Jeeves macht alles
9 hours ago
Heritage, travel and history in Europe's Jewish Heartland
|Signage in Prague|
|Nikos Stavroulakis in Sejny, Poland, 2012|
|Interior of the Etz Hayyim Synagogue, Chania, Crete. Photo: World Monuments Fund|
“…our doors are open from early in the morning until late in the day so that the Synagogue assumes its role as a place of prayer, recollection and reconciliation.”
|Nikos Stavroulakis and Jewish Heritage Europe/Jewish Heritage Travel Coordinator Ruth Ellen Gruber, 2012|
Nikos was a Renaissance man. He knew so much about so many different subjects - art, cooking, Judaism, the Ottoman Empire, and Greece - and had done so many things. He had a magnetic personality, his voice was mesmerizing, and he was such a raconteur. Even his letters, which were long typed single spaced recitations and meditations, were somewhat hypnotic. When I began work at the World Monuments fund in 1989 I immediately began to correspond with Nikos. He was founder of the Jewish Museum in Greece, and had documented (with Tim DeVinney) the synagogue of Greece, which they published in 1992.. Nikos spoke at the Future of Jewish Monuments conference in New York in 1990. He led off the first session and of course there was no stopping him at 20 minutes ... and no one wanted him to stop. From that came, a few years later, the WMF project to restore the Etz Hayyim synagogue in Hania. Nikos did most of the important work on that project, but it was a thrill to work with him for a few years to raise the money, establish the scope of work, and promote the restoration which at the time was a rare undertaking not jsut for Greece, but for Europe. EVentually Nikos moved back to Hanias, and over the years he greatly expanded the original scope of work to create a unique and vibrant multi-cultural, ecumenical and international center that still had its roots in Crete's ancient Jewish history - very much like Nikos himself.
|Krzysztof Czyzewski and Nikos Stavroulakis, Sejny, Poland, 2012|
A great man of the borderland is gone. Philosopher, museum-man, artist, writer, storyteller, and the best chef in the Mediterranean region….Once I asked Nikos what ‘ethos of dialog’ means for him. As his wont, he smiled wryly, and answered: “I came back and rebuilt a synagogue because I couldn’t get in peace with this story about a sunken ship of Jews from Chania. And beside that a ruined synagogue is an open wound for Crete, which by itself is a bridge between East and West — and being a guardian of that bridge is what I understand to be a Cretan. And when the synagogue was rebuilt, a group of old women knocked on its doors, three orthodox Greek women, dressed in black, asking if they can pray inside. I would not say I was passionately interested in intercultural dialog but I could not say “no” to them. After this, it was a kind of natural thing that I invited also some Turkish Muslims to cross a synagogue’s threshold. But later on somebody wanted to blow the synagogue up, and another time somebody set fire to it … And I had to fundraise again for the restoration of Etz Hayyim. This is how I became a man of dialog, although it would be more adequate to say: I am living in a fire of dialog!”
Everything about his biography suggested determination and tremendous vision, but the man I met also possessed a fierce intellect, a passion for and deep and broad knowledge of Jewish and Cretan history and culture, and a sentimental attachment to the island he made his home in the final years of his life. The mission of the synagogue he brought back to life—rooted in history and open to everyone, encapsulating the very best of Diaspora values—is as best a lasting testament as any man could hope to have. I feel privileged to have met Stavroulakis and wounded to think that Etz Hayyim must find its way without him. Greek Jewry and indeed Greece as a whole is in his debt.
I first met Nikos Stavroulakis when he was in the process of creating the Jewish Museum of Greece, when the collection of artifacts were being stored in the synagogue in Athens. I had started my research on the Jews of Greece and was visiting Jewish communities throughout the country to learn more about what had happened to my own family in Salonika. I was fulfilling a promise I had made to my Nona Marika to find out what had happened to our large family from Salonika who had disappeared in the concentration camps. I heard about this man, Nikos Stavroulakis, who was collecting artifacts of Greek Jews from all over Greece. I had naively hoped that he might have something of my Errera and Russo families. It was not to be, but this is when I first became an admirer of Nikos. He […] showed me how important and powerful remembering can be.
Nikos and I went on to become friends […]. Probably, my most endearing memories of Nikos came from my visits to Hania, first shortly after he was successful in having Etz Hayyim nominated to the World Monument Fund as “One of the Most Endangered Sites in the World” in 1996 and, then, repeated visits as Nikos’ vision of the restoration became a reality. It was during one of those visits that I approached Nikos to help me apply to the World Monument Fund for Kahal Shalom Synagogue in Rhodes. I had learned during a visit in 1997, when approached by the then President of the Jewish Community of Rhodes, Alberto Kovos, that the synagogue was caving in due to dampness in the porous stone. Everyone told me that I did not have a chance, that Kahal Shalom looked “too good” to be considered. This is when I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life. Nikos said to me, “Marcia, what have you got to lose? All they can say is no. If you do not dream, nothing will happen.” I took my dream of restoring Kahal Shalom to the World Monument Fund and, fostered by the words of Nikos Stavroulakis, proposed Kahal Shalom to become “One of the Most Endangered Sites in the World” for 1999. We succeeded and the oldest still-functioning synagogue in Greece was saved from destruction.
During this time, I was fortunate to be treated to Nikos’ cooking and to marvel at his library but, by far, the most important gifts Nikos gave to me were his encouragement and the knowledge that you have to be a little crazy and very obsessed to do what we do. Thank you Nikos. May your memory be Eternal.
|Photo: Pakruojis municipality|
|Interior, Pakruojis synagogue. Photo: EEA|
|Exterior, restored Pakruojis synagogue. Photo: EEA|
|Photo: Pakruojis Municipality|
|Pakruojis synagogue in 2006|
|Digital recreation of the Pakruojis wooden synagogue. Screen grab from CJA presentation|
|Me at the ruined Great Synagogue in Kalvarija, Lithuania, the town my great-grandparents came from. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber|
By Liam Hoare
Since its launch five years ago, Jewish Heritage Europe has become an essential one-stop shop for news, information, and resources concerning, as the name indeed suggests, matters of Jewish culture and built heritage in Europe: museums; synagogues; cemeteries, and so on. Ruth Ellen Gruber, the author of Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe who has chronicled Jewish life in Europe for over twenty-five years for the JTA among other places, edits the site, which is supported by the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe. Here, I talk with Gruber about the site’s development and how European attitudes towards Jewish heritage have changed in the time she has been reporting on these issues.
What was the impetus behind setting up Jewish Heritage Europe five years ago?
JHE builds on and expands a previous version of the site that was launched after a major conference on the Future of Jewish Heritage, held in Prague in 2004. The decision by the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe to relaunch and expand came as a follow-up to a conference held in Bratislava, Slovakia in March 2009 that discussed the state of Jewish heritage sites in Europe as well as strategies for their restoration, use, and upkeep. That seminar, attended by international Jewish heritage experts as well as by representatives from Jewish communities in more than a dozen countries, also resulted in the Bratislava Statement, a major statement of specific ‘best practices’ about how to deal with Jewish heritage sites.
JHE’s aim is to facilitate communication and information exchange regarding projects, initiatives, and other developments such as restoration, ongoing projects, best practices, advisory services and more. Its primary focus is Jewish built heritage: synagogues, cemeteries, mikvaot, Jewish quarters and other physical traces that attest to a Jewish presence on the continent stretching back to Antiquity, but it also includes material on Jewish museums and other cultural institutions.
Is there anything that stands out for you in terms of how Europe‘s Jewish heritage is discussed, studied, and cared for in the five years since you’ve been running the site?
Jewish heritage and particularly Jewish built heritage is a field that has been continually developing over the past few decades. When I first became involved with Jewish heritage issues in eastern and central Europe nearly thirty years ago, I was entering largely unexplored territory. Little was known about what still existed in those countries – I felt I was ‘filling in blank spaces’ and literally putting Jewish heritage sites back on the map. At that time, even in western countries, Jewish built heritage was often ignored or overlooked.
That is no longer the case. In post-communist Europe, many Jewish heritage sites are still empty or in ruins, and most Jewish cemeteries are neglected or abandoned. But there are lists, inventories, databases, and online resources that tell us where they are. Surveys have documented synagogue buildings and Jewish cemeteries. Projects have mapped old shtetls to position destroyed buildings, and other projects have digitally recreated destroyed buildings or have even recreated them in replica form. Moreover, projects of various sorts have restored, cleaned up, fenced, preserved, or protected hundreds of sites.
I see all this on a day-to-day basis as I compile the JHE News Feed. Probably the site’s most powerful asset, it’s essentially a ‘wire service’ about what’s going on the Jewish heritage world today. To date, I have posted more than 1100 articles from dozens of countries, which probably constitutes the most extensive searchable database on contemporary Jewish built heritage issues. Thus, running JHE has enabled me to recognize the widespread reach, range, and scope of Jewish heritage initiatives all over Europe, as well as the challenges and controversies, from protection and preservation issues to religious concerns, the uses of new technology in research, to the various ways that Jewish heritage sites are used – and also abused.
Of course, Jewish heritage work, and the situation of Jewish heritage, is different from country to country, city to city, and is dependent on many factors: Jewish community organizational matters; local and national politics; funding shortfalls, and actual on-the-ground possibilities. My feeling is that seeing what’s going on in other countries, or in other projects, can be useful to help inspire activists or help them in creating strategies for their own work. I think it is important for activists today, though many are still working on their own or in relative isolation, to realize that they are not as alone as were the Jewish heritage activists who, often on their own, blazed the trail in earlier decades.
Click here to read the full interview
|Synagogue in Bystrica, Romania, used as a concert hall|
|The bimah and top of the ark in the synagogue Mikulov, CZ, part of the 10 Stars project|
|In the Venice ghetto|
“The illustrated Perek Shira (chapter of song) was a popular “exotic creature” book specifically written for a Jewish audience. the book was a collection of hymnic sayings in praise of the Creator placed in the mouths of various animals, especially exotic animals. Many animals and their sayings emphasized the wonder and incomprehensibility of God’s creation as, for example, written next to a drawing of a dragon “What does the dragon say? Sing unto him, sing psalms unto Him: talk ye of all his wondrous works (Psalm 105;2). As a measure of its popularity and ethical function,Perek Shira was included in some of the earliest printed prayer books in Eastern Europe…thus the unknown turkey was to be contemplated by pious Jews as an ex maple of the unfathomable variety of God’s creatures. as they did with the exotic ostrich and unicorn, the artists of the Gwozdziec Synagogue may have placed the turkey in a prominent central location so that the congregation would “Lift up [its] eyes…to obtain knowledge of the works of the Holy One” (II:231b). (Hubka, Resplendent Synagogue: Architecture and Worship in an Eighteen-Century Polish Synagogue, p. 103.)
|Me in Hostice, CZ, in front of the long-abandoned synagogue|
From Poland to Portugal, nobody knows Jewish Europe like Ruth Ellen Gruber.On a given week, the Philadelphia-born journalist might be checking out a newly opened museum, inspecting the restoration of a prewar synagogue, or picking her way through forest brambles in search of long-lost tombstones. That explains how Gruber found herself recently in the wilderness south of Prague, where she stumbled onto an 18th-century Jewish cemetery in a clearing near a faded sign marking “Synagogue Street.”“Here’s this place in the middle of nowhere, and actually, there used to be a synagogue here,” recalled Gruber, who was sleuthing with the aid of locals. “It gave me that sense of discovery that I used to find everywhere. When I find a place that thrills me or makes me feel that sense of wonder again … I loved it.”The thrill of discovery is something Gruber shares with a growing number of enthusiasts through the website she oversees, Jewish Heritage Europe. A project of the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe, JHE is a comprehensive web portal for all things Jewish overseas: festivals, institutions, scholarship, synagogues and cemeteries.Under Gruber’s direction, JHE has evolved into an essential travel resource. With an engaging redesign and the recent launch of “Have Your Say,” a feature that invites interactive commentary, JHE makes Jewish Europe more accessible — and more communal — than ever.Gruber has long occupied a front-row seat for the show that is modern Europe. Since the 1970s, she has reported from abroad for many major news outlets in North America; currently JTA’s senior European correspondent, next summer she will lead her first European Jewish heritage tour for The New York Times. [...]