mikulov and Krnov to the east..
The project is being coordinated by the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities, which owns the buildings, with 85 percent of the funding coming from a $14 million grant from the European Union. About 15 percent of the financing is being provided by the Czech Culture Ministry.
“It’s actually one museum scattered around the country,” said Tomas Kraus, the executive director of the federation.
“The exhibition in each site will be linked to one certain phenomenon in Jewish history, culture, religion, traditions,” he said. “The idea is that if you visit one of the sites, even by chance, you will realize that there are nine other parts of the exhibition, so you will want to visit them, too.”
To encourage this, 10 Stars will issue a “passport” that can be stamped each time a person visits one of the synagogues in the network. When all 10 stamps are filled in, the passport can be redeemed for a prize.
10 Stars is due to open in October 2013, around the time of the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. But it so far has received little publicity -- even its web site is only in Czech, limiting the audience.
I have visited a number ot these sites already: some of them were already restored in earlier years but are now undergoing maintenance and other work. Exhibits that already existed in the synagogues at Boskovice, Mikulov, Ustek and Polna are being revamped or expanded as part of the 10 Stars program.
In Ustek, the rabbi's house next door to the restored synagogue will be used to house an exhibit on Jewish education. The restored Jewish schoolroom, already installed in the basement of the synagogue, will remain as part of the new exhibit.
Ustek synagogue. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber
Recreated Jewish schoolroom installed in Ustek synagogue basement. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber