Monday, September 29, 2008

Jewish Genealogy Newsletter Archive

Since one of the reasons that many people travel to Jewish sites in central and eastern Europe is to find their family roots and "walk in the foosteps of their ancestors," I'm posting here the link to the archive page of the biweekly online Newsletter, "Nu? What's New?" of Avotaynu, the Jeweish genealogy magazine.

Each issue has a lot of information, tips, links, reports, etc. Much (if not most) fills the specific needs of family historians, but there are also items of general interest to the traveler.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

5 Millionth visitor to Jewish Museum in Berlin

The Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel reports that a 17-year-old highschool student, on a school trip, has become the 5 millionth visitor to the Jewish Museum in Berlin. According to the paper, Sarah-Denise Heellmanns was given a gift package and kosher gummy-bear candies.

The Museum opened in September 2001. Even before its formal opening, the empty building was a tourist draw because of its distinctive design by Daniel Libeskind. According to Tagesspiegel, it is the fifth most popular museum in Berlin, with 733,000 visitors in 2007 -- including 140,000 under the age of 18. (The Pergamon Museum hold the top spot with 1.3 million visitors). About two-thirds of visitors to the Jewish Museum come from outside of Germany.

According to a Museum Press Release

"a steady increase in visitor numbers has been sustained since 2004. In the first eight months of this year, around 515,000 people visited the Libeskind Building and the exhibitions on German-Jewish history, 8 % more than in the same period last year (visitor total in 2007: approx. 733,000).

"The Jewish Museum Berlin, whose zinc-coated building has long-since become established as one of the capital's landmarks, continues to belong to Berlin's greatest attractions and Germany's most frequented museums. The Museum is particularly popular with kids, teens, and twens: About every other visitor in 2007 was under 30 years old - a considerable number for a historical museum. The twens represent the largest visitor age group with 29 %. Almost every fifth visitor last year was under 18 (19 %). Young people often visit the Museum on school trips: Of the total number of over 7,000 tours booked in 2007, nearly two thirds (63 %) were for school groups."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Quick Trip to The Hague and Amsterdam

I'm just back from a quick trip over the weekend to The Hague and Amsterdam, where I was speaking to the board of the Jewish Humanitarian Fund, a foundation that gives grants to projects mainly in post-communist Europe.

I'd never been to The Hague before, and unfortunately I only had a little time to explore the city, which is the Dutch capital and a center of international human rights and other organizations.

Jewish history here goes back to the 17th century and there are a number of Jewish heritage sites in town.

I was only able to visit the Sephardic cemetery (which conveniently is located on the Scheveningseweg, just a brief walk from the hotel where my meeting was going on -- and just around the corner from the huge "Peace Palace" where the International Court of Justice is located and where on Sunday there was a crowd holding white balloons marking the U.N.'s International Day of Peace.)

My friend and colleague Michael Miller (who also was speaking to the Humanitarian Fund board) and I found the cemetery on the map and made our way to the entrance. The gate was locked, with a car packed just inside and it wasn't clear from the notice on the gate whether it would be possible to enter. But we knocked on the door next to the gate (which was marked with a mezuzah) and the man who lives there opened the gate and let us in.

Restored in the 1980s, the cemetery is a vast space surrounded by a red brick wall, and, as it typical for Sephardic cemeteries, the tombstones lie flat --I was told that the first graves were actually of Ashkenazic Jews, but the stones were laid flat in the Sephardic manner. (There are also a few upright stones in one section). Some are very crowded together. Most only bear the epitaph -- some in Spanish, some in Hebrew, some in Dutch. But some also bear carving -- a few with Cohen hands or Levite ewers; but we also so some with skulls and crossbones (similar but less elaborate than those in other Sephardic cemeteries in northern Europe, such as in Altona, Germany or Ouderkerk, Holland.) We found the tomb of a mohel with a small carving of a knife. (By the way -- this article, which I haven't seen yet, looks like an excellent source on cemetery imagery.)

The cemetery did not feature in the recent European Day of Jewish Culture, Sept. 7, but it did form one of the sites opened during the general Dutch day of monuments a week later. I was told that about 600 people visited it that day.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Francesco Spagnolo on European Day of Jewish Culture

I know I already have placed my friend Francesco Spagnolo's blog on my blog list, but I do recommend readers take a look at what he is writing this week. As I noted earlier, in my post from Siena, Francesco is an Italian musicologist who is now the director of research at the Magnes Museum in Berkeley, California.

He took part in a whole batch of events during the recent European Day of Jewish Culture in Italy and has begun posting reportage and reflections on his experiences. I met Francesco when I was beginning my research for Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe; I can't quite remember how I connected with him, but I do remember arriving at his apartment in Milan from Budapest, sitting down, and starting to talk, talk, talk. We don't, alas, see each other all that frequently any more because of geography, but we haven't stop talking. Skype is great!

Meeting of Poles Who Care for Jewish Heritage

The Associated Press runs an article reporting on the first conference of (non-Jewish) Poles who care for Jewish heritage, which was held this week in Zdunska Wola, Poland. The filmmaker Menachem Daum attended and said it was a great meeting -- lots of people in attendance. It's wonderful to hear that these people, who long have worked in isolation, are getting recognition. I look forward to staying in touch with some of them and following continued progress. It is particularly important and even urgent that their work be supported, as resources to maintain cemeteries and other Jewish heritage sites are so strapped. In Warsaw a couple of weeks ago, I met with Monika Krawczyk, the CEO of the Foundation for the Preservation of Poland's Jewish Heritage, and she painted a very pessimistic picture -- time is really running out to save some synagogues.

Catholic Poles take initiative to save Jewish cemeteries

By The Associated Press

Tags: Poland, Roman Catholic

About 30 Roman Catholic Poles have taken it upon themselves to preserve what they see as a unique and important aspect of their nation's history - the crooked and crumbling markers in Poland's neglected Jewish cemeteries.

Kamila Klauzinska, 35, has helped lead the grassroots efforts of a group of Poles who believe that preserving the nation's roughly 1,400 Jewish cemeteries is important to remembering and preserving a shared past.

"It's our common heritage, so how can we not try to save it?" Klauzinska said at a meeting this week of some 30 people involved in similar community efforts across the eastern European nation.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

WMF Jewish Heritage Program Grants

(Zamosc synagogue, 2006. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber)

The World Monuments Fund has announced four Jewish Heritage Program grants totaling $235,000. The funds go toward renovation, repair and preservation of three synagogues in east-central Europe as well as to preliminary planning for preservation of a former Yeshiva in Belarus.

(Choral Synagogue, Vilnius, 2006. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber)

$70,000 was awarded to the Choral Synagogue, in Vilnius, Lithuania. Built in 1903, it is the only surviving intact synagogue in Vilnius and still serves the needs of the small Jewish community there.

(Subotica Synagogue. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber)

The Art Nouveau synagogue in Subotica, Serbia, which has been undergoing fitful renovation for many years, was awarded $75,000. (Restoration of the synagogue has had its ups and downs....which I experienced when I was a board member of the SOS Synagogue foundation formed in 2001 to oversee and encourage the process. Putting in briefly, politics played a role.) Some of the history of the synagogue and restoration attempts can be seen on the SOS Synagogue web site, which I designed, but which has not been updated for some time.

The 17th-century synagogue in Zamosc, Poland, received $75,000. The Renaissance synagogue, part of the "ideal" planned city, was recently restituted to Jewish ownership after long being used as a library. It is managed by the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, which has devised a revitaliation plan for the synagogue that is a centerpiece of its activities. Plans include creation there of a regional Jewish museum.

The Foundation's web site states: "The synagogue in Zamość was erected at the beginning of the 17th century in the late renaissance style. Originally it consisted of only one building. In the 17th century two low porches for women were added to the north and south elevations. The main building of the synagogue is surmounted by an attic, behind which a depressed roof is hidden. The vaults of the synagogue (both in the main hall and in the porches) are richly decorated with stucco work, very similar to the decorations in the main nave of the Zamość church. Both buildings were decorated in approximately same time and in both of them the same type of vault-decoration (the so-called Kalish-Lublin) was applied. In the eastern wall of the synagogue there is a 17th century stone Aron Ha-Kodesz (a niche were the Torah scroll is kept); it’s richly decorated frame is dated for the first half of the 17th century. The synagogue was last renovated during the period 1967-1972. Since that time no major works took place in the synagogue. "

In addition, the WMF granted $15,000 for conditions assessment and conservation planning for the former Volozin Yeshiva in Belarus. Founded in 1803, the Yeshiva was considered the progenitor of the Yeshiva system in eastern Europe. The grants were presented through the WMF's annual Jewish Heritage Program awards.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pictures from Travnik Jewish Cemetery

As reported in an earlier post, the Travnik synagogue was demolished two weeks ago. Azra Nuhefendic, one of the concerned citizens who raised the alarm and tried to halt the demolition, has sent me photographs of the neglected Jewish cemetery in Travnik.

As Ivan Ceresnjes reported, "The Jewish cemetery in Travnik, founded in 1762, is outside of the town on the slope of one of the surrounding hills, bordering the Catholic cemetery. It is large, quite overgrown with vegetation, but in decent condition. In the center of the plot is a monument to those who perished in WWII. It is a concrete pedestal on which are positioned three tombstones, possibly among the oldest ones from the cemetery."

The photos I am posting here were taken by a local journalist, Stojan Milos. Ms Nuhefendic, his friend, authorized publication of them on this blog.

Jewish Culture Day in Turkey

The European Day of Jewish Culture took place Sept. 7, and reports are coming in about how events were celebrated around the continent. Turnout appears to have been high in many places.

The Turkish Daily News reports from Istanbul:

Tünel's music store-lined streets are rarely quiet. But walking through the area Sunday, one could hear some very unfamiliar sounds, from a klezmer, to a maftirim choir, to Hebrew love poetry for the land of Israel.This was less an invasion than a return. For this year's European Day of Jewish Culture, a celebration of Jewish traditions held in cities across Europe, became for Istanbul's Jews a re-creation of a time when they were a vital, even dominant, part of the area, and when it would not have been unusual in the Galata area to be guided from synagogue to synagogue by Hebrew chants.


New Jewish Museum in Moscow?

According to Ha'aretz, "the world's largest Jewish museum" is to be built in Moscow. Construction is to begin in 2009 and be completed by 2011...

The building apparently is already there, renovated last year and already serving as a museum (after an early history as a bus depot.)

According to the article, "The German architectural firm Graft Labs will be in charge of renovation and expansion, and international design company Ralph Appelbaum Associates will head design. The building, which spans 9,000 square meters, will be enlarged by adding underground floors covering 15,000 square meters, making it the largest Jewish museum in the world."

Having following the slow and complex process of creating a Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw over the past 10 years and more, It all sounds pretty quick -- I wonder who is curating the exhibitions, which are supposed to "commemorate Russian-Jewish history and include galleries of Jewish art and Judaica. Another section will commemorate the Holocaust. Plans include the construction of a large library, a center for Judaic studies and conference rooms."

Funding is coming from the Russian Cultural Foundation, the Moscow Jewish community and Jewish philanthropists headed by the incredibly weathly businessman Lev Leviev.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

More on Jewish Heritage in Poland

A new post on Sam Gruber's Jewish monuments blog reminds me that I forgot to point out in my previous post the first comprehensive inventory of Jewish heritage sites in Poland that Sam oversaw in the mid-1990s for the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad.

Jan Jagielski, who will be speaking on Jewish cemeteries at the conference next week in Zdunska Wola, and Lena Bergman, now director of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, directed and coordinated that survey, which was carried out through visits by about 40 researchers to nearly 1200 sites around the country.

I first met Jan when I lived in Warsaw in the early 1980s -- I was the correspondent then for United Press International. I got to know him as part of the so-called "Jewish Flying University," a semi-clandestine group of young Jews and non-Jews who were trying to teach themselves everything they could about Jewish culture, religion, traditions and even memory: things that essentially were taboo during most of the Communist era.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Conference of Poles who Preserve Jewish Heritage

(Momument at Jewish cemetery, Kazimierz Dolny, 2006. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber)

The first national conference of (non-Jewish) Poles who care for Jewish heritage sites in Poland takes place next week -- Sept. 15-16 -- in the small town of Zdunska Wola, near Lodz in central Poland.

Supported by state and local authorities, the conference came about thanks to the local activist Kamila Klauzinska, one of scores of non-Jewish Polish volunteers who have been honored by the Israeli Embassy over the past decade for their work in preserving Jewish heritage in Poland. (Klauszinska is a graduate student in Jewish studies at Krakow's Jagiellonian University. You can email her at

The conference is organized in association with the Yachad Historical Society, a group dedicated to the preservation of Zdunska Wola's Jewish history and heritage sites, and is dedicated to the memory of Ireneusz Slipek, who until his death in 2006 spent 20 years caring for and cleaning up the Jewish cemetery in his hometown, Warta.

The New York-based filmmaker, Menachem Daum -- director of the wonderful "Hiding and Seeking" -- told me that Slipek was "a former priest who single-handedly took care of the Jewish cemetery in his hometown of Warta.  He began his work in 1984 during the Communist regime and for many years had to overcome much opposition from local authorities and neighbors.  His surviving brother made available to me years of his home movies, videos and photos in which we see Ireneusz toiling to repair broken tombstones and literally sweating to return them to their original locations.  Kamila was inspired to undertake her own work by the example of Ireneusz who quietly worked on the cemetery every day, even on the day he died ... . Although he was never much appreciated during his lifetime, through her conference Kamila hopes Ireneusz’s example will inspire others just as he inspired her. "

The American lawyer Michael Traison (whom I met in 1995 at ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz) a decade ago instituted an annual ceremony to honor non-Jewish Poles who are involved in various projects related to the preservation of Jewish culture heritage in Poland. The awards are presented each year during the Festival of Jewish Culture in Krakow by the Israeli Ambassador to Poland. Scores of people, mostly volunteers and mostly from small, far-flung towns, have been honored for activities ranging from cleaning up Jewish cemeteries to running Jewish museums to carrying out school project on Jewish history and memory.

(Israeli Ambassador David Peleg presents an award during the ceremony in 2008. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber.)

As Yachad states, it is "a great honor for those who were awarded with diplomas. Some of them, for the first time, could feel that their work and devotion were noticed by such eminent people and institutions, although none of the volunteers did his work for diplomas, awards or ovation. Prof. Szewach Weiss (the former Israeli ambassador) called those who, on their own initiative, put a great effort in saving Jewish heritage – the third generation of the Righteous among the Nations. This is the greatest distinction that could be given to us, modest people from little towns. We would never dare to call ourselves this way. This title can be given only for the bravest, only for large-hearted men."

Organizers of the Zdunska Wola conference hope to hold such a conference every two years to connect people and enables them to exchanges experiences and information.

Funding comes from the Ford Foundation, the Taube Foundation, the Batory Foundation and the city of Zdunska Wola, and support comes from state and local authorities.

At next week's conference, local volunteers from various towns will describe their experiences. Various dignitaries are also expected to attend, including Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich and government minister Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, an aide to the Polish president. Jan Jagielski, of the Jewish Historical Institute and one of the pioneers of documenting Jewish heritage sites in Poland, will give a talk on Jewish cemeteries.

Here's the program:



10:00 – registration
11:00 – opening of the conference, speeches by guests
12:00 – film „Elder brothers” about Ireneusz Slipek, volunteer caretaker of the Jewish cemetery in Warta
12:20 – meeting with Józef Ślipek, Ireneusz’s brother. Presentation of the works done  at the Jewish cemetery in Warta

12:24 – lecture by Jan Jagielski - "Our Jewish cemeteries"

After the lecture volunteers from all Poland will present themselves:

1.Tamara Włodarczyk - Klodzko
2. Agnieszka Piśkiewicz - Szczekociny
3. Grzegorz Kamiński - Toszek, Wielowies

(summary, discussion), (coffee break)

4. Dariusz Walerjański - Zabrze
5.Marcin Dudek - Barcin, Pikosc
6. Artur Cyruk - ATLANTYDA

(summary, discussion), (coffee break)

6. Szymon Modrzejewski - MAGURYCZ
7. Agnieszka Ilwicka - Dzierzoniow
8. Michał i Adam Lorenc - SPOTKANIE RYMANOW

(summary, discussion),
18:00 - solemn supper


Beginning at 9:00

1. Elżbieta Bartsch/Kamila Klauzińska - YACHAD
3. Paweł Turlejski - Minsk Mazowiecki
The end of presentations of individuals and associations
4. Prof. Aleks Bartnik
5. Albert Stankowski
6. Rabbinical Commission for the Jewish cemeteries
7. Summary, discussion and official ending of the conference
8. Opening of the exhibition MEMORY KEEPERS prepared by students from YACHAD - at 6 Sieradzka Street
9. Visit at the Jewish cemetery in Zdunska Wola

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

European Day of Jewish Culture -- Italy

European Day of Jewish Culture events took place in more than 55 towns and cities in Italy, and there were hundreds of activities to choose from. The Day was marked Sunday in more than a score of European countries. (Here's a link to events in Bulgaria.)

In Italy, Milan and Mantova hosted the "keynote" events.

I chose to go to Siena, where I attended a concert Saturday night in the lovely Baroque/Rococo synagogue just off the famous Campo. The music was special -- it was the suite of Baroque music (for male singers and chamber orchestra) that was composed by the Jewish musicians Volunio Gallichi and Francesco Drei, for the ceremony inaugurating the synagogue at the end of May 1786. This was the first time that the music was played in the synagogue since then. Very, very interesting; it sounded like Handel, or someone like Handel in his "Water Music" or "Royal Fireworks" mode, sung in Hebrew -- very far from what is considered today "typical" Jewish music like klezmer and mournful prayers. The performers were Siena's Rinaldo Franci orchestra, directed by Michele Manganelli.

My friend Francesco Spagnolo, an Italian musicologist who is now research director at the Magnes Museum in San Francisco, introduced the performance with a talk describing the music and the role it played in the dedication ceremonies, which took place over several days. Using such music, he said, represented an act of modernity at the time of the Enlightenment, just as Jewish were about to gain civil liberties. As part of the inauguration ceremonies, specially written Hebrew poems were recited and, on May 27, processions from two older synagogues in the Siena ghetto wended their way to the new synagogue, chanting and bearing Torah scrolls.

Italian speakers can read an article Francesco wrote about Jewish music in Italy, including the music played in Siena, by clicking HERE.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Yet More on Travnik Synagogue

Jakob Finci, the head of the Jewish community in Bosnia, confirmed that the synagogue in Travnik demolished last week to make way for a shopping center was NOT the 18th century Kalkados synagogue, which already had been destroyed in 1860, but another built in 1860 to replace it. Last used for worship in 1941 and damaged during World War II, it had been sold to the town in the 1950s by the Bosnian Jewish community. Stripped of any indication of its former use, it was used as a metal workshop for decades. In late August, news of the impending demolition sparked an ultimately unsuccessful local campaign to save the building, as a reminder of Bosnia's historic multi-cultural heritage. Many of those who protested the demolition identfied the building as the historic 18th century synagogue.

Here is a piece by Ivan Ceresnjes detailing the history of Travnik Jews and Jewish monuments:

"A Jewish community has existed in Travnik, Muslim Croat Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, since 1768, and the first synagogue was built in 1769. During the period of the Ottoman Empire, Travnik was the seat of the Pasha, making Travnik the most important city in the Ottoman province of Bosnia and its Jewish community the second in importance, after Sarajevo. The number of Jews increased constantly, and reached a peak in 1940 of 375 Jews. After WWII only a few Jewish families resettled in Travnik and the recent war delivered the final deathblow to the Jewish community.

"I was not able to enter the synagogue, built in 1860 on the foundations of the previous synagogue and therefore the building is only partially documented. The communal chronicles say that the synagogue was built entirely by voluntary work of members of the community between Pesach and Rosh Hashana.

"Travnik is in a way strange City when Jews are in question: during the WW II Jews were killed, synagogue was damaged (but not destroyed) and all ritual objects all were taken by the local Croatian and Moslem Nazi-collaborators to the nearby Jesuit monastery. After the war only a handful of survivors returned, and since the synagogue was not suitable for prayers Jesuits returned everything to the Jewish community in Sarajevo.
In the spring of 1941, local fascists partially burned and looted the building, took the ritual objects (Torah scrolls, silver items from synagogue, books, tefillim, tallitot) from the synagogue and gave them to the local Jesuits. After the war, the Jesuits returned the Torah and ritual objects to the Jewish community in Sarajevo which in turn donated part of the collection to the Jewish museum in Belgrade.

"The synagogue was stripped of everything that would indicate its former use. The hall has been divided horizontally on the level of the former women’s gallery, whose entrance was from the outside. Behind the synagogue is a building which housed a Jewish school and the Rabbi’s apartment.

"So, truth is that the building has been sold by the Federation in early '50, (there were good reasons for that and I can elaborate on that), used for some time as a kind of metal workshop and was abandoned before the last war so the Jewish Community had no legal rights on the building but the truth is also that Municipality of Travnik and local City Museum asked more than once if Jews are interested to find together with them some solution for the survival of the only Jewish prayer-house in the city for any kind of cultural use.

"In the City Museum are four recently discovered silver artifacts, thought to be from the house of one of the oldest Jewish families of Travnik. Researchers documented two silver Esther Scroll cases, a silver book cover belonging to the family of Yaacov Yeruham Konforti, and a silver belt. The cache was found while digging the foundations of a new house in 1989. It was presumably hidden and buried at the site of Konforti’s house.

"One of the Esther Scrolls is engraved with Konforti’s name and the date 5650 (1890). There is also an engraved floral decoration and a hallmark indicating that this was made by the same artisan who made the prayer book cover.

"The second Esther Scroll is silver, machine stamped and chased. A cartouche decorating the scroll has a decorative monogram with the letters JK, probably Jacob or Jeruham Konforti.

"The silver book cover is engraved with an open work interlaced foliage motif. On the front cover there is an oval medallion inscribed with the family name and the date 5650. The back cover is identical to the front including the oval, but without the inscription. Both the engraving and the cutting for the open work are done by machine.

"The fourth item that was found in the cache is a silver belt made with a floral motif.

"The Jewish cemetery in Travnik, founded in 1762, is outside of the town on the slope of one of the surrounding hills, bordering the Catholic cemetery. It is large, quite overgrown with vegetation, but in decent condition. In the center of the plot is a monument to those who perished in WWII. It is a concrete pedestal on which are positioned three tombstones, possibly among the oldest ones from the cemetery. "

Friday, September 5, 2008

More on Travnik Synagogue

I have received word that the synagogue I mentioned in Travnik has indeed been demolished. Both my correspondent and local news reports describe it as the old Kalkados synagogue, which was built in 1768 -- but which information supplied to by Ivan Ceresnjes and others says was already demolished in 1860 and replaced by the synagogue that was used as a metal workshop after World War II. The photograph I linked to in an earlier post clearly shows the newer synagogue -- as do photos in local media. I am trying to clarify this.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

My Article on the European Day of Jewish Culture

Hadassah Magazine runs an article I wrote on the European Day of Jewish Culture in its current edition. You can read it online -- click HERE, then click on current issue, then scroll down.

Former Bosnian Synagogue Threatened?

There's been a bit in the news (in Bosnia) about plans to tear down the former "Kalkados" (or New) synagogue in the town of Travnik and construct there a shopping center. Built in 1860, the synagogue has been used as a metal workshop since after World War II. According to pictures I've seen, doesn't retain the outward (at least) look of a synagogue.

(You can see a photo of it as part of an extensive photo documentation of Jewish sites in the former Yugoslavia, posted on the web site of the Jewish community of Zemun, Serbia.)

There has been a call made to halt the demolition -- I saw a report that a citizens' group called "Front" had called on Bosnian authorities to step in. A brief report by Bosnia's FENA news agency quotes a member of the Sarajevo Jewish community, Eli Tauber, as saying that the Community can do nothing to stop the process as the building had been sold off after World War II.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Singer Festival in Warsaw Sept. 6-14

The fifth annual Singer's Warsaw Festival of Jewish Culture takes place Sept. 6-14. The program is a rich mix of performance, workshops, book presentations and lectures -- most of which, however, seem to be in Polish.

Music stars this year include the Klezmatics, Yale Strom, and Chava Alberstein.

The Festival (which coincides with the European Day of Jewish Culture, Sept. 7) includes various open air events and a street fair that takes place in and around Prozna Street, the semi-ruined block in downtown Warsaw that is just about the only piece of the Warsaw ghetto area to have survived World War II. There have been ongoing debates for years about what to do with Prozna; whether and to preserve it, whether it should form the center of a Jewish life museum, etc.

I was encouraged to see that there is now an upscale little cafe and gallery functioning in Prozna, as well as a couple of other businesses. For the festival, many of the bricked-up windows have been covered with pictures of pre-war Jews.

The Singer festival is sponsored by the Shalom Foundation, headed by the Lodz-born Yiddish singer Golda Tencer. Tencer's husband, Szymon Szurmiej, directs Warsaw's State Jewish Theater. The Festival this year includes celebrations for his 85th birthday. Shalom supports many Yiddish-language oriented projects, including a web site called