Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
The latest Jewish travel app for smartphones and tablets takes you to a place that no longer exists except in memory: Oshpitzin.
Oshpitzin was the Jewish name for Oswiecim, the small town in southern Poland where the Nazis built Auschwitz which had a majority Jewish population before the Holocaust—I’ve written a lot about the town and its difficulty in balancing its Holocaust identity with its pre-WW2 past, starting in the mid 1990s, when I dealt with the issue in the long chapter “Snowbound in Auschwitz” in my book Upon the Doorposts of Thy House: Jewish Life in East-Central Europe, Yesterday and Today, which was a sort of diary and meditation on nearly four days blocked in Oswiecim by a freak snowfall…..
Last year, the Auschwitz Jewish Center—a prayer, study and research center in Oswiecim—launched a project aimed at putting Oshpitzin back on the map. It started with a printed guidebook and followed on with an interactive web site, www.ospitzin.pl, that includes a map, pictures, history, testimonies and more.
Now, the Center as followed through with a smartphone App that can be used by armchair travelers as well as actual visitors to the town. It has an interactive map, videos, audio, photographs, etc.
Most of the sites the project—be it the guide book, the web site or the App—describes no longer exist. But it all entails a way to learn about the Jewish history (and general history) of a town that existed for hundreds of years before “Auschwtiz” changed its identity from a place of Jewish life into a place of Jewish murder.
As of now, the App is available in the iTunes store for IPhone and IPad—but it will soon be available on Android, too.
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. . .
4.22.13 at 2:23 am | The opening session of an international. . . (5)
4.16.12 at 6:45 am | Rachel Raj, the daughter of a rabbi, provides her. . . (4)
8.28.12 at 1:51 am | More on the evocative and varied candlesticks. . . (4)
July 13, 2012 | 11:51 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
I was in Barcelona a few weeks ago—for a conference on Jewish identity and future in Europe. I didn’t, alas, have much time to explore the city—Jewishly touristic or otherwise.
I wish I had had with me the evocative article on Jewish Barcelona by Hilary Larson that was just published in New York Jewish Week. The article details some of the fascinating sites of Jewish history that still can be seen in the city and would have been helpful as I walked about the Old Town in the blazing heat.
Spain’s second-largest city has less tangible Jewish heritage than many smaller towns on the Caminos de Sefarad, the Sephardic historical route being promoted by Spanish tourism authorities. But while little remains in the way of structures, the mystical atmosphere of these damp Gothic alleys – just a stone’s throw from the famous Ramblas — reveals a piece of Barcelona well worth discovering.
Larson describes an exhibit about the medieval banker-turned-rabbi Salomon Ben Adret now on at the City History Museum-Interpretation Center of the Call.
The exhibition is small but engaging, with Middle Age ritual objects — Hebrew-engraved rings, Sabbath dishware — alongside Ben Adret’s texts and modern explanations of his scholarship. The rabbi consistently came down on the side of tradition and divine authority, affirming an Orthodoxy that defined Barcelona Judaism until its demise.
The museum’s permanent exhibit is a helpful overview of the history, scale and geography of Barcelona’s Jewish community, providing much-needed context to an otherwise elusive entity. Under the glass floor, excavated walls of the home of a 14th-century Jewish merchant are illuminated for viewing. Several Hebrew tombstones are also on display from Montjuic, Barcelona’s scenic green mountain (literally, “Hill of the Jews”) and the medieval site of its Jewish cemetery.
On thing I did get to do was to visit Montjuic—and see the site of the medieval Jewish cemetery. I was taken there by David Stoleru, who was a founder of the Zachor Study Group whose activities have in part focused on defining the boundaries of the cemetery and getting it recognized as a historic monument site.
At the moment, the site looks like an overgrown piece of waste land, but there are plans—hopes—to turn it into a parklike area.
July 13, 2012 | 1:00 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
I’ve just been to Krakow for the last few days of the annual Jewish Culture Festival - the best party around. This year I did a couple of lectures to groups who were attending (and observing) the festival. It led to some reminiscing with friends who—like me—have been going to the Festival since the early 1990s.
One of the things we talked about what where we had stayed in Krakow in those early years—because, until the late 1990s, there were very few if any places to stay in Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter where the Festival now takes place. Nowadays, there is a wide variety of choices all over the city—from top flight hotels to inexpensive hostels and rental rooms and apartments.
In the early years, the artists at the Festival used to be put up at the Forum Hotel—I should say, the late Forum Hotel, because the Forum as it was then does not exist anymore. It is a hulking empty relic on the Vistula that serves as a prop for huge advertising posters….
I used to stay at the Hotel Pollera, an old-fashioned place in the Old Town near the main market square, or Rynek, about a 20-minute walk (or more) from Kazimierz.
For the past dozen years, though, I’ve stayed in Kazimierz itself whenever I’ve been in Krakow—usually at one of two hotels that, I have to say (full disclosure), are run by friends.
One is the Klezmer Hois, operated by Wojtek and Malgosia Ornat, the couple who founded the first Jewish-style cafe in Krakow. I still remember vividly sitting with Wojtek in 1992 or so, at an umbrella-shaded wicker table, eating strawberries and looking out at the devastation of Szeroka street, the main square of Jewish Kazimierz, which then was a ring of dilapidated buildings.
The Ornats opened Klezmer Hois—their third locale—in the mid-1990s, in a building that once housed a mikvah. It evolved into a hangout for Krakow Jews and visiting Jewish artists and others—and it still fulfills that purpose, at least for us older crowd. Sitting in the garden during Festival time, is a delight, a constant round of people dropping by, conversing, eating, drinking. Klezmer Hois is, actually, the one “Jewish style” cafe in Krakow that I go to. The Ornats also run the Austeria Jewish publishing house (which has published my book “Letters from Europe (and Elsewhere)”) and the associated Austeria bookstore.
The hotel rooms are old-fashioned and up creaking flights of stairs—and the breakfast is spectacular, a delicious combination of table service and partial buffet.
The other hotel in Kazimierz that I stay in is the Hotel Eden, on Ciemna street, a wonderfully friendly place, founded in the mid-1990s by the American Allen Haberberg, that started out as a kosher hotel. Though no longer kosher, the Eden still caters to Jewish travelers and has a mikvah—which has been used for conversions as well as ritual baths. Each room has a mezuzah on the door, and there is also wifi throughout the building. I asked Allen not long ago why the Eden was no longer kosher (although it will still provide kosher food for those who ask)—he told me one reason was that there are now good kosher caterers as well as an upscale kosher restaurant (the Olive Tree) in Krakow.
Also on this trip though, for the first time in a long time, I stayed for a couple of nights near the Rynek, at the Hotel Saski—where I think I stayed with my mother in about 1992….
It doesn’t seem to have changed much—but the Old Town has…. Krakow is the city that doesn’t sleep ... at 3 a.m. the streets were as lively as in the middle of the afternoon.
This post also appears on my blog jewish-heritage-travel.blogspot.com—with more pictures.
June 23, 2012 | 6:19 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
I’ve been on the road for the past 10 days, and I have a backlog of material to catch up on with postings…. both items I have seen online and on-site visits I’ve made myself.
One new development is the release of smart phone apps that guide you around several Jewish sites in Berlin and Warsaw.
Smart phone and tablet apps are clearly the self-tour guides of the future that are becoming the present….
The new ones I’ve noticed recently include an app that guides you around the Warsaw of Holocaust hero Janusz Korczak. Called “My Warsaw,” it is a project of the forthcoming Museum of the History of Polish Jews—it’s available for free on the iTunes store, but I’m not sure about other platforms. This is what Virtual Shtetl says:
The application spans two tourist routes. The first one guides you through places related to Janusz Korczak’s early and late childhood while the other shows Korczak’s life story during World War II. Both routes comprise almost fifty described places. The “My Warsaw-Warszawa jest moja” project shows now nonexistent Warsaw through pictures, audio recordings, a quiz, quotations and the augmented reality system. It sets an example of a novel approach of learning by having fun by means of state-of-the-art technologies. You can download this bilingual Polish-English application on GooglePlay and AppStore for free.
The application is designed to be a modern tool for learning and teaching history. The only thing you have to do is take your Smartphone with you and take a walk with your family around Warsaw or organize a memorable outdoor history lesson. Tourists may use it as a city guide while Warsaw residents may discover their home town anew.
Another new app guides users around three historic Jewish cemeteries in Berlin .
Berlin has several Jewish cemeteries, including the huge Weissensee cemetery.
This is what Reuters says about the Berlin cemetery app—but I’m not sure where to get the app, or what platforms it serves. I did not find it on iTunes:
The smartphone programme leads visitors to the graves of Jewish figures such as philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, hotelier Berthold Kempinski, publishers Rudolf Mosse and Samuel Fischermen and also of those who committed suicide to escape deportation to Nazi death camps.
“There is an Internet code at the entrance of each cemetery which can be scanned by a smartphone and directly connects to the cemeteries’ website,” the cemeteries’ inspector Hilel Goldmann said.
The Internet programme is steered by a GPS navigation device and enables the visitors to plan their own ‘tour’ choosing among about 160 of the 150,000 graves in the three Berlin cemeteries, Goldmann said.
June 10, 2012 | 8:27 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
I just want to highlight a recent article in the Canadian Jewish News that describes the Jewish Museum of Turkey, which opened in Istanbul 11 years ago on the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of Jews from Spain—and arrival of Spanish Jews to the Ottoman Empire.
The museum is believed to be one of only two Jewish museums in a Muslim country—the other is in Casablanca, Morocco. Located in the former Zulfaris Synagogue the Istanbul Museum was founded by Naim Guleryuz, a 78-year-old retired lawyer and historian who has written and researched widely on Ottoman Jewish history and culture.
One of his books is a collaboration with photographer Izzet Keribar called The Synagogues in Turkey from Two Masters. Published in 2008 it is based on a photographic documentation of some 60 synagogues around Turkey, commissioned in 2005 by the president of the Turkish Jewish community.
Guleryuz was president of the Quincentennial Foundation, which was established in the late 1980s to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the flight of Jews from Spain to the Ottoman Empire.
Festivities took place in 1992 and cast a spotlight on this important historical event. Guleryuz, however, was reluctant to wind things down.
”We decided we needed a permanent exhibition,” he said in an interview in his cluttered office. “We needed a museum.”
After four years of preparation, the Jewish Museum of Turkey was finally opened. Since Nov. 25, 2001, an average of 10,000 visitors per year from Turkey and abroad have streamed inside. [...]
Visitors can view about 250 objects, documents and photographs, all illuminating the traditions and culture of Turkish Jews. The objects were drawn from family collections and auctions, mostly in Istanbul. Some 150 pieces are in storage, waiting to see the light of day.
See an expanding collection of links and resources on Jewish Turkey HERE
See archives for this blog at jewish-heritage-travel.blogspot.com
June 7, 2012 | 7:27 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
The development of Jewish - and Jewish-themed—cultural expression and “production” in Poland and other countries is a theme that I have written about for many years, most notably in my book Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe (BTW—Virtually Jewish is now available as a Kindle e-book.)
I have focused in large part on the relationships between non-Jewish artists, musicians and others with Jewish culture and the way that they have used Jewish themes in their work.
But, in recent years, Jewish artists have also increasingly been exploring Jewish themes and topics, some of them as a way to explore their own identity.
In an article for the New York Times online the journalist Ginanne Brownell reports on this trend, writing about how Jewish artists are reasserting and redefining Jewish culture in Poland. Brownell interviewed me when I was in Poland last month and quotes me in the article—and she also quotes quite a few of my friends!
[A] growing number of Jewish Poles in the artistic sphere ... are exploring the dichotomy of being both Polish and Jewish in 21st-century Poland.
Writers, playwrights, filmmakers and visual artists are tackling everything from anti-Semitism and the Holocaust to coming to terms with their families’ Communist pasts and issues of identity.
“You cannot imagine Polish culture without Jewish culture,” said Pawel Passini, a Lublin-based director and playwright who last year won two awards at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for his staging of “Turandot.” “I think most people are conscious of that, the problem is how to say it and let people deal with it.”
She goes on:
From the late 1980s — thanks to things like the Krakow Jewish Festival that will take place from June 29 until July 8 this year — Jewish culture, or what is perceived as Jewish culture, has become more popular in Poland. Ms. Gruber described this in her 2002 book “Virtually Jewish” as “familiar exotica,” where there is pseudonostalgia for Jewish culture like the theatrical shtetl world of “Fiddler on the Roof” or wailing, clarinet-infused Klezmer music.
Contemporary Jewish artists are broadening the definition of Jewish culture in Poland. Mr. Passini is a case in point, having become one of the most acclaimed young stage directors in the country. He admits that many of his works — including plays like “Nothing Human” about a young girl trying to find her roots and “Tehillim,” which used choreography based on Hebrew letters — have a focus on spirituality.
Read the full story HERE
See more on this topic, as well as archives and images, at http://jewish-heritage-travel.blogspot.com
May 27, 2012 | 2:14 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
An article in The Forward advocates something that I have long urged travellers to do—use some of the many Jewish culture and other such festivals in Europe as anchor points for summer travels.
The article highlights just two festivals—the wellknown Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, and the lesser known festival in Trebic, Czech Republic.
The Třebíč festival is made up of storytellers, musicians, historians and dancers. Most are local, though some come from nearby Prague; the well-known mix with newcomers, locals who are investigating their history by learning the music, dance and literature of the past.
Krakow and Třebíč offer an alternative way to feel what was lost and experience what remains. Festivals are a means for heritage-oriented tourists to engage in more than anguish; a chance for those who want to experience a center of Jewish culture to do so unabashedly and, in the process, meet locals of a variety of faiths gathered for a communal celebration of Jewish life.
Read more here.
But—as I point out in the annual list of festivals that I compile for jewish-heritage-travel.blogspot.com —there are dozens of Jewish culture and other festivals around Europe each year. My annual list includes only a fraction. There may be as many as 20 or 30 in Poland alone.
One of the most exciting—and one of the ones that actually has a direct connection to reviving Jewish life—takes place next weekend, June 2-3. It is the second edition of 7@Nite, or what I called the “night of the living synagogues” in Krakow.
On that night, all seven synagogues (and former synagogues) in Krakow’s historic Jewish district, Kazimierz, are open to the public, each one hosting a different event or activity that highlights contemporary Jewish life.
As I wrote in a JTA column last year, after the first 7@Nite:
I’ve never seen anything quite like it, even though I’ve followed the development of Kazimierz for more than 20 years—from the time when it was an empty, rundown slum to its position now as one of the liveliest spots in the city.
I’ve witnessed—and chronicled—the development of Jewish-themed tourism, retail, entertainment and educational infrastructure in Krakow, including the Jewish Culture Festival that draws thousands of people each summer. And I’ve written extensively about the interest of non-Jews in Jewish culture.
But Seven at Night was something different. For one thing, nostalgia seemed to play no role. And also, unlike many of the Jewish events and attractions in Kazimierz, this one was organized and promoted by Jews themselves.
It was their show, kicking off with a public Havdalah ceremony celebrated by Rabbi [Boaz] Pash that saw hundreds of people singing and dancing in the JCC courtyard.
May 17, 2012 | 11:50 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
Jewish museums and other cultural institutions in a number of European countries will be open from dusk on Saturday until the wee hours Sunday as part of the annual European Night of the Museums. The Night of the Museums was founded in 2005, and more than 4,000 institutions in 40 countries took part last year, offering free entrance and special programs for visitors.
This year, Jewish museums and other cultural institutions in Spain, Serbia, Russia, Ukraine, Italy, Slovakia, England, Poland, France, and elsewhere are opening their doors as part of the event. There will be concerts, performances and special exhibits and programs as well as free visits to the museums and institutions themselves.
You can find information for some of the events on the Calendar of the web site www.jewish-heritage-europe.eu