Posted Ian Shulman
The moon is high over the roofs of Charlottenburg...’ begins the story a tall slim lady, while the guitar behind the stage starts playing a sweet jazz melody. You are in Charlottenburg, you are in Berlin of the early 1930s. This slightly mannishly, yet extremely elegantly dressed charming woman carries more natural 1930s’ vibe to the stage then ‘Cabaret’s Sally Bowles, which she played once in Berlin. She is a New York-born actress and singer Helen Schneider. She’s going to tell you the story of Heinz Jakob, or simply ‘Coco’ Schumann - a young guy so eager to become a part of the Berlin music scene. Being half-Jewish and playing swing, Coco didn’t get much time to enjoy the stage - when he turned 19 his ‘stage’ was moved to Theresienstadt ghetto. Schumann played swing together with other musicians in a band with a weird and bitter name - ‘The Ghetto Swingers’. He survived Auschwitz and a personal encounter with Dr Mengele. He returned to his Berlin to continue living there and playing swing there. He also returned there to write a book on his life, which became a plot for the show ‘Der Ghetto Swinger’, staged in Hamburger Kammerspiele in fall 2012. Helen Schneider talks about Coco, twists of fate and returning to Germany.
The question I wanted to start our interview with was if ‘The Ghetto Swinger’ is a Jewish show. But after I entered the hall and have seen a huge Star of David on the stage, the answer seemed logical to me. But what’s your opinion?
No, I don’t think it is a Jewish show. I rather think it is a show based on a terrible thing what happened to the Jewish people here. The show is actually about two things which are interesting to me. One is the burning flame in this young man, a burning flame for life. This flame still burns in this man’s eyes. I met him: he is 89 and still has this flame which kept him alive. It is also a story about music; the magic and the power of music not only for this fellow, but for all people in general, and how a music can carry a soul through very tough times. Of course, it is based on a Jewish story, but what’s so fantastic about the show is that on my opinion it’s specific to the mankind in general.
How did Coco Schumann himself reacted on the show? Did he see it?
Yes, he came to the opening night. He was thrilled, which made us all thrilled. We were very true to his beautiful book, a part of which was what we have taken for the script with Gil Mehmet, out director, conceiver and author. It was his idea to play this story. He had a burning desire to put the story on stage for over ten years, and I understand why. He is also a musician. Director, but a great musician. ‘The Ghetto Swinger’ is not a story of a virtual person. It’s a story of a simple guy who loves music so much and has a special kind of aura. He made his own fate because there were always people there to help him.
How would you describe your role in the show? You are playing many different characters - from Coco’s mother to the nurse from the US army, but I have an impression that they all are somehow connected.
I believe that the connection is a ‘big umbrella’ over them. I am the storyteller, I tell the story. And like any good storyteller does, I speak from the characters when it’s needed or when it’s impossible to tell the story in any other way. Sometimes I function in a kind of directing capacity, but essentially I am the storyteller.
What was your way to playing in the show?
Gil Mehmet and I worked together last summer on an extraordinary production of ‘Sunset Boulevard’. I played Norma Desmond, he was the director and I thought his work was remarkable, incredible. I got to like his work and him very much. Together with the head of Hamburger Kammerspiele he came to me and asked me to do this role. I didn’t know what the role has to be, the piece haven’t been written yet, but there was a general idea of ‘a storyteller’ and that I would sing, Later I got the book. It was not only my experience with Gil Mehmet, but firstly my interest in the story itself which brought me to the stage.
Was it your first ‘Jewish’ role?
No, I played Hayyah in ‘Ghetto’ in New York. It’s a remarkable work written by an Israeli Joshua Sobol. I performed with the original Israeli director and a marvelous cast. My mother died young, my father remarried and married a ghetto survivor from Poland. When i did ‘Ghetto’, she was my first hand contact, who knew about it. After I was done with this piece, I promised myself I will not get involved in this topic on stage again, because it was so difficult to get through. However, here I sit. I did it and I’m very glad I did. I don’t think that unnecessary emotions flow from the stage. On contrary, I think the play is quite factual and presents without a lot of extraneous emotions - I think it brings emotions from the audience. Gill was very strict about it - the story was supposed to be clearly told and nothing else. I think it’s a remarkable presentation, and the team is strong. We all have our weaknesses and strength, but it was a group all together because we met in the middle with music. They are actors who can sing and musicians who can act. And it all meets in between. They are all with a tremendous desire to make this this thing work as well as with a tremendous responsibility.
I got the same impression. It seems like there are a lot of things in your career which connect you to the topic of pre-war Germany. I mean your role in ‘Cabaret’ and your involvement in Kurt Weill festival. Can you elaborate on this connection?
I’m an honorary chairwoman of Kurt Weill festival and a great fan of Kurt Weill. Indeed, I’ve been cast in these roles, like the one in ‘Cabaret’. It’s interesting to me, I’m not exactly sure why I have a characteristic which interests directors for these roles. ‘Cabaret’ was clear to me because I think I have this 1920s sensibility. Before ‘Cabaret’ I had done a 1920s one-woman show in New York, which was successful for me and I took it to California. When I was still young and doing rock, I was told: ‘Oh Helen, you would make such a fabulous Sally Bowles, what a shame you don’t speak German!”. So I said well, let me meet with the director. We met, liked each other immediately and I was sent to Berlitz in New York. That was the beginning of my never-ending battle with the German language. And then came ‘Ghetto’. ‘Ghetto’ follows me over years. I was continuously asked to play the role, and was continuously refusing. since the role is extremely hard to get through. So now, in five years, I thought: “Somebody wants me to do it. So I will!”. And I did it. Obviously, it’s some fate which wants me to be involved in this topic. I was born in a Jewish family and raised in a Jewish faith. I believe that Judaism is a religion and not a race, and I do not practice any form of religion, yet I was raised Jewish.
How exactly did you happen to make a significant part of your career in Germany?
It’s a one hundred percent accident. I was working in the United States being managed by a very powerful manager. In the 1970s a producer for television series heard my very first LP, found me, tracked me down in New York and invited me to Germany. I did the show which was very successful for me. I was seen then and invited to do a big national show in Germany. I was having big success here while having some troubles in the United States, so I came to Germany and made a contract. To make a very long and weird story shorter, I had a huge hit in rock in the 1980s, and then i stopped in the middle of the 1980s and started acting in New York. I reinvented myself as an actress who can sing. Finally, it was also because my name was so known here, and in my business you are lucky to have a career anywhere. Five years ago I moved to Germany, but I never called Germany my home before I started to live here, in Berlin.
What was the motive behind your transformation from a rock singer to an actress? You look quite different on these two stages.
My transformation was very organic for me, because my career has always followed my personal interest. I also get older like everybody, so my desires and my interests changed, and my work reflected that. One thing relates to another. I also once had the main role in a film in the States, and I realized that I was looking for acting for all of my life. So I had to stop everything and switch to acting, and that’s what I did. Then I had to keep music and acting separately, so I have done some more acting work in the States. As for my jazz stuff, I got a phone call from a producer almost out of the blue, and I made my first jazz record. It was all very natural and organic movement for me.
Some of you recent works combine jazz standards with classic rock.
I had a beautiful trio in Germany, we were considering ourselves ‘musicians without borders’ and jazz is the core element of our music. One of the records was a tribute to my mother, there were songs I learned from her when I was a child. These are jazz songs, but they were pop songs for her generation. Before I started with the record I was asked how would I picture jazz and I thought of my mother. My father loved Bert Kaempfert music, so I ended up doing a hommage to Bert Kaempfert for my father. Then I was doing a show ‘Hello, I’m Johnny Cash’, where I first met with country music in my life. I was never singing country before, I just never took it serious. But then I realized it was an incredible interesting genre which I loved. So the next record we will be doing with the trio is going to be my tribute to country music. How marvellous that I am almost 60 and I found a genre of music I never sang before and I enjoy it.
There’s a quote attributed to Coco Schumann saying that he was introduced to swing by Ella Fitzgerald...
If I understand the story correctly, Ella came to Germany when Coco was already a part of the music scene there. She came to sing in Berlin and they met at a club, in a particular place where it was a tradition to gather after the show. Everybody said that Ella never sang anywhere off stage. But Coco says that Ella decided to sing and she invited Coco to play with her. And it is possible that the early records of Ella were of the great influence for him.
Who introduced you to music at the very beginning?
I’m a classically trained pianist. I played piano my whole life, but in between I fell in love with blues and rock and ran away with a blues band to the mountains of New England. I’ve been working ever since.
That’s an interesting part! I was carefully watching the play tonight and at the same time tried to trace the reaction of the audience. It might be a tricky question, but do you think such play would be possible in Germany a decade or several decades ago?
Hard to say. I am not a German, I don’t have a lot of experience with German mentality either. I know that the ‘Ghetto’ was presented here in Germany in the early 1980s. So judging from that, I guess my answer is ‘yes’.
The cultural scene of the pre-war Berlin was so beautifully portrayed in the show. Do you think this phenomena belongs to the past? Could it come back during the today’s Berlin renaissance?
I don’t have an answer to this either. There are renaissance for different music and also for different cities. Berlin certainly has a renaissance, but I think it has more to do with the art world then the music world at the moment. Indeed, Berlin is having a massive renaissance. One can say its’ like 1920s for art as it was for music back then. Every city has an event flow.
You was mentioning that even though you’ve been working in Germany for a while, you don’t feel any German.
Well, originally I’m German. My grandfather was German. He was a violinist for Odessa symphony. When the Bolshevik revolution broke up, his father, who was a wealthy grain handler in Frankfurt, sent him to New York, so that he finds his way. Unfortunately, he didn’t; he died selling ties in the streets of New York, a man in an utmost poverty. He arrived in the USA in 1919, so that’s not a war story. But that’s how I got my name, Schneider, from this grandfather. My mother’s family are all Russian, and they came to the United States in the early 1800s, I guess they fled the pogroms. Many immigrants came to the United States because they were running away from something in those years. That generation didn’t have a desire to keep the next generation connected to the past. And some things got lost. It is a sad story I think, but it has to do with this emigration wave of leaving something and wanting to start something new. So they spokek English trying to avoid speaking the old languages. My father still spoke some Yiddish, but my mother did not. I am a fourth-generation New Yorker. So the past is lost, it’s a terrible thing, but it’s the way it was. It’s a twist of fate that I have this career in Germany and that I came here. Coco believed he has a guardian angel; sometimes I think something wanted me to come back here and to develop some relationship with this country and also with the material I play. I honestly think it is so strange that I came back. I think it’s my generation’s job to mend the fences. Because otherwise you can’t go on. The history is there to remember, but one has to move forward. I think it’s people like me who come back, without a direct pain for what has happened. I don’t have this. I know what happened, but in my mind I am an American and I don’t mean it to sound so stupidly naive I’m not, but I don’t come with this first generation agony of what happened here. I was very happy to put my generation and the first generation of Germans together.
It’s also funny how young Germans of the 70s or the 80s were all striving to leave Germany for the USA. For them it was probably strange to see an American coming to work in Germany.
I am in show business. I am an entertainer, but in the end it’s stupid to separate entertainers from other professions - in the end we are all entertainers. I would be happy to be anywhere with the career. If somebody sends me to Mars and ask to learn Marsian, I would do that too, but I’m happy to work in Germany. I also worked in other countries apart from Germany and the USA, but they mostly happened to be German speaking countries. The door is always opened for me here, so here I am. And I’m comfortable in Europe, whether it has something to do with the past life or not. I feel at home here, and I finally can speak the language, which is nice, because you get the window in the soul of the country when you speak the language.
Do you have different ‘at home’ feelings in Europe and in the USA?
As years go by, I started to feel more comfortable in Europe. There’s a special kind of culture here, an attitude about tradition, and after all it’s just easier for me here. There were times when i would go home after working here and say ‘wow, I belong less and less to the United States then to Europe!’
4.18.13 at 1:25 am | Thomas Soxberger was born in 1965 in Lower. . .
4.18.13 at 1:23 am | Today is April 10th … a significant date for. . .
4.18.13 at 1:15 am | As she was passing by some girls in their. . .
4.18.13 at 1:07 am | I must admit that even before we arrived in. . .
3.19.13 at 7:47 am | The poetry of Naftali Herz Kon was finally. . .
3.19.13 at 7:45 am | The Holocaust, globally the largest crime in. . .
7.25.12 at 12:48 pm | Unfulfilled murderers, domestic sadists – nice. . . (81)
4.18.13 at 1:15 am | As she was passing by some girls in their. . . (32)
10.30.12 at 5:53 am | During all my visits to Israel and throughout the. . . (9)
September 21, 2012 | 1:25 am
Posted Masha Pryven
One of my casual conversations with a friend came to the point of exchanging “cool world news”:
me: by the way, have you heard that scientists have probably discovered another solar system?
my friend: oh yeah?
me: they say it resembles our own – the orbits of its planets lie in nearly the same plane as ours.
my friend (nonchalantly): that sounds exciting. Who knows, maybe the discovery of a populated planet could at least draw attention away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I actually laughed pretty hard and decided that I should begin my report on the 2012 Muslim Jewish Conference with that anecdote. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has so many eyes, ears, and news sources feeding it, that it sets the only possible frame for Muslim-Jewish interaction. Or so it seems. The conflict that occupies so many minds and produces uncompromising discussions in both the Eastern and Western hemispheres can no doubt be an important point of entry to understanding the mutual claims and clashing histories that have continued for over a hundred years. But is it the only one?
Did over eighty young Jews and Muslims from more than 35 countries, including Pakistan, USA, Libya, Mexico, Morocco, Israel, Palestine, Poland and many others, feel so driven by an urge to express their solid stance on the issue, so as to cross half the globe, come to Slovakia? Or is it possible that the conflict, graciously amplified by its publicity, affect our relationship even more subversively? To be precise, does not it eliminate an excess of other possible topics, questions and interactions? To put it simply, the Muslim-Jewish relationship did not in actuality begin with the conflict between Israel and Palestine. So, why reduce it with our own hands to such?
Having asked all of these questions, I want to suggest another disclaimer for the most persistent pessimists, who would highly doubt the idea of a five-day convention that would end with everybody holding each other's hands and singing "We are the World" in unison. Let me speak on the behalf of those pessimists, especially the ones I identify with: products of academia who stubbornly and persistently come to the conclusion that the world is too complex to allow for naive idealistic optimism. We cling to our pessimism as the most comfortable dark little spot on earth and hurry to throw in our favorite "yes, but", which immediately reveals us to be polished intellectuals. On a positive note, the organizers of the gathering between world Jewry and Muslims were not held back by pessimists like myself, but, on the contrary, carried out their vision.
" 3 years ago, almost everyone told me I am crazy. This year 100 participants from 35 countries came to the 3rd annual MJC and created a dozent projects together. This is a sign to the world that innovative networks of cooperation, in our generation, transcend not just the borders of geography and gender, but also religion. We talk, and we listen. Two things that sound irritatingly easy but are unfortunately not yet common in Mulsim - Jewish relations" said IIja Sichrovsky Founder - MJC
Gulraiz Khan, a participant from Pakistan and chair of the Business Entrepreneurship Committee, shares his thoughts when comparing the MJC 2012 to previous ones: “This year the conference has become more diverse: you have Muslims, Jews from all over, Palestinians, people who grew up in settlements. With this diversity, the conference became both more interesting and complex, which is a good thing. I have seen the participants getting emotional, as core issues that can be very sensitive are coming up. The discussions are ongoing: during the sessions, during lunchtime, in the corridors. During group work, we try to develop a common vocabulary rather than tackle the “big problems”. So, when participants meet outside the sessions, they at least have a common language. They may not agree and in most cases they do not agree. But that is fine. At least the dialogue has started.”
In the course of five days, panels with selected participants were running concurrently, focusing on the role of women in religion, the roots of Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism, positive Muslim and Jewish historical narratives, faithful citizenship, and sustainable inter-communal dialogue. Additionally, two more groups were designed to serve as an incubator for fine artists and entrepreneurs to think through and develop long-term projects.
Joanna Maria Trochimowicz, a participant from Poland who converted to Islam, comments on social bridges created during session time: “In the beginning, we meet each other as young people and students, directly and without any immediate stigma. After all, the commonality to talk and learn about each other brought us together for these five days. I also feel safe here, as I see how in my committee (Women in Religion) people are willing to ask me questions and share their points of view. For sure, there are ideas that I do not accept but I am learning to see them not as a threat but as questions growing out of curiosity to know.”
Many participants came to the conference driven by their professional interests as well. Just to name a few, Symi Rom-Rymer, a free-lance journalist who writes a lot about minority communities, especially about Muslim and Jewish communities in the US and Europe. She came to the conference to be able to talk to a variety of people in situations of intensive interactions and to see what issues, both positive and negative, were being discussed. Last year, Symi with several people in the Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia Committees, initiated a project called The Global Jewish-Muslim Friendship Forum. The idea behind it was to provide a platform for Jews and Muslims around the world to connect. It has successfully become an asset for people to discuss, post articles, arrange local events and to start up public programming. Lotifa Begum, a participant from London, is currently a Development Education Coordinator for Islamic Relief UK. For Lotifa, the conference was a resource for learning, and, upon her return to work she will build a more sustainable relationship across Muslim and Jewish communities based on new perspectives and knowledge.
In the beginning of the report, I was wondering what drove people to come to the conference. Many would not come if a variety of human factors such as curiosity, a desire to prove somebody wrong, or pure interest were not substantiated by one thing alone that deserves veneration. I think it is the courage to confront and challenge oneself, transcending one's own political, social, educational or family background. Also, when it comes to stereotypes in Muslim and Jewish communities, directed at each other in equal measure, it becomes essential to grasp a nuanced understanding: each group is diverse within itself and on its own terms. Each is powered and stimulated by similar dialectics of tradition and reformation; text and life; the religious and the social. Thus, after realizing there is neither a “singular definitive mode of Jewish conduct,” nor a “singular governing body of Muslim behavior,” one cannot continue lightheartedly to hold a grudge against the group as a whole, in all its diversity and irregularity. In short, question yourself and ask the other became an inner motto for me, a challenging and challenged participant of the Muslim Jewish Conference 2012.
September 19, 2012 | 7:53 am
Posted Ian Shulman / Vienna
People unfamiliar with Judaism often label Hannukah as ‘the Jewish Christmas’. The main argument of parallel lovers here is that Hannukah usually falls in December. Some try to go deeper though, and claim that the real Jewish Christmas is Rosh HaShana, basing this comparison on the spiritual meaning rather than the calendar. Let’s try to find out which holiday is the true Jewish Christmas and why do we need one at all?
Let’s face it: today Christmas is not only the key Christian holiday, but also a symbol of a warm family holiday; a high time to be together with your loved ones, think about the things you value, reconsider your deeds and ask for forgiveness. This modern image of Christmas was recreated by Charles Dickens. Probably the best-known Christmas story ‘A Christmas Carol’ is dedicated to an impressive human transformation from a grumpy Christmas-denier to a happy simple man rejoicing the high holiday, meanwhile reminding us of the core values of this day. The work has made a significant impact, turning the slightly forgotten holiday into the key event of the year.
In other words, Dickens has shown us that Christmas is too magnificent to be neglected. The book makes you want to celebrate the fete. But as the holiday is always bound to the religion it belongs to, the values are usually universal.
Honestly, the image of Hannukah has a lot in common with the image of Christmas. It is probably the main family festival of the Jewish year. Sweet latkes, Hannukiah candles, games, presents - don’t we have similar things on December 25th? Some may argue that Christians give their children toys while the Jews have a custom of presenting money - yet both of the festivals have a common ‘family-home-warmth’ vibe.
Rosh HaShana has its own calendar similarity with Christmas too. Even though it usually falls on September/October and not December, both holidays mark the start of the new year - Rosh HaShana being the Jewish New Year itself and Christmas being just five days before January 1st. But the crucial aspect of Rosh HaShana and the following Ten Days of Repentance ending with Yom Kippur is repentance, asking for forgiveness and striving for improvement. This is a crucial point of Christmas too. Referring to Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ again, repentance was the driving force which made Ebenezer Scrooge ‘believe’ in Christmas.
Of course, there is no Jewish Christmas, just as there is no Christian Hannukah or Christian Rosh HaShana. But would you like to read a story? It would go like this: a greedy Jewish businessman doesn’t believe in, let’s say, Hannukah. His nephew comes to say ‘Happy Hannukah’, but all he gets from his uncle is ‘Oy vey!’ (and no Hannukeh Geld). Next night he got visited by three ghosts - Ghost of Hannukah Past, Ghost of Hannukah Present and Ghost of Hannukah Future, of course. And guess what? He wakes up and says: ‘Happy Hannukah!’...
As long as Dickens’ fans are OK with that, such story should exist. Happy holidays!
September 15, 2012 | 7:20 am
Posted by Klaudia Klimek
Being inspired by the synagogue notes of my colleague Pavel Pustelnik, I feel obliged to add this story to the beautiful collection.
Celle makes you fall in love with Germany. Seems like there was no war in the town - over 400 beautiful fachwerk houses form a truly medieval city center; what surrounds it mostly comes from the pre-war times as well. It’s a true candy town from the old German fairy tales. So is the oldest remaining synagogue in Germany. As synagogues should not necessarily stand out from the town’s landscape, the temple in Celle is just another medieval fachwerk house from the outside. And just a normal European synagogue from inside - two pictures are hard to match. The synagogue is rarely used, but hosts a decent Jewish museum with a number of permanent and temporary exhibitions. The museum banner is the only thing to help one identify the building from the narrow street. Indeed, the town belongs to the different world, where the synagogues are carefully turned to freshly renovated museums, and as for the Jews - maybe they just all returned to Israel, being deeply attached to the wonderful town of Celle and tight connection to their historic motherland?
Bergen Belsen concentration camp located just 30 minutes drive from Cellle was aimed to ruin this lollipop fantasy. A bus took me through the sunny meadows of the German region of Lower Saxony right to the gloomy walls of the concentration camp memorial. But the fairy tale could not end there. The concentration camp has disappeared. There was nothing in the old forest, except for the documentation center built some ten years ago. Nothing has remained. Walk through this forest and you won’t find a single brick remained from the murder machine. Nothing at all, but the opened doors of the memorial.
September 15, 2012 | 7:13 am
Posted Ian Shulman
It’s Rosh HaShana Eve 5773 and I’m stuck in a dusky rainy city in the Northern Germany. Yesterday I got in touch with the local rabbi again, checked the prayer times and received a shiny wall calendar for the upcoming Jewish year. The rainy Jewish New Year’s Eve is on my mind.
Naming the holiday ‘the New Year’ instead of using it’s common Hebrew name puts it on a different level for me. An admired milestone of the Jewish tradition and the Jewish calendar turns to a clear and familiar image, year’s major event, the starting and the ending point. 2012 and 5773 suddenly start to look as two crucial points on two equally important scales.
Yet for me it was always like that. I got to a Jewish highschool when I was seven, where I suddenly realized that I have to let one more New Year to my calendar. Eating apples with honey in October and finding presents under the Christmas tree in January meant twice as much fun and didn’t contradict each other at all. Since then I was regularly updated. All I knew is that the Hebrew month of Tishrei starts somewhere between September and October and there is a Jewish community there to remind me when exactly is the festival. And Tishrei meant a holiday spirit in the air, just like our own rainy humid Jewish Christmas (though during my early schools years the real Christmas didn’t settle in the post-Soviet region yet and all ‘Christmas spirit’ responsibilities were carried out by the December 31st).
This was a period of an unimagined harmony between Judaism and Christianity, grounded on honest secularity. Christmas tree was a well-established tradition exclusively related to the New Year’s Eve and totally disconnected from Christmas by the Soviet regime. It gained a new, progressive, universal and secular image. Rosh HaShana alongside with other major holidays was a first hesitant attempt to get a feeling of how our grandparents used to live and to find some old and new friends.
Rosh HaShana is a high time to sum up the last year, but please allow me to refer back to the last decade. We became more independent, more self-aware, more heritage-aware, more progressive, more green. We started to live in two calendar years, in two traditions - the universal and the Jewish one. Last but not least - it’s been almost a decade now since my family bought a Christmas tree last.
September 15, 2012 | 6:16 am
Posted Pavel Pustelnik
Mumbai. Yes, exotic more than you can imagine. And in the middle of the city there is a huge synagogue. It is blue and as exotic as the whole city.
- Where are you from? - Poland. - Aaaa, Holand, The Netherlands! -No, Poland. - Aaaa, Poland! After the standard conversation with a police officer we just learn that we cannot enter the synagogue. - Come back tomorrow, sir. So we are coming back the next day. The air is humid and smells of everything. The same police officer is around and welcomes us with a wide smile. - Now open, please go. It is hard to call his look into our bags as a security control, but apparently the area is safe.
The synagogue seems to be under constant construction or constant demolition. Workers are walking around, doing pretty much nothing. The walls are covered with some kind of clay in some parts. In some places there is only a bit of shaded paint. The building sits proudly and looks at the small buildings around. It is cut from the outside only to some extent. The noise from outside is very present and it is pointless to look for relief here. It is hard to imagine any celebration taking place here. The whole space is cut into small parts with bamboo scaffold. Not really used, but omnipresent in India.
Talking to anyone here does not help much - apart from the fact that taking pictures relates to a payment of 200Rs there is not much that we can learn from the staff. We head towards an information board. What a surprise! "The Famous Madonna Visits The Synagogue". "The Famous Madonna" is obviously a pop singer who paid visit to the building. Some twenty faded pictures show the whole event in details. Any information about the synagogue or the local community? Not really.
Finally we learn from our guide that the building was constructed in the 19th century and painted in stunning blue that is visible up to today. The building was to commemorate Elias David Sasson, a businessman trading with India. The synagogue is built of bricks and Cooria stone. This is all what can be found for now, but the inquiry is in progress...
*This article has been sent from an internet cafe in Mysore, where the tiles are crazily yellow, krishnas are looking at the computer users and the boss of the place watches Bollywood movies. Greetings from India
ps. You can find more synagogue photos here : http://jewrnalism.com/jewrnalism-gallery/journeys?page=2#category
September 14, 2012 | 7:14 am
Posted Dana Hadadi
Hayden Cohen has always wanted to be a member of the Elders of Zion. A secret organisation controlling the world sounds great. He's Jewish. He thinks like a pensioner. Unfortunately he hasn't received an invitation yet. So he decided to form the UK branch of the Elders of Zion himself. Come to this, the new members open day and see if you have what it takes. Containing performance poetry, music and comedy.
Bit about me
I'm Hayden Cohen. A 26 year old performance poet, singer-songwriter and funnyman from Leeds, UK. I've been performing forever and being Jewish has always been a large part of that.
Aged 8, I played the part of Tevier (with drawn on beard) at my local Jewish primary school; the only one in Leeds.
As a community, Leeds has approximately 10,000 Jews with 250,000 across the whole of the UK. This makes us less than 0.5% of the population. Even so, Jews seem to be a very visible part of public life. Jews own many of the large chain stores or are on their board of directors. They are in politics, law, entertainment and the media amongst others. Whilst the majority of Jews do not have these roles, the fact that there are so many can create negative perceptions of the community.
As an artist, I really want to play with these ideas and show that whilst a lot of the stereotypes are terrible, maybe some of them may have some accuracy.
I love being Jewish, but if we can't laugh at ourselves, someone will persecute us instead. That's history.
To some extent though it's easier being Jewish in the UK than in Israel as you have to work at it. I have to be careful that what I eat is kosher and can't really show my Jewish pride openly; but enough of Tel Aviv.
As Jewish culture is something to be worked at, rather than be constantly apparent as in Israel, it means that I can't take my heritage for granted even though I'm agnostic whilst also a practicing Jew. This perspective also intrigues me and will be exploring it further within the show.
'Secrets of the Elders of Zion' will be my third one man show. I've taken my first two shows 'Rantings of a Young Fool' in 2010 and 'Age of the Geek' in 2012 to the Edinburgh Fringe. Approximately 1000 people have seen the shows so far and the response has been great.
I pride myself on managing expectations as the majority of my performance is multi-disciplinary meaning that not everything is funny or serious. It's somewhere in the middle.
On the whole reviews reflect this with the vast majority giving me 3 stars with a few 4 and 5 stars. At such an early stage of my career this is fantastic.
I look forward to improving my craft and bringing 'Secrets of the Elders of Zion' to the Rushes festival.
September 14, 2012 | 6:56 am
Posted Pavel Pustelnik
The journey through Cieszyn Silesia continues and after Skoczów and Wilamowice we come to the centre of the region – Cieszyn, a town that used to be an important place for the Jewish community before the 2. World War.
It has been raining cat and dogs since days. The Polish summer is not always as nice as it could be for those who are trying to enjoy their holidays. When we approach Cieszyn we see heavy clouds above the centre. Not a good sign if you plan to take some good shots at a cemetery. Arriving from the North we go first to the cemetery called “The New Jewish Cemetery”. A large white gate looks locked but surprisingly after stronger pushing, it lets us in.
The cemetery was built once the old site has been fully occupied and the decision was taken to organise a new structure. The decision has been granted after several problems encountered by the Jewish community of Cieszyn. First of all there was considerable opposition from coming from the neighbourhood that was not happy with an extension of the cemetery. Even though the land for the venue was bought already in 1898, it was only in 1906 when any works could be started. The first funeral took place in 1907.
Today it is not easy to imagine the old good days of the place. By the entrance you can see a golden sign that commemorates the works that were done at the cemetery in 1997-1999. It has been only 13 years ago but in between visibly, not enough care has been given to Cieszyn's site. The graves are covered by a thick layer of leaves, some soil, some of them almost disappeared. The cemetery house practically does not exist any more. A large decorative structure based on several arches has been partially demolished during the restoration. It was not possible to save the building as a whole therefore the roof has been removed and today only pale-yellow walls are witnessing the past.
What is interesting about the New Cemetery is the fact that the War and the German Occupation did not harm the place. In march 1943 the decision was taken to change the role of the Jewish cemeteries in Cieszyn and they were supposed to be reshaped into parks. It is easy to imagine what this would have meant for the site. Fortunately, the implementation of the decision has never happened. Why than the cemetery is almost completely destroyed? The last funeral took place in 1961. The communist regime did not treat Jewish cemeteries as a part of the Polish heritage and there was a silent approval of “using the place”. This has been happening in a very obvious place – the graves became a source for the buildings around Cieszyn. Well, if you flip hamsas and menoras, you can recycle a Jewish grave into a Christian one. This has been a wide practice as well and led to a further decline of the site.
The rain does not stop. The depressive atmosphere of the place is doubled by the weather. Time to find the other Jewish cemetery in Cieszyn.