Saturday, December 27, 2008

Budapest -- Hanukkah Hungarian Klezmer Rap Party

More from Hanukkah party central....The Hungarian folk-rap band Zuboly added klezmer to the mix at a seventh-night Hanukkah gig in the basement of the Siraly cafe. The concert was part of Marom, the Jewish youth group's, Hanukkah festival. Zuboly has been described as "doing something like taking a folk song, or something similar and a pop song known by everyone and knead[ing] the two together in such a way, complete with rap insert of MC Busa that you can easily miss the transition between the Billy Jean and a Hungarian ancient shamanic song." OK...

With the addition of klezmer, it is described as "transforming into Zugoj."
Zsigmond Lázár and Béla Ágoston are founding members of the Odessa Klezmer Band. Their revolutionary idea was to examine how klezmer mixes with beatbox and all other creativity of Zuboly. Special guest of the band is Flóra Polnauer, who has already proved to be a true ZU-GIRL with outstanding talent in rap and improvisation, which will all be part of the festive concert...

(The klezmer comes in about halfway through this clip)

My friend Rudi Klein (the expert on synagogue architecture and author of the recently published book on Budapest's Dohany St. Synagogue) and I dropped by to listen after going to dinner nearby -- and Rudi noted that the basement, with its pillars and vaulting, is a fine example of original neo-classical architecture from the 1840s. At that time, the street Siraly is located on, Kiraly utca, was expanding outward becoming the main commercial thoroughfare of Budapest' s Jewish section.

Spain -- Yet More on Toledo (and Other Grave Controversies)

Here's a link to Sam Gruber's recent lengthy post on the situation regarding the medieval Jewish cemetery in Toledo, Spain, on which I posted a JTA story earlier today -- for some reason (holiday party-going, perhaps?) I did not see Sam's article when it was posted a few days ago.

Sam added today a long essay on recent controversies over moving graves. Read it by clicking HERE.

Spain -- Construction Work Halted on Cemetery Site

JTA reports that the Spanish government has ordered a month-long freeze on construction work on the site of a medieval Jewish cemetery in Toledo.

The decision made Dec.19 follows high-level meetings at the Spanish Foreign Ministry in Madrid with representatives of the Federation of Jewish Communities in
Spain, the Conference of Spanish Rabbis, the Conference of European Rabbis and the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe (CPJCE).

More than 100 graves have been exhumed from the building site, an expansion of a nearby state school, according to Rabbi Abraham Ginsburg, executive director of the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe.

Toledo regional authorities are currently storing more than 100 skeletons in separate boxes, Ginsburg told JTA Thursday.

"At present our main aim is to ensure that no further desecration is taking place and we are committed by Jewish law and tradition to ensure that those graves are being preserved in their sanctified and dignified manner in perpetuity," Ginsburg said.

Spanish authorities have set the freeze until Jan. 15, 2009. But Ginsburg said that at a scheduled meeting in Toledo on Jan. 12, the Jewish organizations will request that the freeze be extended until the issue is resolved.

A local rabbinic board is currently in consultation with higher rabbinic courts around the world to determine what can be done to preserve the sanctity of the remains according to Jewish law. There are still many graves that remain intact inside the cemetery that dates back to the 13th century.

Back in November, Sam Gruber posted an article giving background on this situation. He wrote:

To my mind the only solution in such a case must be to halt new excavation in any area that can be confirmed to hold graves. It is possible that some surface construction can be allowed that would ultimately protect the graves.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Budapest -- Hanukkah party central

Hanukkah is in the air in Budapest, especially in the old Jewish quarter in and around the downtown Seventh District, where I have an apartment...

Chabad, of course, has huge menorahs where nightly lightings take place -- and Chabadniks also drive around town in little "Hanukkah-mobiles" -- small cars with electric menorahs standing up right on their roofs.

There are various parties, concerts and other events.

I got to town Tuesday night, after a few days in Vienna, where, among other things, I attended a first-night Hanukkah party in the main synagogue, the elegant, neo-classical Stadttempel on sloping Seitenstettengasse, in the heart of the city's core First District (the same synagogue where I attended Sukkoth services this fall) and adjoining Jewish community center.

Sponsored by Centropa, the Central Europe Center for Research and Documentation, it was structured around a meeting a club of elderly Jews who have been interviewed as part of Centropa's online database of family photos and stories. There were prayers and candle-lighting in the synagogue's graceful oval sanctuary; songs by a local Jewish school choir, and food, food, food (delicious vegetarian salads, humus, and the like). Here's a picture of the menorah lighting:

I left Vienna the next day, arriving in Budapest Tuesday night, just in time to high-tail it to the Siraly cafe, a five minute walk from my apartment, and get there in time to catch the last part of a Jewish "dance house" party, with music by Bob Cohen and Di Naye Kapelye and dance-teaching by Susan Foy. (Bob maintains the Dumneazu blog, a lively chronicle of food, travel, music and more in Eastern Europe, and Di Naye Kapelye's new CD, Traktorist, is receiving rave reviews.)

I forgot to bring my camera the other night -- but here's Bob playing a Hanukkah gig in Budapest a few years ago:

Siraly means Seagull but also, in local slang, “fantastic”. The cafe, in a three-storey building with tall arched windows on Kiraly street, is one of the most popular of the new "Jewish" cafes that have opened recently in and around the Seventh District. It is run partly by Marom, the youth organization of the Masorti, or conservative, Jewish stream (which has its office on an upper floor), and partly by a theater group.

In addition to serving up coffee, tea, schnapps and snacks, Siraly serves as something of a "alternative" Jewish culture center, with concerts, talks, book presentations, etc. A highlight each year is the Hanukkah festival Marom organizes, that lasts through the eight days of the holiday.

Each evening features the lighting of menorahs -- one set up on the bar, another an art installation positioned on the wall (the candle flames are symbolically uncovered.)

Then -- concerts, plays, "kosher cabaret" and other events, either in the upstairs gallery or in a (smokey) theater space in the basement. Last night (Christmas Eve, the centerpiece of the holiday for Hungarian Christians, when everyone is home around the groaning dinner table with their family) Marom and Siraly's chief, Adam Schoenberger, played with his own hip-hop band.

Walking over from yet another party, I got there late -- just in time to catch the very end of their set -- because I had dropped in to a neighboring church to get a taste of midnight mass....

Tonight, the concert is in a bigger venue downtown -- headliners are the French group Boogie Balagan (whose slogan is "from Paris to Palestisrael"), following the local bands Pipatorium and Chalaban, which plays Moroccan music.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Poland -- Jazz Suite Based on Jewish Heritage

Tykocin synagogue. Photo (c) R. E. Gruber

Damn! It is so difficult to keep up with all the developments related to Jewish culture and heritage... I just learned, well after the fact, of something I missed at the time -- a jazz suite called "Jazz Suite Tykocin" composed by Polish jazz musician Wlodek Pawlik as part of a Jazz Inspirations from Jewish Cultural Heritage project. It had its premiere last summer in Tykocin, in eastern Poland near Bialystok, where a massive 17th century synagogue was restored in the 1970s and serves as a Jewish museum -- Pawlik and his group performed the suite in the synagogue.

The suite has been released on CD -- here's what the newsletter of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews says about it:

Jazz Suite Tykocin which was recorded within the ‘Jazz Inspirations of Jewish Cultural Heritage’ project is on sale. The album was produced by the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic and the Radio Phonographic Agency. The Museum of the History of Polish Jews is one of the partners of the project.

Jazz Suite Tykocin is the latest musical project from Włodek Pawlik. The album, widely acclaimed by music critics for its originality, is a six-piece composition inspired by the Psalms of David. The music is a combination of jazz with classical music and orchestral jazz. Włodek Pawlik wrote the Suite with the thought in mind of Randy Brecker, the American jazz trumpet player, whose family comes from Tykocin. The first performance of the suite took place on 4th of July in the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Concert Hall in Białystok. The recording was made between July 5-7 with the participation of Randy Brecker, the Włodek Pawlik Trio with Włodek Pawlik – piano, Paweł Pańta – double bass and Cezary Konrad – percussion and the Symphony Orchestra of the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic under Marcin Nałęcz-Niesiołowski.

You can here a YouTube clip of the synagogue concert by clicking HERE.

Monday, December 22, 2008

My latest Ruthless Cosmopolitan column

This has to do with a virtual Jewish space -- on Facebook


Ruth Ellen Gruber

December 22, 2008

ROME (JTA) -- Not long ago, a Facebook friend of mine wrote that she had had a great time at a Shabbat dinner even if there had been "a wee bit much talk" of religion.

"Why all this American obsession with Jewish identity?" she wrote on her profile page on the social networking site. "Just BE!"

Her comment got me thinking.

Defining Jewish identity, refining Jewish identity, reclaiming Jewish identity, reinforcing Jewish identity -- these seem indeed to be constant concerns among many Jews, and not just in the United States.

"Jewish identity" has been the subject of endless conferences, surveys, books, articles, analyses and movies -- not to mention comedy routines. A Google search for "Jewish identity" gave me 573,000 matches!

What impact, I wondered, does this all have on who we are -- or at least on who we say we are?

I decided to carry out an unscientific study to find out -- a very unscientific study.

My methodology was simple: I used Facebook to see how Jews, or at least Jews I know, define themselves in terms of religious identity.

For those unfamiliar with Facebook, a site that has 120 million users around the world, its software permits you to connect with lists of "friends" who are in turn linked with friends' lists of their own.

Upon joining you create a profile, including information you want to make public about your age, sex, location, profession, personal views and even your sexual preference. You pick and choose what you want to post. Some people post only their name; others provide the whole megillah.

One of the choices is to state your "religious views." You can choose whether or not to post anything at all about your religious beliefs and, if you opt to post, you choose how you want to define yourself; there is a blank space you can fill in with whatever you want to say.

For my study, I simply checked how my Facebook friends I know to be Jewish chose to respond.

Read Full Story

Friday, December 19, 2008

Detroit -- Saving a City's Last synagogue

This is from the U.S., not Europe -- but the issues resonate; dwindling Jewish population; deteriorating synagogue; changing neighborhood.... what's to be done?

The Detroit News reports that downtown Detroit's last functioning synagogue is under threat....

Saving Detroit's Last Synagogue December 18, 2008)

Louis Aguilar / The Detroit News

The Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue is the last of its kind -- the sole building in Detroit still functioning as a Jewish place of worship.

Unless something changes fast, the downtown synagogue may become history. A group of young would-be rescuers find themselves at odds with some of the synagogue's old guard.

Since Rabbi Noah Gamze died in 2003, the synagogue has been void of a spiritual leader. The four-story building on Griswold and Clifford streets barely clings to life; the top two floors are vacant and the roof leaks.

At the Saturday morning Shabbat -- the only regular weekly service -- the handful of members who attend often need to recruit the African-American owner of the nightclub next door to reach minyan -- the minimum of 10 males older than age 13 needed for a Jewish public worship.

The synagogue may have recruited the right gentile: Larry Mongo, owner of Café D'Mongo's Speakeasy. Since opening a little over a year ago, Mongo's club and restaurant have become a haven for Detroit's café society -- the creative and professional class returning to the city's core. Some are twentysomething Jews including D'Mongo's bartender and Wayne State University student Courtney Smith. She and seven others -- calling themselves the Detroit Action Synagogue Committee -- want to save the downtown synagogue. Among them are a nonprofit lawyer, a pharmaceutical salesperson and an academic. They want a chance to turn the synagogue into a major piece of downtown's revitalization, tapping into the arts and cultural scene.

"We don't want to just save the building. We want it to be a hub for the people returning to the city and the energy that represents," Smith said.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Estonia -- New Jewish Museum

The Federation of the Jewish Communities of the Former Soviet Union reports that a new Jewish museum has recently opened in Tallinn, Estonia, apparently in the Jewish community center complex.

The report says:

The main exhibit includes photographs, historical documents and exhibit items received from private individuals, the state archives as well as other museums. The exhibits demonstrate the community life of Estonian Jews, the history of the community in the pre-World War Two period, during the German occupation, and during the Soviet era.

A separate exhibition covers the revitalization of Jewish communal life in the late 1980s in Estonia
The museum web site has a downloadable pdf catalogue.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Italy - More on Funding for Jewish Heritage

Synagogue, Florence. Photo (c) R. E. Gruber

A Jewish member of the Italian Parliament, Alessandro Ruben, says that the state funding cuts for Jewish heritage forced by the economic crisis may not be as disastrous as earlier predicted. About 25 percent of the funds allocated in the 2009 budget for restoration and repair of Jewish cultural heritage (amounting to €450,000) are being cut., the online newsletter of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI), reports that an order has been issued sanctioning the government to provide extra resources "in particularly urgent cases."

"In particular situations the Ministry of Culture will evaluate, at the request of the UCEI, the possibility of allocating further funding," Ruben said.

"The ball is now in the UCEI's court," writes Daniela Gross on the Moked web site. "It will be up to the [UCEI's cultural heritage] commission to carry out the difficult task of evaluating the numerous requests from individual Italian Jewish communities to restore and recuperate Jewish heritage and to establish priorities, deciding which need to be handled right away and which can be put on hold."

Read Full Article (in Italian)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Moldova -- Bob Cohen Goes "Home" (and Takes Us Along)

I know I have Bob Cohen's blog Dumneazu listed on my blog link list, to the right of these posts, but I must draw attention to his wonderful description of going back to his grandmother's ancestral turf in Moldova.

He begins:
My Grandmother, Bunye "Betty" Tsarevcan, was born in Teleneşti, in the Republic of Moldova in 1893. In my family's history, of course, we always knew the place as Bessarabia. My Grandfather was born in Criuleni, which he knew as Krivilyany in Yiddish. On Di Naye Kapelye's last CD "A Mazeldiker Yid" I included a track of her telling the story - in Yiddish - of how her grandfather, a rich textile merchant, had to send all the way to Iasi to hire the Lemesh family of Klezmer musicians for my great-Grandmother's wedding festivities. She began her tale with the words "We're from Telenesti... we're not from Orgeyev." And so, I had to see Teleneşti, not so much for myself, since I have seen more small muddy Moldavian towns over the last fifteen years than I care to count, but to, somehow, close a cirlce. My Father and my Uncle Eli are the last of their generation, those that were raised on their parents' stories of the Old Country, told in a rich Bessarabian Yiddish dialect with absolutely no nostalgia and no desire to ever return, stories of unfortunate arranged marriages and poverty and broken marriages and pogroms and World War One and Bolsheviks and finally the epic of escape. But as Bessarabians, my father's generation always maintained a natural curiosity - "What is it like in the place our parents came from?"
Read on

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Italy -- Economic Downturn May Threaten Care of Jewish Heritage, the daily online newsletter of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities runs an article today by Lucilla Efrati about how the current economic crisis and state budget cuts "risk reducing the attention paid to a precious and irreplaceable cultural patrimony" -- that is, the wealth of Jewish heritage in Italy that stretches back to ancient Roman times.

In 2009, she writes, the planned state funding for conservation and restoration work on Jewish cultural, architectural and archival heritage is expected to be cut by about 25 percent.

Even limited cuts in the funds budgeted for the care of these sites, she writes, risks rolling back the force of recent legal decisions that have enabled a number of important projects to proceed.

These centuries-old synagogues, cemeteries, and other sites, Efrati writes, "form part of the country's artistic patrimony [and] need care, maintenance and restoration work." Even limited cuts in the funds budgeted for the care of these sites, she writes, risks rolling back the force of recent legal decisions that have enabled a number of important projects to proceed.

Read the Full Story (in Italian)

(The picture that accompanies the Moked article is one that I took at the ceremony in September 2005 redidcating the old Jewish cemetery in Ancona after it was cleared up and restored. Below is another photo I took that day.)

Ancona Jewish cemetery, Sept. 2005. Photo (c) R. E. Gruber

Monday, December 8, 2008

Italy -- Hadassah Magazine Article on Jewish Traces in Southern Italy

Hadassah Magazine this month features an article about the rediscovery (or discovery) of Jewish heritage in southern Italy, "A Spark in the Bottom of the Boot," by Andree Elion Brooks.

Poland -- Useful Web Site

The "Diapositive" web site in Poland has undergone a make-over since the last time I looked at it. It has a useful English language section with a lot of information and links on contemporary Jewish life in Poland, as well as on Jewish heritage sites, resources and events.

Run by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, the site used to carry the full text of Adam Dylewski's Jewish guidebook to Poland,"When the Tailor Was a Poet" -- but now it presents the material (and more) in its "Traces of the Past" section.

Its starting map looks similar to the map that starts the POLIN portal of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Hertiage in Poland, but I'm not sure if there's any direct link or cooperation.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Moldova -- More Other Europeans On The Road

Bob Cohen is back in Budapest and posting his impressions on his recent trip to Moldova with the Other Europeans Yiddish and Roma music project. It's great and informative reading! Pictures and videos, too!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Warsaw -- Cemetery Art Conference

It's too late to go, but today I received email notice of a big conference on cemetery art that's being held in Warsaw today and tomorrow (Dec. 4-5).

It looks as if it is all Polish scholars (and all in Polish), and the topics range over the whole field of graveyard/gravestone studies, both civic and religious, including monumental cemeteries and war cemeteries. One session is devoted to Jewish cemeteries in particular.

You can see the program by clicking HERE.

Moldova -- Holocaust Memorials

While we're waiting for Bob Cohen to post further news of the "Other Europeans" trip to Moldova, Der Spiegel runs a piece on how (slowly, finally) the Shoah is being commemorated in Moldova.

Reviving Memory in a Killing Field

By Michael Scott Moore in Berlin

Holocaust education is normal in Germany. But in some parts of Europe, where much of the killing took place, the past is buried under layers of politics and history. A Moldovan group is installing monuments to the ill-remembered slaughter of Romanian Jews.

Read Full Story

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Czech Republic -- Terezin Tourism Woes

Agence France Presse has run an article about current economic and other woes in Terezin, the town north of Prague that was turned into a ghetto/concentration camp during World War II and serves as a memorial site for the Shoah.

Czech Town with Sad Past Fights Ghost Town Image
Dec. 1, 2008

TEREZIN (AFP)---The old Czech fortress town of Terezin, burdened by its past as a Jewish ghetto and transit camp under the Nazis then an army garrison under the communists, is trying hard not to become a ghost town.

"It would be good to have a magic wand, but we don't have one. Instead, we have a very long way to go," town hall secretary Miroslav Kubicek told AFP.

The town took a blow when the Czech army vacated the garrison in 1997, a move that slashed the population from 7,000 to today's tiny 2,000.

Most of those who have stayed are jobless, with little money to spend.

And efforts by the city council to breathe new life into the locality have so far ended in failure.

Read Full Story

Morocco -- Casablanca Jewish Museum

An article in the United Arab Emirates English language newspaper , The National, highlights the privately run Jewish Museum in Casablanca, Morocco, founded in 1997 and the first and to date only Jewish museum in the Arab world.

Jewish Museum Showcases Unity

John Thorne, Foreign Correspondent

Dec. 2, 2008

Simon Levy, left, the director of the Jewish museum in Morocco, speaks to visitors. Eve Coulon for The National

CASABLANCA // Ten years ago, Jewish fathers in Morocco looked at demographics and decided it was time to build a museum.

Morocco’s once-thriving Jewish community has shrunk to a handful since the creation of Israel in 1948. Today, Simon Levy, a linguist and historian, fights doggedly to preserve its memory as director of the Arab world’s only Jewish museum.

Mr Levy recently played host to a group of high school students. For most, it was their first exposure to Jewish Morocco. While Mr Levy normally sees a trickle of foreign Jewish tourists, his target audience are Muslim youngsters.

“More than anything, I want them to learn that there’s a different way of being Moroccan,” Mr Levy said.


The Casablanca Jewish Museum was the subject of a longer article in The Forward last year.

Interestingly, it was also the subject of one of the papers presented at the conference on Representations of Jews in European Popular Culture, which I attended last week at the European University Institute in Fiesole, near Florence.

Jewish Museums in general formed the theme of one of the conference sessions.

In her presentation, "The Jewish Museum in Casablanca: Formation and Reflection of Contemporary Jewish Identity," Sophie Wagenhofer of the Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin, who also has worked at the Casablanca Museum, gave a description of its history and focus and also dealt with the way in which the museum presents the view of Moroccan Jews as Moroccans, part and parcel of national history, culture and society -- as she put it, "inscribing a minority's identity in the national identity".

She wrote:

[A] vital message of the exhibit is to strengthen the sameness of Muslims and Jews, which was done by referring to culture rather than religion. Muslims and Jews alike share the fields of culture, politics and economy as Moroccans in general, whereas from the point of religion the groups differ. Thus jewelry and everyday life items play a considerable role.

Here is how the article in The National puts it:

[The museum's founder and director, Simon Levy, asks visiting highschool] students to identify the Jews and Muslims in an old photograph. They guess unsuccessfully for a moment, then Mr Levy asks what the picture represents.

“Mixing?” a girl said.“No!” Levy said. “Because they are the same.”

Jews and Muslims share many customs that mark them as Moroccans, Mr Levy tells the students. They speak Moroccan Arabic, eat couscous and tajines, drink green tea laced with mint and make pilgrimages to the shrines of local Jewish and Muslim saints.

For a web site devoted to Jewish history, tourism and travel in Morocco, click HERE.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Synagogues -- Painted Curtains, etc

Sam Gruber has posted a detailed description and commentary on the Kupa synagogue in Krakow, based on a visit he made there recently. It's an excellent guide to the synagogue and discussion of issues raised in the restoration/renewal of the building carried out several years ago. He discusses in some detail the decorative painting on the walls and ceiling of the sanctuary.

The synagogue was in very dilapidated condition when I saw it first in 1990. I was told it had been used as a matzo factory after WW2. In Virtually Jewish, I quoted Monika Krajewska, who first visited the Kupa synagogue in the 1970s, when it was used as a warehouse:

"We stared at the walls, with their paintings: the lions, the deer, all the things that relate to Jewish biblical tradition of synagogue decoration. And there were workers who were just installing additional shelves; they were making holes in the lion's nose, in the instruments of the Levites painted on the ceiling."

Among the decorative elements discussed by Sam is that of curtains painted around the Ark -- in the picture below, Alan Bern, on piano, accompanies Lorin Sklamberg singing in front of the Ark of the Kupa at the Jewish Culture Festival in 2004.

Photo (c) R. E. Gruber

Sam writes:

A second decorative element that interests me a lot is the painting around the Ark, which is a large and impressive Baroque construction. On the wall behind the projecting stone Ark is painted a large red curtain, drawn apart just above the apex of the Ark. Of course this too, can have Temple associations, since a curtain in the Temple hung before the entrance of the Holy of Holies. Here, though, the curtain is hung behind the Ark, and it is open. What does it mean? Is it an earthly curtain, intended to create the illusion of greater synagogue space? Is it a symbolic curtain, representing either Temple or perhaps the revelation of the Torah? Or perhaps is it a curtain allowing a glimpse form this world into another? It could be all these things, or none. I’m not going to decide. But since I’m looking I am seeing these curtains almost everywhere - and they are one of the favorite European (or Polish) synagogue decorative devices carried over by immigrant artists from the old world to the new. I'm still looking for some contemporary user - a rabbi or congregant - who commented on their position and use.

I, too, have seen painted curtains around Arks in synagogues in several countries. Here is a short slide show of some of them: you can see the variety of construction of the Ark itself, as well as the way in which the curtain motif is used.

New York Times -- Houses of Worship Meet Bureaucracy

The New York Times has run an article about the recent destruction of a historic church in Brooklyn despite the objections of preservationists and local activists. The conditions are different in a host of ways, but the article has resonance for those of us interested in the fate of Jewish historical sites in Europe, and particularly in post-communist Europe.

Daunted by the cost of repairing and maintaining the 1899 building, the congregation had sold it to a developer for $9.75 million. He plans to build a 70-unit apartment building, and the congregation will erect a smaller church on the site.

The destruction went forward even though preservationists and the area’s City Council representative had repeatedly implored the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to schedule a hearing on potential landmark status for the church, which was on the National and State Register of Historic Places.

Feelings on the issue ran so high that at a City Council hearing last year on the reappointment of Robert B. Tierney as chairman of the landmarks commission, the city councilman, Vincent J. Gentile, publicly berated the agency for declining to act. “It was a part of our history in this community being torn away from us,” Mr. Gentile said in an interview. “The sad part is, it didn’t have to be.”

Houses of worship are among the most sensitive issues facing the landmarks commission. Mandating that a church be preserved can not only impose a heavy financial burden on a congregation, it also raises the specter of state interference with religious freedom. So the commission has been especially loath to take on churches or synagogues that don’t want to be designated.

Read Full Story