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.
11.11.13 at 3:44 am | Call for applications for Hadassah-Brandeis. . .
11.9.13 at 6:06 am | Commemorating Kristallnacht with glorious reborn. . .
11.9.13 at 3:48 am | Weekly Jewish culture and food fest in Florence
10.26.13 at 12:25 pm | My article on the Museum of the History of Polish. . .
9.29.13 at 1:56 am | Sept. 29 is the annual European Day of Jewish. . .
8.27.13 at 9:53 am | Hotel to open in famed Yeshiva building in. . .
4.19.12 at 1:20 am | A growing directory of Jewish culture and other. . . (7)
10.3.12 at 3:38 am | State is no longer funding culture; major. . . (5)
11.11.13 at 3:44 am | Call for applications for Hadassah-Brandeis. . . (5)
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.”
October 3, 2012 | 3:38 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
The Bosnia-Herzegonia National Museum in Sarajevo, where the priceless Sarajevo Haggadah is kept, is being forced to close for lack of funds -- the latest in a number of major cultural institutions in Sarajevo forced to shut their doors due to political wrangling and the central government's halting of funds for culture.
In my JTA story I write that Jakob Finci, the longtime leader of the Jewish community in Sarajevo, said the museum, founded in 1888, would close on Thursday due to “lack of money, financing and support from the State.”
He called the decision “tragic,” but said he did not fear for the Sarajevo Haggadah, which, he said would be kept in a safe place.
The haggadah, handwritten in Spain in the 14th century and brought to Sarajevo after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, has been owned by the museum since 1894.
During the Bosnian war in the 1990s, the lavishly illustrated, 109-page book became a symbol of the shattered dream of multi-ethnic harmony in Bosnia. After the war ended in 1995, the U.N. Mission, along with the Bosnian Jewish Community, the Joint Distribution Committee, and the Yad Hanadiv and Wolfenson Foundations, facilitated a $150,000 project to restore the Haggadah and prepare a secure, new, climate-controlled room in which to put it on display.
This was opened with a gala ceremony in December 2002. But Finci told JTA that, in recent years, the actual Haggadah was only displayed on four days a year – all the rest of the time a facsimile was shown.
Before it went on public display, I had the rare opportunity of viewing the Haggadah in the underground bank vault in Sarajevo where it was kept, when I accompanied a JDC delegation to Bosnia in 2001.
A bank functionary led us through corridors and down narrow stairways into a basement vault lined with safety deposit boxes.
Wrapped in white tissue paper, the Haggadah was removed from a sealed, blue metal lock box and placed on a table.
Wearing clean, white gloves, a staff member from the Sarajevo national museum then opened the book, turning over page after page to reveal the elegant Hebrew calligraphy and brilliantly colored and gilded illustrations.
An article in April in The Art Newspaper provided some background to the museum crisis.
The National Gallery closed to the public last September. It had been without a director and chief financial officer since May. The Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, also in Sarajevo, was forced to shut its doors on 4 January after running out of money for maintenance and heating. Staff at both institutions have worked without pay since the respective closures.
The National and University Library, which has had no heating since early January, is next on the list of anticipated closures.
The current crisis is a result of national elections held in 2010, which failed to create a coalition with a parliamentary majority. Without a functioning government, there was no funding for cultural institutions last year.
Museum administrators in Sarajevo say that grants from the new government, formed this February, will not solve the structural problem affecting the institutions. They believe that the institutions need to be funded at a national level if they are to operate effectively in the future. They also want a national cultural ministry to be created.
For further information about the museum and culture crisis in Bosnia see the web site www.cultureshutdown.net
October 2, 2012 | 7:40 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
With still a week to come in the autumn holiday season, I'd like to take the opportunity to wish all my readers a sweet, satisfying and stimulating new year -- and beyond!
I've taken a break from posting this past month or so, but I look forward to getting back into the swing of things very soon and posting regular reports, commentaries, images and links.
Meanwhile -- for a growing range of resources and news reports, please take a look at the web site that I am coordinating as a project of the Rothschild Foundation Europe: www.jewish-heritage-europe.eu
August 28, 2012 | 1:51 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
In my last post I took note of the candlesticks motif that is often used to mark the gravestones of Jewish women—it is very widespread in parts of Eastern Europe but also found elsewhere.
I have an ongoing project about the Candlesticks motif, which I have been working on for several years—and which has its own website: candlesticksonstone.wordpress.com
I have photo galleries and individual pictures from Jewish cemeteries in Romania, Ukraine, Poland—and even the United States—showing the wide variety of ways that the candles have been portrayed by stonemasons who, in some cases, created real works of sculpture that combined religious tradition and folk art. Some, especially in parts of northern Romania, show hands raised to bless the candles. I encourage readers to go to the site and take a look at some of the many, many remarkable images!
I worked on the project with the help of a research grant from the Hadassah Brandeis Institute (HBI) and as a Scholar in Residence at the HBI last year. I have supplemented the pictures on the web site with a blog, links to resources and other material.
From the web site:
In Jewish tradition, Sabbath candles are a common, and potent, symbol on women’s tombs. That is because lighting the Sabbath candles is one of the three so-called “women’s commandments” carried out by female Jews: these also include observing the laws of Niddah separating men from women during their menstrual periods, and that of Challah, or burning a piece of dough when making bread.
The first time I saw a Jewish woman’s tombstone bearing a representation of candles was in 1978, when for the first time I visited Radauti, the small town in the far north of Romania near where my father’s parents were born. The tombstone in question was that of my great-grandmother, Ettel Gruber, who died in 1946 and in whose honor I received my middle name. Her gravestone is a very simple slab, with a five-branched menorah topping an epitaph.
Since then, and particularly over the past 20 years, I have visited scores if not hundreds of Jewish cemeteries in East-Central Europe, documenting them, photographing them, and writing about them in books and articles.
Carvings on Jewish tombstones include a wide range of symbols representing names, professions, personal attributes, or family lineage — as well as folk decoration. In northern Romania and parts of Poland and Ukraine in particular, cemeteries include a variety of wonderfully vivid motifs, and some stones still retain traces of the brightly colored painted decoration that once adorned them.
Candlesticks on women’s tombs are more or less a constant: sometimes they are very simple renditions, yet they can be extraordinarily vivid bas-relief sculptures. In some instances, broken candles represent death. And in some cemeteries, the carving is so distinctive that you can discern the hand of individual, if long forgotten, artists.
August 26, 2012 | 8:04 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
The elegant and informative riowang blog runs a very nice, and poetic, post—with lots of photos—about the Jewish cemetery in Tekovo/Tekehaza in Ukrainian Transcarpathia.
I have linked in the past to the very detailed and richly illustrated riowang posts about the Jewish cemetery and synagogue in Lesko, Poland - and since the author gave me permission to use his photos, I am including a photo from Tekovo/Tekehaza here.
The riowang post comments in particular on the large number and variety of gravestones marked by candlesticks.
Riowang noted that in Tekovo/Tekehaza
it is worth noting a special gravestone motif, which almost has its own school in the cemetery of Tekeháza: the large and diverse number of geometric candelabra. The presence of candelabra – as we have already seen in the cemetery of Lesko – is not unique in itself. We meet with them almost only on women’s graves, praising the Friday night candle-lighting and, beyond that, the light and warmth of the family home as well as the virtuous woman maintaining it. What is interesting in Tekeháza, however, is the large number and many variations of stylized, geometric candelabra.
The many photographs on the post show candlesticks that are geometric and braided at the same time, as well as some that look like plants:
Once speaking about the candelabra, it’s worth to point out a special local form of this motif. About these gravestone decorations it is difficult to decide whether they are three-branch candelabra or stylized three-leaved plants.
For the stone pictured here, it notes:
On the top, two doves with their heads turned back surround a richly decorated seven-branch candelaber of an intertwined stem. The dove is a symbol of piety, while the candelabra of Friday evening and of the family home. At the bottom of the gravestone a snake is waving. The snake is a relatively rare motif on Jewish graves. In the Jewish cemetery of Warsaw we find an example of the snake biting its own tail, a symbol of eternity, while in the likewise Polish Jewish cemetery of Żabno, the snake attacking the lion on one of the stones represents the death. It is likely that the snake in Tekeháza is somehow related to this latter one.
This post (with other pictures) also appears on my Jewish Heritage Travel blog.