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Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
I spent part of this weekend at a bluegrass workshop in the little town of Male Svatonovice, in the north of the Czech Republic, near the Polish border. I was only there to observe, not to join the hundred or so students learning banjo, mandolin, guitar and bass, so I took time to drive half an hour through the back roads to revisit one of my favorite Jewish cemeteries -- the isolated walled graveyard at the tiny hamlet of Velka Bukovina.
The village is too small to appear even on many large scale maps. The Jewish population disappeared in the early 20th century as Jews moved out to bigger cities.
When I first visited, six years ago, while doing the update for my book National Geographic Jewish Heritage Travel, I stayed at a charming pension that was sort of near by. The son of the family who ran it helped me find the cemetery -- it is set alone in the middle of farm fields. There did not seem to be any way actually to reach the cemetery other than tramping across the field, so that is what I did. It was the height of summer, and I waded through maybe half a mile of waist-high weeds, grass, and, I guess, hay. (Thankful that I was wearing my cowboy boots.)
This time, the going was much easier. First, I could see the cemetery int he distance from the main road. And I easily found the one-lane paved road that led up near by it. I parked at the side, and found a sort of vehicle track through the grass leading to the cemetery. It was an easy path to walk. Could I have totally missed it when I went there the first time? Or is it new since I was there?
Whatever. I easily reached the cemetery and found the gate latched but not locked. Inside the absolute rectagular wall, it was just as I remembered -- a secret garden of a place, rather well maintained (I saw a wheelbarrow propped in a corner of the space) with irregular rows of gravestones exhibiting vividly carved inscriptions and decorations, many with a decidedly rustic touch -- the oldest date back to the mid-18th century. In the distance, I could see the autum colors in the nearby forest.
What I still consider one of the most moving aspects of this cemetery is also still there -- a park bench placed outside the gate, looking out at the fields. Does anyone ever ever ever come to use it? To sit and remember the community? To reflect on a world of changes?
All photos © Ruth Ellen Gruber
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October 8, 2012 | 7:33 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
Here's a bit of a cross-post from the Jewish Heritage Europe web site.
When we think about Jewish heritage attractions and history in London, it's usually the East End -- the historic immigrant neighborhood -- or Golders Green, or somewhere like that....(even the northern districts where many Haredi Jews live today).
But here’s an article that discusses a lesser known neighborhood — in the West End, near Regents Park, an area sometimes described as “Fitzrovia.” The article, a blog post by Adam Samuel, focuses on two synagogues: The Hallam Street synagogue, originally dating from 1870 and rebuilt after World War II, and the West Central Liberal Synagogue.
It is easy to say that the Jews have left Fitzrovia. They are certainly less numerous and conspicuous than before 1939. After the War, Jews led the post-war exodus to the suburbs. However, standing on a street corner a reasonable distance from Hallam Street after a Saturday morning service reveals rather more people walking home afterwards than one might expect. There are more Jews in this part of the West End than people think.
Jews have always played a prominent role in the many Universities, film, music, media and rag trade businesses in the area. Adding the resident population to the working one, one might find rather more Fitzrovian Jews than people think. This does not reflect itself in the stock carried by supermarkets or other suppliers. Kosher food counters are minimal in Tesco and non-existent in Sainsburys. The nearest Kosher Restaurant is in Baker Street. Jewish shopping generally involves a trip on the Northern Line! It sometimes seems like after the mass folding of Soho Synagogues after 1945 into the Dean Street Synagogue which closed in the 1990s, people are scared to proclaim a Jewish presence in Fitzrovia for fear of announcing a false dawn.
In truth, Jewish Fitzrovia is not going back to the pre-war population and that is a good thing. The grinding poverty and sweat shops were not healthy for anyone. The new Jewish Fitzrovia is middle class, generally quite comfortable, and either living, or with roots, in the suburbs. It may have consciously or otherwise adopted the view of a well-known politician’s PA who was fond of saying: “don’t look back; you’re not going there.”