Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
I’ve got my hands on two new books that deal with the restoration of historic Jewish sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. Both are oversized, both are bilingual (English and the local language)and both feature a combination of text and photographs.
Both, too, are, in a sense, celebrations of the restoration of Jewish heritage sites in those countries since the fall of communism in 1989.
But they are quite different in scope, design and presentation.
Brány spravedlivých. Synagogy Moravy, Slezska a Čech - The gates of the righteous. Synagogues of Moravia, Silesia and Bohemia, by Jaroslav Klenovsky and photographer Ludmila Hajkova (FotoStudio H, Usti nad Labem), is a gorgeous coffee-table book that examines in some detail 54 of the synagogues that now stand in the Czech Republic, chosen to illustrate different architectural and decorative styles as well as history.
Klenovsky, based in Brno, is a pioneer in the post-World War II and post-Communist documentation of Jewish heritage sites in Czech lands, especially in Moravia, and has written widely about synagogues, cemeteries and Jewish quarters.
The synagogues in the book are arranged in chronological order, from the 13th century AltNeu (Old-New) synagogue in Prague, to the modern synagogue in Liberec, dedicated in 2000.
Several pages are devoted to each building: an explanatory text sketches the history of the synagogue and local Jewish community and also provides an architectural description. Lush color photos depict both the interior and exterior of each building, as well as details, and each is also accompanied by drawings showing the floor plan of the building as well as its location in the city.
The Nazis destroyed 70 synagogues, but 105 more were destroyed under Communist rule. The Czech Republic and its Jewish community hold an enviable record in post-Communist preservation of Jewish heritage sites: 65 synagogues have been reconstructed since 1989. (The Jubilee Synagogue in Prague hosts a permanent exhibition on restorations that opened in June of this year. It focuses on heritage sites that come under the jurisdiction of the Jewish Community of Prague — which is responsible for the management of 28 synagogues and 159 cemeteries in three regions of Bohemia. The Prague Jewish Community web site has a section with an interactive map of the heritage sites owned and maintained by the community.)
Currently, seven synagogues in CZ are used as Jewish houses of worship, 35 are Christian churches, 43 are used as museum or for cultural purposes, 15 warehouses and storage facilities, 20 are under reconstruction or without use.
Preserving Jewish Heritage in Poland – in which I am pleased to say I have an essay – was officially launched Nov. 4 in Warsaw.
Co-financed by the Polish Foreign Ministry (which will distribute copies of it), it was published explicitly to mark the 10th anniversary of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, or FODZ. It highlights FODZ’s work over the past decade and presents examples of FODZ’s synagogue and cemetery restoration projects, such as the restoration of the Renaissance synagogue in Zamosc, as well as its educational programs and its Chassidic Route tourism itinerary. The full text and photos of the book can be downloaded from the FODZ web site.
The focus of the book, thus, is more on policy and process than on the buildings or cemeteries themselves.
In one of the chapters, FODZ CEO Monika Krawczyk traces the history of the Foundation, which was born out of a compromise agreement following the heated debates over who should obtain restituted property that took place after Poland passed its 1997 law regulating the relations between the state and Jewish communities in Poland. A main focus of that law was restitution of pre-WW2 Jewish communal property. An agreement in 2000 led to the establishment of FODZ, granting it territorial jurisdiction for restitution and Jewish heritage in those parts of Poland where no active Jewish community now exists. This includes most of eastern and southeastern Poland.
In her essay, Veronika Litwin of FODZ notes that it was not until that law was passed that “hope for change began to emerge” that the widespread neglect of Jewish sites since World War II might be redressed.
As for my own essay? It's a personal look back on my nearly 25 years of involvement with Jewish heritage issues in Poland.
4.22.13 at 2:23 am | The opening session of an international. . .
4.16.13 at 3:16 am | Museum of the History of Polish Jews finally (and. . .
4.16.13 at 3:00 am | Hadassah Magazine publishes my long piece on. . .
2.13.13 at 6:10 am | A long interview with longtime Jewish travel. . .
2.10.13 at 10:34 am | New restaurant, cafe and other offerings liven up. . .
1.18.13 at 2:08 pm | Announcing publication of my essay in Studies in. . .
2.10.13 at 10:34 am | New restaurant, cafe and other offerings liven up. . . (6)
4.22.13 at 2:23 am | The opening session of an international. . . (5)
10.19.12 at 8:55 am | Photo slide show of museum building (5)
November 6, 2012 | 9:15 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
I had the pleasure and privilege Sunday of giving a presentation about the Jewish Heritage Europe web site project in Florence, in one of the city's most prestigious and spectacular venues -- the Salone dei Cinquecento of the Palazzo Vecchio, the city hall of Florence, a massive building with a distinctive tower that was originally built at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries.
I was part of a five-person panel speaking on various aspects of "Developing Jewish Cultural Heritage in Europe." Our round-table was part of a huge, weeklong biennale on Cultural and "Landscape" Heritage sponsored by the Fondazione Florens. Other people on the panel included Giuseppe Burschtein, an IT specialist and Jewish heritage activist in Florence; Renzo Funaro, an architect who heads the "Opera del Tempio" project of restoration and promotion of Jewish heritage in Florence and elsewhere in Tuscany; Dora Liscia Bemporad, the director of the Jewish Museum in Florence; and Annie Sacerdoti, a pioneer of Jewish heritage documentation and activism in Italy and one of the spearheads of the European Day of Jewish Culture.
The moderator of our panel was the journalist Wlodek Goldkorn -- who pointed out at the start of the event that this session was probably the first time that a Jewish program (other than a commemorative event) had taken place in the magnificent hall, a grandly huge space dating from 1494, richly decorated with a gorgeous painted ceiling, sculptures and paintings from the 16th century.
We had a pretty good crowd -- and nobody left in the middle! Given the mix of people on our panel, presentations included both local and Europe-wide issues -- and none of us had more than 10 minutes or so to speak.
For my talk, I had an internet connection projected on two immense screens. I presented Jewish Heritage Europe as a tool that is already functional, attracting 4,000-5,000 people a month. I took the audience on a tour of the site, describing both the static content for 48 countries -- and also the dynamic content -- the newsfeed, calendar, and the In Focus section.
You will just have to go to all those web sites and explore!
October 27, 2012 | 1:20 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
I've never been to Tallinn, but by all accounts it is a beautiful city. Hadassah Magazine runs a richly detailed travel piece on Tallinn, highlighting in particular detail the Jewish sites and history. The article is by Jono David -- a photographer who has roamed the world documenting Jewish heritage sites (his current project is a photo documentation of Jewish sites in Africa).
You can browse Jono's vast archive of more than 61,000 images from 87 countries and territories at his web site: http://www.jewishphotolibrary.com/
In his Tallinn piece, Jono writes: "Many of the Jewish remnants of the past have few or no markers. During much of the Soviet era, the community maintained a prayer house at 9 Magdalena Street, not far from Old Town. Originally a warehouse, the extant building is in a derelict state. A prayer room at 23 Kreutzwaldi Street preceded it between 1946 and 1966, but it was demolished to make room for a hotel."
But he provides information on what there is still to see and describes today's living Jewish community and its institutions.
You can find even more information on Tallinn and Estonia on the Estonia pages of the Jewish Heritage Europe web site.
October 19, 2012 | 9:58 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
Thanks to CEU professor Daniel Monterescu for introducing me to the Mazel Tov cafe in Budapest's 13th district. On first look, it seems similar to the "Jewish style" cafes in Krakow and elsewhere in eastern Europe, where sepia-colored shtetl nostalgia is the norm....But at Mazel Tov the decor is actually very different.
Inside Mazel Tov. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber
Outside, the cafe's name is written in Hebrew-style letters, and inside, its walls are covered by pictures -- as at the "Jewish-style" cafes elsewhere that I have visited and written so much about in the past.
But these are not the "usual" pictures of bearded sages, rabbis, antique-style Jewish genre scenes and the like.
In the Ariel Cafe, Krakow. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber
Instead, Mazel Tov's walls are covered by pictures of living Jews -- Jewish celebrities -- from Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook to Woody Allen to Barbra Streisland, Leonard Bernstein and even the Hungarian philosopher Agnes Heller.
On the surface, it looks similar. But the focus is totally different from the other places. (Though in Krakow my favorite Jewish-style cafe, Klezmer Hois, does also include a lot of pictures of real, live Jews on its walls -- most if not all of whom have been patrons of the establishment.)
Judaica for sale in Mazel Tov. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber
Mazel Tov is located in what was a modern Jewish neighborhood (pre-WW2) and on a street where there is a small synagogue that still operates. It is run by a Jewish woman, there are some Judaica items on sale, Israeli pop music was playing, and there is a mezuzah at the door.
But it's not kosher -- on the menu are ham and cheese sandwiches. (But this is also typically secular Budapest Jewishness.....)
Me in Mazel Tov cafe. Photo: Dan Monterescu
October 19, 2012 | 8:55 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
Take a look at this slide show run by the Wall Street Journal of the dramaitc building that will house the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. The building, located on the site of the WW2 Warsaw Ghetto across from the monument to Ghetto heroes, is nearing completition and will open next year.
October 18, 2012 | 11:59 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
Biancomangiare,lentil soup, twice-roasted goose with garlic, sweet and sour baked onion salad, Ippocrasso (spiced white wine), honey-nut sweets.
These were the dishes served at a Medieval Jewish banquet that recreated a meal that Jews in Italy might have eaten in the 14th and 15th centuries.
The event took place in Bevagna, a stunningly beautiful town in Italy's Umbria region -- whose historic center looks much the same as it did way back then.
Entering Bevagna. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber
The dinner, in a so-called Medieval Tavern in the heart of the town, capped a little academic conference on medieval Jewish life in Bevagna. I wrote about the dinner for JTA, in an article that also included the recipes for the dishes we ate. The first course was Biancomangiare, a puree made from chicken breast, almonds, rice flour, rose water and spices.
It was followed by a spicy lentil soup and then the main course: heaping platters of crisp, twice-roasted goose with garlic served with a warm salad of baked onions in sweet and sour sauce. The meal was rounded out by a form of spiced white wine called ippocrasso and honey-nut sweets served on fresh bay leaves.
"We love medieval cooking," said Alfredo Properzi, one of the dinner organizers. Properzi, a local doctor, belongs to a civic association that fosters study and re-enactment of life in the Middle Ages. The recipes for the dinner, he said, came from cookbooks of the period.
"One of the big differences was the spices that they used -- much more than today," he said. "Also, medieval cooks liked to use various spices to color food as well as season it.
The main speaker at the conference -- and my partner across the dining table -- was Ariel Toaff, an emeritus professor of Medieval and Rennaissance history at Bar Ilan University, who is the son of the reitred, longtime chief rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff.
Ariel Toaff and a "medieval" waitress. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber
Ariel's wonderful book, Love, Work and Death: Jewish Life in Medieval Umbria, is one of my favorite books -- partly because I spend a lot of my time in Umbria (where so very few Jews live today that when my entire family is with me, we make up one of the major Jewish centers in the region) and partly because the book reads like a spicy novel, set in Assisi, Orvieto, Bevagna, Todi, Perugia, Terni, Foligno -- and other towns that I'm very familiar with.
The chapter headings say it all: "Sex, Love, and Marriage;" "Love of Life and Intimations of Mortality;" "Meat and Wine;" "The House of Prayer;" " Outcasts from Society;" "Witchcraft, Black Magic, and Ritual Murder;" "Converts and Apostates;" "The Pattern of Discrimination;" "Merchants and Craftsmen;" "Doctors and Surgeons;" "Banks and Bankers."
Ariel also authored Mangiare alla Giudia, an influential history of Jewish food and eating in Italy, which has not been translated into English. Both books served as inspiration for the Bevagna dinner. (See an article on Italian Jewish cuisine in English by Ariel by clicking HERE.)
"The dinner organizers asked me what would be a typical dish for the menu, and I immediately told them goose because goose was, so to speak, the Jewish pig," he said. "It had the same function for the Jewish table as the pig did for non-Jews. Every part of the animal was used, including for goose salami, goose sausage and goose ‘ham,’ and foie gras was also a Jewish specialty."
Like today, he said, Jews in medieval times generally ate what the non-Jewish population did, adapting local recipes to the rules of kashrut.
"Biancomangiare was also made sweet with milk, pine nuts, almonds and raisins," he said. "But if it was served with a meat dish, the Jews would substitute almond milk for dairy milk."
Also like today, certain dishes became Italian Jewish favorites.
"Lentils were typically Jewish, and lentil soup was commonly eaten in the 14th and 15th centuries," Toaff said. "Being round, they symbolized the cycle of life. Another typical Jewish cooking style was sweet and sour, like the baked onion salad."
No Jews live today in Bevagna, but the city actively promotes its medieval history with festivals, pageants, Medieval dinners, and other events. The mayor told me that she was now thinking of how to add a Jewish component to all this -- and maybe even get a kosher winery started up.
There is particularly rich archival documentation about Bevagna's most prominent Jewish family in the 15th and early 16th centuries, the extended clan of the banker Abramo. Ariel Toaff recounts the story in great detail in "Love, Work and Death." it is a dramatic family saga that has a sort of rags to riches to rags again narrative framework.
Abramo owned banks in three towns, as well as a mansion, investment properties, farmland and many other holdings. But after his death in 1484, the family suffered a series of tragic setbacks, including deaths, bank failures and even a trumped-up claim by a young Bevagna boy that the family had lured him to their home and crucified him over Easter in 1485. Though apparently linked to a default on a loan to the Abramo bank by the boy’s mother, the allegations led to the banishment of several Abramo family members.
October 14, 2012 | 1:36 pm
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
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.”