Jewish souvenirs in Trani, Italy

Jewish souvenirs in Trani, Italy

JEWISH HERITAGE EUROPE



Check out the rich resources on www.jewish-heritage-europe.eu -- an online clearing house for news and information on Jewish heritage that I coordinate as a project of the Rothschild Foundation Europe




Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Southern Transylvanian Synagogues

Following the exhibition of photographs by Christian Binder of synagogues in southern Transylvania held in Sighisoara, Romania, a photo gallery of images has been posted online. View it by clicking HERE.

Synagogues pictured include those in Targu Mures, Brasov (designed by Lipot Baumhorn), Reghin, Faragas and others.

Grodno (in Italian)

Paolo Rumiz's latest piece in La Repubblica deals evocatively, among other things, with the synagogue and Jewish cemetery in Grodno, Belarus. The article includes a photo of the synagogue and a description of an encounters with a non-Jewish woman who has "adopted" the cemetery and tries to clean the tombstones, one by one, one each day.

"Adonai", "Elohim" ripetono i vecchi nella sinagoga corale ormai vuota, e tutto sembra appeso al filo di queste antiche parole che garantiscono la continuità del mondo. Ma è proprio questo che spaventa: quando esse non saranno più ascoltate da nessuno, allora sarà l'Europa a perdere definitivamente se stessa. E già te ne accorgi quando nello spazio corale torna il silenzio, carico di nostalgia del canto che non c'è più. C'erano diciassette sinagoghe a Grodno, ora ce n'è una sola.

Marija, la vecchia custode, è un'ortodossa convertitasi all'ebraismo e la sua fede è un ibrido perfetto tra le due religioni. Dice, con gli occhi febbrili: "Tutti aspettano l'arrivo del Messia. Arriverà quando tutti si armeranno contro Israele: allora il cielo si aprirà e lui andrà in suo soccorso. Sarà il secondo arrivo di Cristo. Il momento arriverà presto, così è scritto nella Torah. Allora gli ebrei crederanno, Gesù li benedirà, e Israele sarà il primo di tutti i popoli".

Sull'altra riva del fiume c'è un vecchio cimitero ebraico. Immenso, coperto di sterpaglia, devastato dalle radici delle betulle. Per entrare scavalchiamo un muro sbrecciato coperto di ortica. Poljakov Abram Lazarevic. Rosenzweig David Bulfovic. Le tombe con la stella di Davide emergono dalla vegetazione come menhir, coperte di licheni grigi e giallo-senape. Qualcuna ha la stella rossa. Su tutto, la luce incendiaria della sera. Migliaia di morti, e sono la minoranza. Gli altri sono passati per il camino.

Nella boscaglia, una donna in vestito rosso-papavero spazza una tomba. Sembra una visione, una Morgana. Con lei un bambino che l'aiuta. Poco lontano, un uomo che falcia la sterpaglia. La donna in rosso chiama Lilia e racconta una storia straordinaria. "Io e mio marito siamo ortodossi, ma abbiamo adottato questo luogo.

Da quando siamo in pensione, ogni giorno puliamo una tomba. Abito in quella casa lì in fondo, accanto al muro di cinta e da anni lotto perché questo spazio non decada. Conosco tanti di quelli che abitano qui". Dice "abitano", perché ne parla come se fossero ancora vivi.

Il piccolo Igor dice a Monika: "Vieni, ti porto a vedere la tomba di un santo", e si arrampica su un pilastro coperto di caratteri ebraici. "Era un rabbino, vengono in tanti a salutarlo. Gli chiedono sempre qualcosa".
Abbaiano due cani lupo. Sono i guardiani della casa di Lilia. Hanno fiutato estranei oltre la cancellata. Lilia vede ragazzi che cercano di entrare; urla, li minaccia, li fa scappare.

Monday, August 25, 2008

News on Jewish Genealogy Resources

The latest issue of the Avotaynu email newsletter "Nu? What's New?" is now online, with information on new genealogy resources, events and publications.

Seeking family roots forms a major piece of the Jewish travel mosaic. The newsletter includes links to a wide range of material and can be subscribed to direct to your inbox.

Detailed info on Jewish heritage in Bosnia online

The Jewish Heritage Europe web site, an expanding database of information on Jewish heritage in European countries, has added material on Bosnia.

I'm not quite sure why I am listed as the author of the material -- but I think that much of it comes from a report I prepared several years ago for the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad. The main source of info on Bosnia remains Ivan Ceresnjes and his name should be up there. I have included a fair amount of what it included in this report in Jewish Heritage Travel.




(Jewish cemetery, Mostar. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber)

Synagogue Gives Shelter in South Ossetia

This AP story evokes echoes of the so-called Fortress Synagogues in Eastern Europe, which served as defenses for the local Jewish communities and also the towns in which they stood. Striking examples of such synagogues, mainly in ruins, can be seen now in Poland (Szydlow, Zamosc) and Ukraine (Brody, Sokal, Sataniv, Shargorod, etc).


Abandoned synagogue gives shelter in Ossetian war

By YURAS KARMANAU

TSKHINVALI, Georgia (AP) — When Georgian rockets began falling on this sleepy capital of the breakaway province of South Ossetia, Zemfira Tibilova and her neighbors ran to a century-old brick synagogue.
During four days of fighting in the town, she said, four dozen Orthodox Christians hid in the building's dark basement with little food and water.
"These holy walls protected us," said Tibilova, 60. "God is still present here."
When the Georgian army launched an offensive late on Aug. 7 seeking to regain control of the region, about 50 people on Tskhinvali's Shaumian Street — mostly women and children and several elderly men — grabbed all the bread and water they could carry and took refuge in the synagogue.

Read Full Story



(Ruined fortress synagogue in Sokal, Ukraine, 2006. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Article on Synagogue in Ludza (Lutsin) Latvia

For those who read Italian, the journalist Paolo Rumiz has a colorful piece in La Repubblica about the synagogue in Ludza, latvia, once known in Yiddish as Lutsin. Paolo specializes in lengthy travel stories that weave in history, politics and culture.

La sinagoga dei destini alternati

di PAOLO RUMIZ

Questa è la storia di una sinagoga che un giorno fu trasformata in stalla da uomini bestiali in divisa. Le bestie dichiararono "alieni" la gente che la popolava, la uccisero e la seppellirono nei boschi. Ma un giorno la stalla tornò a ospitare uomini pii e divenne luogo di festa, musica e allegria.

Read full story


Sergei Kravtsov wrote about the synagogue in his survey of synagogues in Latvia, carried out for the Center for Jewish Art.

Heritage Travel by Cleaning Cemetery

One way of gaining deeper knowledge through travel is to go somewhere to do something.... like clean up a Jewish cemetery in Belarus....Siena College is an independent Catholic Liberal Arts college near Albany in upstate New York.


Students return to Jewish cemetery in Belarus


First published: Sunday, August 10, 2008
COLONIE -- A group of Siena College students made their second summer trip to restore a Jewish cemetery destroyed by the Nazis during World War II and neglected by generations of villagers in Rubezhevichi, Belarus.

Read full story

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Book Replies to "Virtually Jewish"


I've discovered, thanks to a review in the online "H-Net" Humanities and Social Sciences Online, that a book was published in Austria in 2005 that in a sense can be, as reviewer Deborah Holmes put it "understood as a reply" to my own book "Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe" (University of California Press, 2002).

The new book is called "Der 'virtuelle Jude': Konstruktionen des Jüdischen" (Schriften des Centrums für Jüdische Studien. Innsbruck: Studienverlag, 2005), and is a collection of essays edited by Klaus Hödl.

It is bizarre to me that a whole book could be dedicated to responding to my own work, but I was never contacted and knew nothing about it! From what Holmes writes, I'm not sure that what I was saying in my own book was actually interpreted the way I meant it to be -- and in some cases I apparently was misinterpreted.

Holmes writes:

"The most detailed criticism of Gruber's concept of "virtual Jewishness" comes in Hödl's own essay "Der 'virtuelle Jude'--ein essentialistisches Konzept?" Although Gruber is concerned with the commercialization of Jewishness and Shoah tourism in particular historical constellations, and not at all with theoretical identity discourse, Hödl is naturally justified in questioning her terms. On the other hand, he does seem to misread her at times. She does not set out to prove or discuss the existence of an "authentic" Jewish identity, and often sets this and other potentially problematic notions ("real Jews," "goyish") in quotations, indicating that she is well aware of the minefield she is crossing. It would of course be difficult to discuss the phenomena she sets out to investigate without using some abbreviations, and she defines her idea of "virtually Jewish" at great and satisfying length. Whether or not one concurs with her on the importance of "living" memory to cultural identity is another matter. Hödl is so intent on deconstructing her suggestion that there can be such a thing as an organic cultural legacy that he somewhat loses sight, in his own contribution at least, of the very valid question of what difference it makes that there are now so few Jews (or even "Jews") living in Europe as compared to previous centuries: "Die Annahme, dass vor der Shoah aufgrund des Vorhandenseins eines 'lebendigen jüdischen Milieus' statt Virtualität Authentizität bestimmend gewesen sowie der Geschichtsbezug weniger durch Bedürfnisse motiviert, sondern durch Rückgriffe auf Erinnerung hergestellt worden sei, ist ... zu hinterfragen. Konstruktionen sind immer schon mit historischen Deutungen einhergegangen, sie stellen kein Phänomen allein der Gegenwart dar" (p. 60)."

Anyway, it's interesting to see that my book has "legs," as it were, and that the concepts that I developed have led and are leading to further thought.

Actually, I've just checked back in my email, and this volume seems to collect papers given at a conference in Graz, Austria in 2003 on "Der Virtuelle Jude". I remember seeing a reference to this conference back then -- and I remember trying to get in touch with the organizers, as it seemed clear that already this was a response of some sort to my book. But I never received a reply to my emails....

European Day of Jewish Culture schedules up

The 9th annual European Day of Jewish Culture will take place Sept. 7, with music this year's theme. Schedules for events in Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom can now be accessed at the Day's web site.

This represents fewer than half of the 30 countries that are supposed to be taking part, and I hope that the schedules for the remaining countries get posted soon.....

European Day of Jewish Culture meeting set

According to the web site of the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Heritage, a meeting of national coordinators of the European Day of Jewish Culture will be held in November, probably in Spain. (Heritage Day is on the first Sunday of September, this year Sept. 7.)

The meeting, the web site states, "not only will allow the different coordinators to get to know each other personally, but it will also offer a forum for the exchange of experiences, projects and ideas, thus contributing to enhance and strengthen the collaboration between countries."

All of this is much needed. Due to funding and sponsorship issues as well as local interest and possibilities, there is little consistency in the organization of the European Day of Jewish Culture. Some countries, such as Italy, have public sponsorship and a skilled organizational team that enables about 50 cities and towns to program events. Other countries manage only token participation.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Update on Romanian Jewish Heritage Sites

Here's a cross post from Sam Gruber's Jewish Monuments blog, providing information on the survey of Romanian Jewish heritage sites he recently presented to the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad.

Sam welcomes input and information on Romanian sites, which can be incorporated into the survey as the editing and review process proceeds.

Friday, August 15, 2008

100th Anniversary of Czernowitz Yiddish Conference



(Former synagogue in Cernivtsi, now used as a cinema. Photo: Ruth Ellen Gruber 2006)

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the landmark First Yiddish Language Conference in Czernowitz (now Cernivtsi, Ukraine), held Aug. 30-Sept. 3, 1908, at which it was recognized that Yiddish was a Jewish language.

The conference focused on the role of Yiddish in Jewish life. The meeting drew 70 delegates representing many political and religious factions. They included the authors I.L. Peretz and Sholem Asch, along with other prominent scholars, writers and activists. The most heated debates centered on whether Hebrew, which was then being revived and modernized after centuries of disuse, or Yiddish, which was spoken by millions of Jews, could, or should, be considered the Jewish national language. In the end, delegates adopted a resolution declaring Yiddish "a" national language of the Jewish people -- along with Hebrew.


(My 2006 of the Yiddish Culture building in Cernivtsi)

Various initiatives and celebrations have been taking place to mark the occasion.

One of the major events is an conference in Cernivtsi next week. The conference is mainly academic, but it will also feature guided tours of Cernivtsi and unspecified Jewish heritage sites in Bucovina and Galicia. (See photos of some such sites on my web site.)

Some of my pictures from 2006 of the Jewish cemetery in Cernivtsi:





Synagogue Exhibit in Romania

On the weekend of Aug. 22-23, the "Proetnica" interethnic festival in Sighisoara, Romania will feature a exhibit of photographs of synagogues in southern Transylvania, taken by Christian Binder.

Venue for the exhibit is the lovely synagogue in Sighisoara, at Str. Tache Ionescu 13.

According to the press release, the exhibit "attempts to capture the interesting transitional stage in which Romania now finds itself – with the entrance of outside, foreign investors and NGOs, some synagogues have been or are being restored and turned into cultural centres or finding other alternative uses. Others remain abandoned, often assuming a central location in the town's centre, an evocative, stubborn reminder of recent past – and of today's reluctance to address Romania's troubled relationship with this history. The questions are numerous – what will become of these buildings now that they can be used again? Will their respective towns take responsibility for their upkeep, how can they be integrated into a long-term plan for urban or rural renewal? And how can the countless still decrepit synagogues, many of significant historical and architectural value, be incorporated into a systematic and far-reaching plan for commemorating and celebrating a culture formerly a vibrant part of Romania's multi-cultural existence?"


(Facade of the synagogue in Alba Iulia, Romania. (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber, 2006)



About 10,000 Jews live in Romania, about half in Bucharest, the rest scattered in many small and very small communities. The number is inexact, as community membership may include non-Jewish spouses and family members.

As many as 100 synagogue buildings still stand in Romania, in one form or another. While many are in poor repair, about 50 are used at least occasionally for religious services and a number of them are listed as historic monuments. In addition, there are more than 800 Jewish cemeteries in Romania. (I have posted photo galleries of several Jewish heritage sites in Romania on my web site.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

An Italian Jewish Journalist Discovers L'viv...

For those who read Italian, I'm posting the link to an article (also blog entry) by the Italian journalist Gad Lerner, whose ancestors come from Lwow/Lemberg/L'viv (in Italian, Leopoli). (Lerner was born in Beirut but moved to Milan as a young child). He is on a sort of roots trip. The article also appears in today's issue of La Repubblica newspaper.

"Other European" videos

Mark Rubin has posted some videos showing early rehearsals of the Klezmer and Roma bands involved in the "Other Europeans" project sponsored by the Yiddish Summer Weimar, the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow and the KlezMORE Festival in Vienna. (And which I wrote about in my most recent Ruthless Cosmopolitan column.)

Mark plays tuba and bass in the Yiddish band. The videos shed fascinating light on the creative process as the two bands prepare similar but different/different but similar performance repertoire based on mainly Moldovan sources.

I'm posting a couple of them below, but you can access them all through Mark's youtube channel (click link above). He has also posted various other clips from Yiddish Summer Weimar.

Thanks, Mark!




Sunday, August 10, 2008

New and Newish Websites on Czech Jewish Heritage

My friend David Kraus has put up a new web site on Jewish heritage in the Czech Republic. It's called "Vanished Tempels" and so far includes images takes from old postcards of pre-WW2 synagogues in Bohemia and Moravia.

It also includes a few other types of old postcards with Jewish themes and -- interestingly -- photos of some of the architects of synagogues, including Wilhelm Stiassny, one of the great designers of Moorish-style synagogues in central Europe, among them the Jubilee synagogue in Prague and the synagogue in Malacky, Slovakia, not far from Bratislava. (See my own 2006 picture of Malacky synagogue, now an art school and gallery, below)



David's site provides a link to an even bigger data base of old postcards on Jewish heritage around Europe, 1890-1930 So far, there are images of synagogues from about a score of countries, plus some other Judaica, including postcards of Jewish sporting clubs and events.



David's site also includes links to several other web sites with resources on currently existing Czech Jewish heritage. One is a database of information on current synagogue buildings in the Czech Republic, and another has information on Jewish cemeteries in the Czech Republic.

Both sites were put up by Jitka Oltova. Both are in Czech, but there are lots of pictures. (Below is a slide show of my own photos from several Jewish cemeteries in the Czech Republic.)



Another site David links to is also pretty fascinating. Called "Vanished Places After 1945" it is a data base, in Czech and German, with lots of articles and pictures, of destroyed built heritage, including several dozen synagogues.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Jewish Museum in Hohenems, Austria Revamped

I just received a copy of the thick new catalogue for the Jewish Museum in Hohenems, Austria, which reopened last year after a complete renovation and revamping of the permanent exhibition. The Museum, which was founded in 1991, now goes by the name "At Home: Diaspora." I haven't seen it yet -- but the catalogue is a more than 360-page collection of essays and photographs linking history, personal history, memoir and analysis.

Hohenems is in the far western corner of Austria, near the Swiss border -- a few years ago I wrote an article about the town and an exhibition at the Museum on cantorial super stars called "Kantormania" for the International Herald Tribune. It is the birthplace of one of 19th century Europe's biggest cantorial super stars, Solomon Sulzer, and the exhibit formed part of celebrations marking Sulzer's bicentennial .

"Sulzer was not only a cantor," Hanno Loewy, the director of the Museum, told me at the time. "He was a composer; he was a public figure; he was a teacher. He had his own school, he had his chorus. He led probably the best chorus in Vienna in the 19th century."

What's more, he added, "He was celebrated because of his wonderful voice by most of the celebrated musicians of his time, from Schubert to Liszt. They all came to the synagogue to listen to his voice." Not only that, Sulzer also became the center of a personality cult, to the point where admirers even copied his famous long-flowing hair style.

The Museum, on the other side of the country from Vienna, forms part of the cultural scene in the Lake Constance area, which also encompasses parts of Switzerland and Germany. It also has forged strong bonds with descendants of Hohenems Jews -- each year the town and museum host a gathering of Jews with links to the town. The first such gathering took place in 1998; this year it took place last weekend.

Wooden Synagogue in Latvia endangered

I missed the posting last month on Sam Gruber's blog about the wooden synagogue in Subate, a town in western Latvia, that is in danger of collapse, but it is important to spread this information, so I am linking to the post here.

This simple little synagogue, along with a score of others elsewhere in Latvia and Lithuania (maybe elsewhere?) are the only surviving examples of the sometimes magnificent wooden synagogues that one stood in eastern Europe. See a summary of Sergey Kratsov's Survey of Synagogues in Latvia for the Center for Jewish Art here.

In it, Sergey reports that out of 280 synagogues in Latvia before World War II, only 43 still exist. The good news is that the so-called Green Synagogue in Rezekne, the best-preserved of the country's wooden synagogues, is under "thorough conservation" sponsored by Latvian authorities and the World Monuments Fund.

Friday, August 8, 2008

New Ruthless Cosmopolitan Column


In my latest "Ruthless Cosmopolitan" column for JTA I write about "allosemitism" -- the concept that Jews are the perpetual "other". I describe this year's Yiddish Summer Weimar festival and also a summer exhibit at the Jewish Museum in Munich on "that certain Jewish something" that makes things and/or people Jewish.

The column can be seen at the JTA web site or at various other sites, including the Jerusalem Post.

I am aggregating all the columns on a Ruthless Cosmopolitan blog, where they can be subscribed to via RSS.


DOES A "CERTAIN JEWISH SOMETHING" REALLY SET JEWS APART?

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

WEIMAR, Germany (JTA) -- I learned a new word this summer -- "allosemitism."
Coined by a Polish-Jewish literary critic named Artur Sandauer, the term describes a concept with which I am quite familiar -- the idea of Jews as the perpetual "other."

Allosemitism can embrace both positive and negative feelings toward Jews -- everything, as the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman put it, "from love and respect to outright condemnation and genocidal hatred."

Read full story

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Jewish Literature Festival in Rome

There's going to be a Festival of Jewish Literature in Rome next month -- Sept. 20-24.

The web site (so far) is only in Italian and the program is not up yet, but it includes a provisional list of invited writers.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Canadian Synagogue to be Part of Heritage Park

This isn't European Jewish heritage or travel -- but it's related, and pretty interesting. There are many "skansens" or open air village museums/heritage parks in Europe, where traditional buildings are gathered from various sites and reassembled to show vernacular architecture, etc. I don't know any that include a synagogue or other overtly Jewish component, except for one or two (notably the Village Museum in Sighet, Romania) that include a house or tavern once owned or lived in by Jews.

Details for this Canadian project can be found at the "Little Synagogue on the Prairie" web site.


A SYNAGOGUE LOST THEN FOUND

Jul. 31, 2008
RHONDA SPIVAK , THE JERUSALEM POST

Calgary's heritage park is soon to be the second in North America to display a restored pioneer synagogue that will teach visitors about Jewish religion and culture.

The idea was the brainchild of Irena Karshenbaum, a member of Calgary's Jewish community, who works for a small real-estate development company and is also a freelance writer.

"The only other synagogue I know of that exists in a historic park in North America is in San Diego," says Karshenbaum, who proposed her idea to the board of directors of Heritage Park.

"My initial proposal was to build a replica of a synagogue that we knew had existed in the Montefiore colony of Jewish immigrants who had settled in Alberta in 1910. We had a photo of the Montefiore synagogue, but assumed the building itself no longer actually existed."


Read the entire story

Slawatycze cemetery

Henry Gitelman, a descendent of Jews from Slawatycze, Poland, has informed me of an error in a posting I made in May about the rededication of the Jewish cemetery there. He writes that first massacre of Jews in the town took place in February 1940, not in 1939, and that the victims, who included his grandfather and uncle, were not "activists" but just ordinary people.

Mr. Gitelman is editing a history of the Slawatycze Jewish community, written by the late Michal Grynberg, to be called "Oh! Slawatycze, My Home...."

Thanks to him for this information.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Construction at Ukraine Jewish Cemetery Halted

From JTA:

A local construction firm will halt construction at the site of a Jewish cemetery in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky, Dnepropetrovsk's spiritual leader, told JTA that the agreement with ATB was reached this week on shutting down the building of a shopping mall, but he did not provide details of the discussions. Kaminetsky praised the company's head, Gennady Butkevich, for responding to the concerns of the Jewish community, Jewish.ru reported. The cemetery is no longer in use, but it contains gravesites of local Jews dating back to the 1930s.

read more here

Wroclaw

Well, this isn't exactly Jewish heritage travel, but it's travel -- here's the link to a travel story on Wroclaw I did for the International Herald Tribune. There is a slide show of photos with it.

I researched the story when I was in Wroclaw in June for the conference on Modern Jewish Culture at the university there -- see an earlier post for info on the city's White Stork Synagogue.