Posted Zuzanna Jakubowska/ Poland
During all my visits to Israel and throughout the time I lived there, I always wondered what it is like in the country next to the Holy Land, the country to which travel is strictly prohibited. Especially because my Jewish grandfather lived there for several years and I have friends in Beirut. I "saw" Lebanon many times from across the Israeli border and in my dreams I could just walk across. In 2010 I went there for the first time, putting behind me the whole political issue... and I really fell in love with this country.
When we think about Lebanon, especially never having been there, we don't have in mind the best associations. And of course, especially for Jews, it is not the easiest place to visit, but I discovered there a country full of culture, beautiful architecture, great people and the best of food and nightlife. Lebanon is different from other Arab countries, with so many types of religion - Sunni, Shia, Druze, Maronite Catholics, Greek Catholics, Greek Orthodox and others, making for an amazing mix of people. I was very lucky to meet Hiba, a wonderful Shia girl from Beirut, who was very interested in Jewish history, the Arab - Israeli conflict and had some knowledge of Hebrew. During my stay in Beirut she told me a lot about Jewish history in Lebanon, and showed me what is left of it there.
The Jewish population in Lebanon, located mainly in Beirut, then Saida and Tripoli, reached around 24 000 people in 1948, with sixteen synagouges located just in Beirut. In the mid-50's only 7,000 people were left and finally in 2008, fewer than a 100. Now only 30 Jews live in the entire country. The main Jewish quarter - Wadi Abu Jamil, formally known as Wadi Al-Yahoud, located in Beirut's center, was the hub of the Lebanese Jewish Community. Alongside the main, oldest and largest of them - Beirut's Maghen Abraham Synagogue. The synagogue was constructed in 1925 and badly damaged during the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990). Wadi Abu Jamil is really a beautiful area, but the old Jewish quarter that surrounded the synagogue was never rebuilt. When we walked by I saw high stone walls and Lebanese soldiers looking at my camera, telling me that "the building is closed" and "no photos". I was really disappointed, hoping to see the building from the inside. In 2009, Magen Abraham Synagogue started to be renovated by the Lebanese Jewish Community Council, with its leader - Isaac Arazi. The project was confirmed by the Lebanese government, Hezbollah, and other community leaders. Arazi has managed to collect 40 000 dollars, however the full cost of renovation may reach 1 million. The situation regarding the only Jewish cemetary in Beirut is no better, located near Sodaco on Damascus road, it was used as a boundary for the Christian Phalange and was damaged during the Lebanese civil war. The first burial took place in 1829, and since then 3,300 people have been buried there. The Jewish Community Council of Beirut is hoping to renovate the cemetery as they are the synagouge. Thanks to Hiba, I saw the cemetery by climbing a wall, it does not look good, however - half of the graves are destroyed and the entire cemetery is overgrown like a jungle. In any case, my entire trip to Lebanon was a great experience. So great that I went back. The website of Lebanese Jews - www.thejewsoflebanonproject.org
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October 29, 2012 | 9:49 am
Posted Pavel Pustelnik
The cultures that are about to die have always been catching a lot of attention. Partly because of the fact that the reasons of their decay are usually exceptional and partly because we want to grasp this touch that will not be achievable in the future. Edna Fernandes in her “Last Jews of Kerala” provides a broad picture of a shrinking Jewish community whose history is unparalleled. To some extent due to certain kind of apartheid going on in Kerala.
Edna Fernandes went to gather material for her book while being pregnant. If you think of a cliché image of India that people have, it seems that this was not the brightest idea. However, as Fernades claims in her book that being an expecting mother was rather a key to open people's mouths and hearts. And this was not an easy task as the Jews living in Kerala are not too forthcoming. As she uncovers, the reason for that were the inadequacies in the literature based on interviews with the people of Kochi (Kochin).
The city she writes about is located some 1400 kilometres South from Mumbai. Today it's densly populated by tourists who usually come for couple of days to a pretty European-looking town full of restaurants serving fresh fish (Kochi is a harbour). Some come just for a day to see the synagogue and so called “Chinese nets” which are used by the fishermen in the area. Fernandes goes deeper, much deeper to understand what has happened to a flourishing Jewish community that has almost disappeared. She does not have a ready hypothesis that she comes with to India. She is just a curious person who wants to touch the truth. If the whole tourist image of the town is build on Jews, where are they and why there are mostly Muslims trading in the Synagogue Lane?
The author tries to approach the last Jews of Kerala in various ways. She embodies the most stubborn journalist in the world when she tries to get to people and make them talk. She never crosses certain borders though. Her persistence is well-awarded as when people start to talk, Fernandes is able to uncover the reasons of decay. It is not about antisemitism or trade issues with the local people. It is nothing else than Jewish apartheid between the White Jews and Black Jews, who struggle to prove who has been first in Kerala, whose blood is more pure and who should feel inferior. The story that is behind the tired walls of Synagogue Lane is painful to unwind and does not leave space for allusions. The discourse of ethnicity used to be extremely powerful in the relation between White and Black Jews in Kerala. The marriages between the communities were forbidden and the use of the Paradesi synagogue restricted. Those who were discussing the rules were becoming enemies. Some of the young Jews disregarded the “apartheid law” with regards to marriages and therefore they had to move to Mumbai or elsewhere. As it is easy to imagine, the whole situation led to a gradual weakening of the community and at the moment when the book was published there were only 12 White Jews in Kochi and around 50 Black Jews.
Given the fascinating circumstances, not only does the book offer a rich historical background but her story develops in a wider context of Israel becoming a country and situation of Jews originating in Kerala who left their homeland. The book is perhaps not to linear, there are certain jumps in between the stories told by the interviewees but this makes it even more compelling and informative. It seems though a bit redundant to include a travel diary parts in a book that actually aims at explaining a problem of a community. Not necessarily a reader wants to know about that much of the interviewer's feelings and plans if the interviewees' stories are so invaluable.
Fernandes's books for sure cannot be treated as a textbook for ethnography students who are preparing themselves to research the issues related to conflict between groups or even Judaism itself. And this was not the aim of the author. It is rather a rich portrayal of a complex situation that has been caused by misunderstandings, envy and lack of communication. Sounds like a scenario for a movie? The content is definitely well-worth filming.
Edna Fernades The Last Jews of Kerala,Portobello Books Ltd, 272 pages, 8,99 GBP (paperback)
More about the author: http://www.ednafernandes.com/
October 14, 2012 | 12:57 pm
Posted Pavel Pustelnik
A thousand years is a lot of time. The relations between Jews and Poland have always been complex. Last week in Paris there was an opening of an exhibition that aims at showing the Jews in Poland over the last 1000 years. A suicidal task if you do not have enough resources, creativity and space.
The exhibition was supposed to open at six. At 6:15 there are still people running around as the microphones do not work. There is no extension cord, no stand for the mike. Nobody is too much stressed though. Finally the speeches begin. The director of the College Jérôme Beau talks about the importance of the venue for this kind of exhibition, he is followed by the head of the Polish Cultural Institute in Paris Klaudia Podsiadło and finally the ambassadors of Israel in France and Poland in France have chance to say some words. Yossi Gal formed his speech around certain complexity of the Polish-Jewish relationship whereas hi Polish counterpart Tomasz Orłowski was talking about the richness of the Polish-Jewish relations. “It is a lesson of richness” he was underlining. He mentioned as well that at times Poles were not sensitive enough towards what the Jewish communities needed. Both diplomats could not forget about Shoah. Applause, given by a mostly older audience, and we can proceed to the posters.
Saying that the exhibition is modest is a compliment. There are over 60 stands that are marked with many years of use, on which posters were attached. The simplicity of the exhibition is utterly painful. Here we start, this is how Poland came into existance, this is what happened later and those are the Jewish communities today. It seems that the organisers have missed the recent developments in exhibition trends. Or at least they have heard about them, but were not sure how to implement them. For example there are two beamers that show pictures of Jews living in Poland. There are some short movies as well, but all that is placed up high and which makes it absolutely uncomfortable to watch. Not to mention reading the subtitles (in French only).
How about the posters per se? They are dull. It seems that all the pictures and maps have been extracted from the history text books from the 90'. Do not expect more than just texts and pictures. It is not really an exhibition, it is more of a book printed on large pieces of paper and hang around a room. In relation to that, it is highly informative, but just imagine reading over 60 pages of text standing in front of crude charts. Even the layout is topsy-turvy, which does not make it easy to follow. It appears that the organisers have never tried to walk along all the posters and read them. And if the exhibition is extremely linear, I do not object to this idea, it should be a pleasure to follow and read. This unfortunately is not the case here.
The answer to the problems comes quicker than one could have thought. I was given a booklet related to the exhibition (the person that was handing it to me was an absolutely charming staff person of the Polish Cultural Institute) to collect it home. To my deepest terror, on the first page there is a date: 2004 and the whole booklet presents nothing else than all the posters and duly the same text. Two birds killed with one stone, apparently. Obviously, it is easier to just take a ready-made, magnify it and voilà, we have an exhibition. Given the date of publication, the material has been gathered some 10 years ago. Indeed, for 1000 years of history it does not really make a big change, but for the way of exhibiting definitely yes.
Certain doubts concerning the diligence have came up as on the third poster it appears that the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was in war with its neighbours: Turkey, Russia and Switzerland. Somebody must have spotted the mistake in a very last moment, used a pen to cross “Switzerland” and wrote “Sweden” in a barely readable handwriting. However, in the mentioned booklet there are no errors. Secondly, given that Paris enjoys a lot of tourists, Jewish as well, at least some care could have been given to the translations. The exhibition is entirely in French, with not even a synopsis in English. If it talks about the Jews in Poland, it would be easy to imagine that perhaps some non French speakers would be interested. Well, apparently this was beyond imagination.
The Museum of Polish Jews is supposed to open in Warsaw. The insitution already catches a lot of media attention and will certainly be an extremely important event for the whole Jewish world. What was the reason of showing the 1000 years of history of Jews in Poland in Paris? It seems that the organisers wanted to bite more that they can chew and tackle an extremely complex topic with a slightly outdated pictures taken from a book. A terrible showcase of the lack of creativity and care.
October 11, 2012 | 1:15 pm
Posted Dana Addadi
Jewrotica- a social hub for the many facets of Jewish sexual expression was launched this week parallel to the celebrations of Simchat Tora.
Jewrotica wishes to bring you everything from rabbinic responses to issues such as homosexuality and kink, to reflections on relationships, to straight-up erotic content, and will spark much discussion.
Mainly, the content of what will be found on Jewrotica will be determined by the readers and writers themselves, so declares Ayo Oppenheimer, the founder and editor of Jewrotica, currently located in Texas.
believes greatly in the potential of her passionate crew, and so her main intention is merely to provide the structure that will hold the flame supplied by the people for the benefit of the other people.
Oppeheimer hopes Jewrotica will maintain a variable and pluralistic debate as possible, and will keep a clear orientation of an on-line international community. And so, she plans to expand with Jewrotica from the virtual space of the web to in-person resource in the future: hosting workshops and speakers in Jewish communities nation-wide.
In order to be sensitive to the diverse audience pieces will be tagged according to a rating system that allows further inclusiveness and freedom for the reader to choose the pieces most appropriate for themselves
Jewrotica was born at the 2012 ROI Summit and is an initiative supported by the Schusterman Foundation, as well as a friend of the popular Jewish cultural site Jewlicious.
We invite you to visit www.jewrotica.org, and get on with your sexy confession. Personal request- please be naughty.
October 4, 2012 | 11:50 pm
Posted by Klaudia Klimek
Crossing the street named after Józef Dietl - a once outstanding mayor of Krakow and creator of its modern image, we enter the magical world of Kazimierz. For many of its inhabitants, the pride of this city. But it wasn’t always like that, until recently it was an extinct Jewish district, inhabited by murmuring element of unknown sort. Only the magnificence of the, architecture, rescued by the hand of God, testifies that once, in this place, lived a large population of Polish Jews. A vast majority of the nearly 70 thousand people of the Jewish community of Krakow were murdered during the Nazi occupation, and thus the Jewish Kazimierz was dead for many years. For a long time now, the municipal authorities along with the surviving handful of Jews, have been trying to give the area its proper brilliance. The success of the Jewish Culture Festival and hundreds of thousands of tourists visiting Kazimierz, are a sign of development in the right direction.
The city of Kazimierz was founded in 1335 by King Kasimir III of Poland (Kazimierz in Polish), called the Great. But it didn’t become a Jewish center instantly. Initially, there was to be a university (“Wszechnica”), but the premature death of the king interfered with those plans. Little information remained on bringing Jews to Kazimierz. According to Maciej Miechowita it was in 1492, when a large fire broke out in Krakow, which burned several Jewish homes. It was then that the town councilors took the decision to move the Jewish community to Kazimierz. This information is confirmed in the agreement contained on February 27, 1494 between the guild of butchers and the Jewish seniors of Kazimierz. Soon the so-called baleneum Iudeorum, nothing more than a Jewish Bath, was created and three years later the circulus Iudeorum, the Jewish market. The number of Jews grew rapidly as a result of immigration from Bohemia and Moravia, which they escaped from the continuing persecutions. Jews from Spain and Italy came during this time as well. A Royal Decree of 1537 allowed to build a second synagogue, which was fairly quickly destroyed by a fire, but King Sigismund II Augustus allowed its reconstruction in 1557. Today it bears the name of the “Old Synagogue”. In the XVI century two other synagogues were created, High and Remuh. It can be assumed that in the mid-seventeenth century there lived 5 thousand Jews in Kazimierz. The political downfall of Krakow as well as the dusk of the glory of the country (Rzeczpospolita) affected the number of inhabitants of Kazimierz. At the end of the XVIII century there lived 2 thousand Jews, but one must remember that most Jews still lived in the area of Krakow. After the fall of the Republic (Rzeczpospolita) the Austrian government made a final displacement of Krakow’s Jews, ordering them to leave all of their apartments and shops in the area of Krakow and Kazimierz, with the result that the city population rose to about 4,5 thousand. After the formation of the Free (Independent and Strictly Neutral) City of Krakow in 1818 its Senate announced the “Statue Organizing the Followers of the Law of the Old Testament in the Free City of Krakow and its Environs” which allowed the Jews to live and trade in the whole area of the Christian and Jewish Kazimierz.
Kazimierz grew into the city, becoming, along with its inhabitants, an integral part without which contemporary Krakow wouldn’t be the same.
For a trip to Krakow you need at least 5 days, crossing a couple of streets in the district of Kazimierz may take a whole day if not two.
When deciding about a visit it is best to provide yourself with a guide. But as it is known, no Polish guide will include the most important places, which a local would recommend, furthermore a local Jew and as we all know such sites interest us the most.
To work then! What should you visit, see and what paths should you take to feel as a part of the community living in Kazimierz? Well, you have to realize, my dear traveler, that Jews rather not reside in Kazimierz. We have our offices and synagogues, but this is a typically tourist district. Apartments in old buildings require major overhauls and those in new architecture cost terribly much because living here, nowadays, is quite fashionable. Nonetheless, we spend a lot of our free time and money here, drinking coffee at a charming sidewalk cafe or, as a Cracovian would joke, “eating kosher blood sausage”.
If you came to Krakow and inadvertently did not book a hotel then below you have a couple of ideas and hints. I’d like to note at the outset, that if this is during the Jewish Culture Festival then you have a serious problem – finding accommodation day by day is really difficult at that time of the year.
So depending on your budget I suggest 4 places where you should call and ask about the situation:
1) Hotel Mayaan (www.hotelmaayan.com) is in the heart of Kazimierz on Miodowa street, opposite the Jewish Community Center and Tempel Synagogue. It is a hotel run by a Jew and has relatively low prices giving the area and standard. Usually for 70 zł/person in a room with no bathroom, you can accommodate yourself at a hotel for young people with questionable hygiene standards. This hotel doesn’t officially have any stars, but I’d give it two and a half.
2) If you’re looking for something more expensive and sophisticated then I’d recommend Hotel Alef (www.alefhotel.pl) where you pay 160zł/person including breakfast. What captivated me in this hotel is not only its location on the quiet St. Agnieszki street 5 but the dining room. It is beautifully furnished with antiques, which makes everything taste different. You just want to be there. I hope you will have a similar impression.
3) Another suggestion, a bit more expensive, is Hotel Kazimierz (www.hk.com.pl/kazimierz-home.php) where a hotel night costs 260zł/person including breakfast. This hotel has 3 buildings – two on Miodowa street and one on Starowiślna street.
4) Of the more expensive hotels I invite you to Hotel Klezmer Hois on Szeroka street and Hotel Eden on Ciemna street. Hotel Klezmer Hois (www.klezmer.pl/index.php) offers rooms starting from 200zł and higher, including breakfast. Hotel Eden (www.hoteleden.pl/) starting from 260zł. These hotels have fantastic owners, who are a part of the Jewish community in Krakow. If you are religious and eat kosher then choose Hotel Eden, if not then book a stay at Klezmer Hois. Not only will you have a chance to taste delicious, traditional Jewish cuisine (non-kosher) but you will find decor straight from our grandmothers’ homes, where it smells like old wood, antiques, burned candles and you hear the piano. Each room is furnished a little bit differently and each has its own soul. More about Klezmer Hois in SIGHTSEEING.
If you are already accommodated and your suitcase is in the hotel room, then it is time for a meal. Here we have a problem because there are plenty of places to eat in Kazimierz – follow your intuition and a momentary whims. But if I had to recommend something as “a local”, then I suggest determining whether you want to eat kosher or not. If kosher then it definitely narrows your choices since we don’t have many kosher restaurants.
1) One, which looks quite European and friendly to the eye is The Olive Tree on Kupa 6 street. Its website seems to be out of order so here are contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone number: 48442 77 00, in case you’d become hungry on a Friday evening and would like to eat a Shabbat meal. For the price of 25 EUR you’ll get an appetizer in the form of fish, a chicken leg with vegetables, soup e.g. chicken broth and dessert e.g. mousse. To all of this, 4 kinds of salad and beverages. On Saturday you can order lunch for 25 EUR as well – Gefilte fish, schnitzel, kugel and dessert, as well as salads and cholent. The restaurant seats up to 96 people but pre-book a table. Preferably a few days ahead. Until recently, Chabad also organized dinner but from what I know it will resume with doing so at the beginning of 2013. For more information go to Isaac Synagogue on Kupa 18 street.
Interested in a reformed service? Get in contact with the Galicia Jewish Museum (http://www.galiciajewishmuseum.org/) for more information. Everyone there speaks English.
2) As I’ve written earlier, Klezmer Hois offers non-kosher but recommendable cuisine. Typical Galician Jewish cuisine e.g. stuffed goose neck, stuffed duck or carrot cake are simply delicious! The prices of lunch range from 10 - 15 EUR. During dinner you may listen to klezmer music played live, after buying a ticket which costs around 5 EUR.
3)If you’re not eating kosher and are fed up with the same dishes, maybe you’d prefer something Polish? Here the choice is much bigger. For a smaller budget I’d suggest e.g. the Polakowski restaurant (www.polakowski.com.pl) on Miodowa street, where waitresses dressed up as peasant girls serve tomato soup. For 5 EUR you can really eat a proper meal!
4) If during this vacation you can allow yourself for more, I’d suggest the Sąsiedzi restaurant, on Miodowa 25 street. For 10-15 EUR you can eat a delicious meal. I’ve eaten “pierogi” (dumplings – Ed.) and tiramisu here. Both meals swept me off my feet.
5) If you aren’t in luck and in a hurry, then believe me that eating fast food on Estery street isn’t the best solution. I’d suggest the famous “zapiekanki” (toasted sandwiches – Ed.) to which there’s a line day or night. I’m not sure if you’ll make yourself understood by the saleswoman, but try because it’s definitely worth it. You can eat a “zapiekanka” for around 2 EUR, which can be with “oscypek” (smoked cheese – Ed.), chive, bacon, spinach… and whatever else you choose. “Zapiekanki” at Endzior’s are at the so-called “Okrąglak” on Plac Nowy. It’s difficult to miss the queue, follow the smell.
6) When having the desire to just talk over coffee, I’d recommend cult places like Café Alchemia on Plac Nowy (www.alchemia.com.pl), although it’s difficult to get a table during the evening.
7) If you smoke then go to Tajemniczy Ogród (Secret Garden – Ed.) on Plac Nowy 9. This place has a smoking room (it’s useful during the winter) and a nice patio. May I warn you that if there’s a lot of customers, the waiters are a bit slow.
8) Staying on Plac Nowy the so-called Jewish Square, you may take a look at the known place on Estery street 20 – Singer - the name came from the famous sewing machines. company. If you’re in the mood for vodka, pickles and then go to Zakąski & Wódka right next to Tajemniczy Ogród.
9)If you already miss Israeli coffee then I invite you to my personal favorite – Café Cheder. It’s a place founded by the Jewish Culture Festival office (they share a door). The café is on corner of Jakuba st. and Józefa st. (www.jewishfestival.pl/index,en.html). I’d recommend the Israeli coffee and some free time because you’ll find many books there, also thematic meetings from time to time. Follow their website!
10) The last place I’d like to recommend is Ariel Café (www.ariel-krakow.pl). I have a soft spot for it. Before Kazimierz became a touristic area, where you see the Star of David and Jewish menus left and right, Café Ariel was a place visited by our parents. Because of its uniqueness it is special. Also it is on Szeroka st. where the culminating concert of the Jewish Culture Festival takes place. Not only do they have coffee but tasty food as well.
As I’ve written before, to see Kazimierz it is best to have a guide, in the form of a book or human. I am not able to recommend a book but you count on a helping hand from the members of the Czulent Association (www.czulent.pl). If you have a question or favor to ask, write them an e-mail, I’m sure they’ll help.
1) If you decide to walk through Kazimierz alone then don’t forget to see places like: the Tempel Synagogue on Miodowa st. 24. It is a reformative synagogue in which services take place only on the occasion of visits of larger groups. Further walking Miodowa st. enter the JCC to talk with volunteers and members of the Senior’s Club. If you’ll be a polite tourist they might give you a taste of “nalewka” (a traditional Polish alchohol, similar to tinctures of liqueurs – Ed.)
2) Next to JCC turn left on Estery st. In building number 6 – at present the NFZ (National Health Fund – Ed.), on the second floor The Social Cultural Association of Jews in Poland (TSKŻ – Ed.) is located. The office is open from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.. If you get on it you can look at documents from ’51!
3) Turn left on the Placy Nowy – the so-called Jewish Square. Each Sunday there is a market here, where you can buy clothes, jewelry, cosmetics and other things. During the week a couple of stands with antiques, jewelry, fruit and flowers, open up.
4) On Beera Meiselsa st. 17 you’ll find the Center for Jewish Culture (www.judaica.pl). Theoretically there should always be something happening there, but practically each time I go in it’s empty. A big advantage is another café in the antique style and the other one on the building’s roof, which is a certain curio in Kazimierz.
1) Head to Józefa st. If you want to buy handmade souvenirs. This street is full of shops with jewelry, paintings, figurines and everything else we admire when being tourists.
2) Reaching Kupa st. you will see the Isaac Synagogue in which there is the only shop with kosher food in Krakow.
3) Also on the same street you can visit the hair salon, which I honestly recommend. The 60s style décor is simply genius! Mr. Tomasz Marut is the boss and if you’d like him to cut your hair you must get an appointment two months before. But his employees are also good in this profession so if you want to get a haircut, this is the place!
4) Walking further down Szeroka st., you’ll see the earlier mentioned Café Cheder and the High Synagogue. At the top floor there is an exhibition but not a very interesting one, in my opinion. But on the ground floor you will find a bookstore with literature on Jewish themes, it’s worth stopping by.
5) Finally you’ll reach the Old Synagogue on Szeroka st., which is now a museum. To my mind it may be more interesting rather for those who have little in common with Jewry. The exhibition shows the Jewish life cycle, from birth to death. Necessary instruments, a ketubah, Passover Seder Plates and other traditional items.
6) If I were to choose then I’d definitely go to the Remuh Synagogue (www.remuh.jewish.org.pl) on Szeroka st. 40. First of all this is the only synagogue operating each Friday, second of all with the adjoining cemetery it creates a unique and invaluable group of Jewish architecture and sacred art from the XVI century. Definitely worth seeing.
7)The last stop is Dajwór st. 18 where the Galicia Jewish Museum is (www.galiciajewishmuseum.org/). You can see a phot exhibition there, drink some coffee, rest a while and buy a book or CD. It is also here that the reformative Shabbat dinners take place. With a little luck you might meet the first female rabbi in Poland – Tanya Segal. Look out for long, curly, red hair.