Monday, March 17, 2014

Jewish Culture, etc Festivals 2014

Jewish Culture Festival, Krakow. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

As usual, I am trying to put together a list of as many as possible of the numerous Jewish festivals -- culture, film, dance, etc -- that take place each year around Europe. Please help me by sending me information!

The big culture festivals and other smaller events make good destinations around which to center a trip. Some, like the annual Festival of Jewish Culture in Krakow, are huge events lasting a week or more, which draw thousands of people and offer scores or sometimes hundreds of performances, lectures, concerts, exhibits and the like. Other festivals are much less ambitious. Some are primarily workshops but also feature concerts. Many of the same artists perform at more than one festival.

The list will be growing and growing -- and again, I ask my readers to please send me information and links to upcoming events. Thanks!

ALL OVER EUROPE -- September 14 --  15th European Day of Jewish Culture (This year's theme -- Women in Judaism)


June 5-9 -- Copenhagen -- Jewish Culture Festival


March 30-April 13 -- Berlin & Potsdam -- Jewish Film Festival Berlin & Potsdam


September 13-16 -- Milan -- Jewish and the City festival


April 30 - May 4 -- Leeuwarden -- Jiddisch Festival

September 13-16 -- Amsterdam -- International Jewish Music Festival and Competition


March 18-21 -- Szczeczin -- Adlojada Days of Jewish Culture

April 22-27  -- Warsaw -- Jewish Motifs Film Festival

June 27-July 6 -- Krakow -- Jewish Culture Festival


March 28-20 -- Youlgreave (near Matlock) Derbyshire -- KlezNorth

Monday, February 10, 2014

Prague Jewish Museum opens new visitor center

Photo: Jewish Museum Prague

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Prague Jewish Museum is the most visited museum in the Czech Republic -- drawing more than half a million visitors a year.

So in a way, it's high time that it has opened a new visitor information and reservation center.

The new facility opened Feb. 3 at Meiselsa 15, close to the historic synagogues that house the museum's collections, as well as to other Jewish sites such as the Old-New synagogue, the Old Jewish cemetery and the Jewish Town Hall.

According to the museum’s announcement on its web site:

This new site provides visitors with a multimedia information space and offers a range of additional services. It is an interactive information gateway with basic details about the monuments and permanent exhibitions in the Jewish Town, as well as about specific Jewish monuments in Prague and the rest of the Czech Republic. It also contains information about current educational and cultural programmes held by the museum and related organizations and institutions. Visitors will also be given useful tips on where to find kosher meals and on services provided by travel agencies specializing in Jewish heritage tours. [...] As well as providing services for individual tourists, the new centre will also accept bookings from guides, school representatives and travel agencies. It also includes a rest area with refreshments and toilet facilities, as well as disabled access and a baby changing table.

In October, the museum will mark 20 years since it was given back to Jewish ownership by the state, and the new visitor center is just one of the initiatives and changes that are being implemented this year to mark the anniversary.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Recent updates from Jewish Heritage Europe

Postcard showing Chmielnik synagogue and the Archangel Gabriel

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

As I have begun to do on a regular basis, I'm posting here last week's updates from, the web site that I coordinate as a project of the Rothschild Foundation Europe. There's news mainly from Poland, Ukraine and Belarus.

I post on the JHE newsfeed several times a week, to keep content dynamic on what we aim to make the go-to web site for Jewish heritage issues in Europe. JHE will celebrate two years online next month, and we are planning to expand the enhance the site with new features.

Meanwhile -- please subscribe to the JHE news feed! You can use the subscribe buttons on the home page or on any of the news pages. The deal is that, on days that I post on the JHE news feed, you will receive one email with the links to the posts. Easy, convenient and informative, no? And you won't miss any of the feed.

Look at all the news we ran last week:

"Shtetl Routes" under development with EU grant in Poland-Belarus-Ukraine border region

An ambitious, international “Shtetl Routes” tourism itinerary through a score or more of towns in the Poland-Belarus-Ukraine border region is under development with a more than €400,000 grant from the European Union’s Cross-border Cooperation Programme Poland-Belarus-Ukraine 2007-2013.

Call for Papers: Conference “Urban Spaces of Lviv/Lwów/Lemberg: Imagination, Experiences, Practices”

Call for papers: New Research on Memory in Eastern Europe conference in Warsaw

Aim of the workshop is to discuss specificity of the collective memory and research of that memory in Ukraine and Belarus

Dariusz Stola named director of Museum of the History of Polish Jews

Report on Jewish Cemeteries in Silesia Province Published

The Brama Cukerman (Cukerman’s Gate) Foundation in Będzin, Poland, has recently published “Our Cemeteries,” a detailed, 50-page report on the state and status of the dozens of Jewish cemeteries in the Silesia Vojvodship (Province).

Sunday, January 12, 2014

This past week's updates from Jewish Heritage Europe

Murals of the Holy Land from Beit Tefilah Benjamin in Chernivtsi, Ukraine. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

As I did last weekend, I'm posting here this past week's updates from, the web site that I coordinate as a project of the Rothschild Foundation Europe. There's news from Ukraine, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Italy and the UK....

I post on the JHE newsfeed several times a week, to keep content dynamic on what we aim to make the go-to web site for Jewish heritage issues in Europe. JHE will celebrate two years online next month, and we are planning to expand the enhance the site with new features.

Meanwhile -- please subscribe to the JHE news feed! You can use the subscribe buttons on the home page or on any of the news pages. The deal is that, on days that I post on the JHE news feed, you will receive one email with the links to the posts. Easy, convenient and informative, no? And you won't miss any of the feed.

Great news, thanks to the indefatigable Jasna Ciric

Launch of online catalogue of Romanian archives

Rich new resource

New digital uploads of old synagogue postcards from the Rosenthall collection

Fantastic images and great resource -- for the armchair traveler, too

Technology: 3d scanners help digitize weathered inscriptions

Science in action to benefit historic research!

Update: Bradford Synagogue received first tranche of lottery funding for restoration

A shining example of Jewish-Muslim cooperation

“Visions of the Holy Land” in northern Romanian synagogues

Explanation of beautiful murals that decorate synagogues

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Happy 2014 (& beyond) -- and catching up...

Preserved fragments of the wheel of the Zodiac on the synagogue in Chmielnik, Poland, now restored as a Jewish museum. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Happy new year!

I've been woefully neglectful of this blog in recent months....mainly because I have been concentrating a lot of energy on the web site that I coordinate --

I post on the JHE newsfeed several times a week, to keep content dynamic on what we aim to make the go-to web site for Jewish heritage issues in Europe. JHE will celebrate two years online next month, and we are planning to expand the enhance the site with new features.

Below are the links to the most recent JHE posts -- I'm sure readers of this blog will find them of interest.

Meanwhile -- please subscribe to the JHE news feed! You can use the subscribe buttons on the home page or on any of the news pages. The deal is that, on days that I post on the JHE news feed, you will receive one email with the links to the posts. Easy, convenient and informative, no?

As befits the change of year and change of seasons, I'm posting some examples of the wheel of the Zodiac, a traditional synagogue decorative device, from synagogues in Poland, Romania and Ukraine.

Cycle of the Zodiac in the replica of the ceiling of the wooden synagogue in Gwozdziec, now installed at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Recent JHE posts:

Plans/hopes for synagogue restoration work in Romania in 2014

"Miracle" clean-up and care of Jewish cemetery in Myslowice, Poland

January - calendar of Hasidic pilgrimages in Poland to tombs of Tzaddikim

Happy 2014 -- Gallery of Zodiac paintings from synagogues in Romania, Poland, Ukraine

Irish Jewish Museum gets OK for expansion; NIMBY objections overruled

Zodiac on ceiling of Beit Tfila Benjamin synagogue in Chernivtsi, Ukraine. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Zodiac on ceiling of disused synagogue in Siret, Romania. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Monday, November 11, 2013

Hadassah-Brandeis Institute Scholar in Residence fellowship -- call for applications

Candlesticks hands in blessing mark women's gravestones in Gura Humorului, Romania. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

by Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University  has issued its call for applications for the summer or fall 2014 Scholar in Residence program.

It's a wonderful opportunity -- I was the Scholar in Residence at the HBI in early 2011, when I worked on my Candlesticks on Stone project about the visual representation of women in Jewish tombstone art.

In addition to the creation of the project web site, I present a paper about my project, which has been posted online as part of the Donna Sudarsky Memorial Working Paper Series.

You can view my paper HERE -- unfortunately it does not include the pictures, but you can see those on the Candlesticks on Stone web site.

Here are the details about the Residency and call for applications. 

The HBI Scholar-in-Residence programs provide scholars, artists, writers and communal professionals the opportunity to be in residence at Brandeis University while working on significant projects in the field of Jewish women’s and gender studies. 
Scholars-in-Residence receive a monthly stipend and office space at the Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center. Applicants living outside the U.S. and those whose work has an international dimension are especially encouraged to apply. 
Helen Gartner Hammer Scholars-in-Residence Program – Summer or Fall 2014 
Scholars are invited to apply for residency at the HBI to carry out significant research and artistic projects in the field of Jewish women’s and gender studies. Papers written while at the HBI are included in the Donna Sudarsky Memorial Working Paper Series
Residencies range from one month to the full academic semester. Scholars may begin the residency in August but should note that not all members of the Brandeis community will be available until the start of the academic year in September. 
Application deadline: January 30, 2014 
A decision will be announced by April 17, 2014 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

How to mark the Kristallnacht anniversary? With glorious synagogues

Entryway, Jubilee synagogue, Prague. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

This weekend marks the 75th anniversary of what we call Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass, the night of violent coordinated Nazi attacks against Jews, Jewish property, and Jewish places of worship which saw some 7,000 Jewish businesses trashed and more than 1,000 synagogues put to the torch all over Germany and German-occupied lands. Some 30,000 Jews were imprisoned and more than 90 were killed.

The destruction wrought on the night of November 9-10, 1938 foreshadowed the mass destruction of the Holocaust that followed a few years later.

To mark this anniversary, rather than dwell on the destruction, I thought I would focus on rebirth and survival, in particular the survival of synagogues whose restoration over the past two decades has been a symbol of Jewish rebirth in Germany and elsewhere in central and eastern Europe.

Here, then, just a few photographs of synagogues, still used by Jewish communities, that stand now as enduring monuments to the glory of what was destroyed -- and offer hope that the still somewhat fragile renewal of Jewish life in Europe may continue to strengthen. This is only a very small sample of the synagogue buildings that have been restored in Europe (most of them now used for cultural or other purposes).

Tempel synagogue, Krakow. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Interior, Tempel Synagogue, Krakow. Photo © JCC Krakow

Facade, Pilsen synagogue, Czech Republic. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Dohany st. Synagogue, Budapest. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Dohany st. Synagogue, Budapest. Restored in the 1990s

Dohany st. Synagogue, Budapest. Restored in the 1990s
Kazinczy st synagogue, Budapest

Ceiling, Kazinczy st synagogue, Budapest

Ark, Kazinczy st. Synagogue, Budapest

Orthodox synagogue, Presov, Slovakia. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Orthodox synagogue, Presov, Slovakia. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

And here are a couple of synagogues built in recent years. The use of glass is a real answer to Kristallnacht, no?:

Ohel Jakob synagogue , Munich (l) built 2004-2006

Synagogue in Graz, Austria, dedicated in 2000 on the site of the magnificent synagogue destroyed on Kristallnacht. Notice how the upper part of this synagogue is a glass dome. A real answer to the Night of Broken Glass. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Glass dome of the new synagogue in Graz. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Florence synagogue highlighted at Cafe Balagan this past summer

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Almost every week last summer, from early June through the end of August, the palm-shaded garden of the Florence synagogue was the scene of "Cafe Balagan" -- a sort of mini-Jewish culture and food festival aimed at opening up the Jewish community to the city -- and encouraging the city to recognize and embrace its Jewish history.

I took part in the last edition, at the end of August, engaging in a public conversation about Jewish culture and mainstream society, with Enrico Fink, the musician (and director of cultural affairs for the Florence Jewish community) who devised the event.

I wrote about it all for The Forward, in an article published this past week:

Putting Florence's Jewish History into the Spotlight 
By Ruth Ellen Gruber 
Nov. 5, 2013 
If you look out over Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo, high above the Arno, two domes catch your eye. One is Filipo Brunelleschi’s masterpiece, the immense ribbed dome of the Duomo. The other, off to the right, is much smaller but in its way also distinctive: It is the tall, bright green copper dome of the Florence synagogue. 
“Anyone who looks at the Florence skyline sees the Duomo and the synagogue,” said Enrico Fink, a musician and actor who last December took up the post of cultural affairs director of the Florence Jewish community. 
Dedicated in 1882, the synagogue is a monument to 19th century Jewish emancipation and a grand example of Moorish style architecture, with a soaring arched façade and two slim side towers. 
But while the Duomo is one of the most famous attractions in Italy, visited by millions, the synagogue and the Jewish history of the city remain largely unknown to most Florence residents as well as to the vast majority of tourists. 
Fink and other recently installed leaders of the 800- to 900-member Jewish community want to change this. Breaking with past policy, they have embarked on a plan to actively engage with mainstream Florence. They endeavor to make the Jewish community more visible and accessible, demystifying Jews and Jewishness for local non-Jews, while putting Jewish heritage on the local tourist map. 
“We want people in Florence to understand who we are, and to understand that the Jewish community belongs to the city, that we are part of the fabric of the city,” community president Sara Cividali, an energetic woman with a mass of silver hair, told me over lunch at Ruth’s, a kosher vegetarian restaurant next door to the synagogue. “It isn’t assimilation; it’s different, it’s participation,” she said. 
This new strategy was launched this summer with the Balagan Café, an unprecedented experiment in outreach that turned the synagogue’s palm-shaded garden into a mini-Jewish culture festival almost every Thursday night from June through August. Balagan, more or less, means “chaos” — and, said Fink, the idea behind calling the summer’s experiment “Balagan” was “an acceptance of confusion that’s not easy to define.” 
Each Café featured music, lectures, discussions, performances and other events. There were free guided tours of the synagogue and stands selling books, CDs, Judaica and Balagan Café T-shirts depicting a full moon over the synagogue dome. Performers and featured participants included nationally known figures such as the rock singer Raiz, the Tzadik label klezmer jazz clarinetist Gabriele Coen, and the architect Massimiliano Fuksas, who designed, among other things, the Peres Peace House in Israel. 
Meanwhile, food stands sold kosher meals and kosher wine to crowds eager to sample couscous, baked eggplant, beans with cumin and harissa, spicy chickpeas, Roman-style sweet and sour zucchini and other specialties. One evening saw a “competition” between Sephardic and Ashkenazic cooking; another featured a lesson in challah-making.

Read more:

Saturday, October 26, 2013

My article on the Museum of the History of Polish Jews - cover story in Hadassah Magazine

The "Three Hares" motif in the painted ceiling of the Gwozdziec synagogue repica. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

This post also appears on my En Route blog for the LA Jewish Journal

I’m delighted to have the cover story in the current Hadassah Magazine — an article about the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.

I’ve followed the development of this museum, which opened its doors in April but minus its core exhibition, since the mid-1990s, when the idea of such a museum was first broached, and I’ve written about it on various occasions — including a JTA piece when the building opened.

Since the core exhibition won’t be open to the public until probably next fall, I focused my Hadassah piece on the broader context of the museum: how it fits into Poland's developing museum landscape; how it fits within the context of the search for national and individual identity.

The museum is not an isolated institution, nor is its mission totally unique. Though its scope and prominence far surpass other initiatives, it is representative of a new crop of Jewish exhibits and venues that focus not on static displays of Judaica and not on the Shoah but on the living Jewish world that was destroyed. 
This trend has been exemplified most recently by the new permanent installation “Shoah,” curated by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and opened in the Block 27 barracks at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. This, like “Letters to Afar,” employs a variety of prewar film clips showing Jews carrying out all sorts of activities. Its soundtrack merges spritely music with sounds of celebrations, street life and snippets of conversation. 
Nearby, in Oswiecim, the town where the Auschwitz camp was built, a small museum at the Auschwitz Jewish Center, located in the town’s one surviving synagogue, presents prewar Jewish life in a town that before the Holocaust had a predominantly Jewish population. “No one knows that there were Jews here before the war—they only know the death camp,” noted Shlomi Shaked, a volunteer at the center. His mother, born in Oswiecim in 1949 and a resident there until her family immigrated to Israel in 1962, is featured in the exhibit. “I think people who visit Auschwitz should come here first to see the life before they visit the camp,” he said. 
A new Jewish museum housed in a restored synagogue in the small town of Chmielnik, north of Krakow, also showcases prewar Jewish life: After all, noted local historian Piotr Krawczyk, before the Holocaust, 80 percent of Chmielnik’s population was Jewish. That means, “local history is Jewish history,” he said.
One of the key roles of the Warsaw museum will be to support local initiatives. “Until our museum was established there were no proper models in Poland for what to do,” Kirshenblatt-Gimblett said. “We can open a new perspective on how Jewish history and heritage can be presented to the public.”

Read the full article here

Sunday, September 29, 2013

European Day of Jewish Culture -- Today!

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

This post also appears on my En Route blog for the LA Jewish Journal

If you're in Europe today -- Sept. 29 -- chances are that there are Jewish cultural events going on for you to visit.

Today marks the annual European Day of Jewish Culture, a pan-Europe festival that this year, with hundreds of events taking place in two dozen countries. The Day usually takes place the first Sunday of September, but was move to the end of the month because of the timing of this year's High Holidays.

Many synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and other Jewish heritage sites are open, and there are concerts, exhibits, lectures, food and wine tastings, guided tours, and more.

Depending on financial support, volunteers, local organization and other factors, some countries boast a dizzying array of events -- in Italy, arguably the most enthusiastic participant in the Day, there are events in about 60 towns, cities and villages up and down the peninsula, with Italy's president taking part in kick-off ceremonies in Naples.

In other countries there may be a few events, or even just a token event or so. I'm in Poland just now and -- despite the wealth of Jewish cultural events that go on all over Poland throughout the year -- there are only a couple of events, in Krakow, listed in the Culture Day program.

The first full edition of the European Day of Jewish Culture took place in 2000. It grew out of a 1999 conference in Paris on managing Jewish heritage in Europe. One of the presentations there was on a local “open doors” to Jewish heritage initiative in the French region of Alsace begun in 1996 as a partnership between the local tourist authority and B’nai B’rith.

After the conference, meeting of experts and activists, which I attended, decided to expand this model on a European level.

The EDJC is loosely coordinated by the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage (AEPJ), a body formed now by B’nai B’rith Europe, the Red de Juderias de Espana-Caminos de Sefarad, and the European Council of Jewish Communities.

Each year the Day has a theme -- this year's it's Jewish Heritage & Nature. The web site puts it: "This topic gives us food for thought – is there a link, and if yes what is it between these categories, what is the interaction between them? In order to find the answers to these questions it is necessary to look for arguments and examples and define a concept for the link between them."

This year's country participants include:

Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom