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Mantua shows the renewal and extension of an existing city, while 30 km away, Sabbioneta represents the implementation of the period’s theories about planning the ideal city. Typically, Mantua’s layout is irregular with regular parts showing different stages of its growth since the Roman period and includes many medieval edifices among them an 11th century rotunda and a Baroque theatre. Sabbioneta, created in the second half of the 16th century under the rule of one person, Vespasiano Gonzaga Colonna, can be described as a single-period city and has a right angle grid layout. Both cities offer exceptional testimonies to the urban, architectural and artistic realizations of the Renaissance, linked through the visions and actions of the ruling Gonzaga family.Jews lived in Sabbioneta from the town's early days -- even before it was laid out in its present form. There was a ghetto here, and the town developed into an important center of Hebrew printing. The Sabbioneta synagogue dates from 1824 -- its present form is an enlargement and rebuilding of an earlier structure by a noted Lombard architect named Carlo Visioli.
Sabbioneta represents the construction of an entirely new town according to the modern, functional vision of the Renaissance. The defensive walls, grid pattern of streets, role of public spaces and monuments all make Sabbioneta one of the best examples of ideal cities built in Europe, with an influence over urbanism and architecture in and outside the continent. The properties represent two significant stages of territorial planning and urban interventions undertaken by the Gonzagas in their domains.
Vienna's Jewish community called the government's 20 million euros (29 million dollars) a "late Hanukkah gift." "Nearly nine years after the signing of the Washington Agreement, the last issue that was still open in terms of international law is settled," the community said in a statement. Under the new funding agreement reached late on Monday, Jewish communities are to raise an additional 20 million euros, while the city of Vienna and the province of Lower Austria also pledged contributions.Read full DPA story
The interview highlights Jewish cultural developments and other contemporary European issues that are critically examined in her book Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture and her recent essay featured in the Jewish Quarterly Review, “Beyond Virtually Jewish: New Authenticitiy and Real Imaginary Spaces in Europe”. Ruth Ellen Gruber shares insights on the state of Klezmer in Europe with music this week from Itzhak Perlman and the Klezmatics (“Dybbuk Shers”), Brave Old World (“Berlin 1990″) and Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird (“Broken Tongue”). Tune in!
I realize that the Swiss voters who overwhelmingly approved the minaret ban were responding to scare tactics that raised the specter of an extremist Islamic takeover in their country.In the story I quote Sam.
Yet in a certain way, the Swiss vote Nov. 29 and the Lithuanian seminar were connected.
To me, the ban on minarets recalled centuries of restrictions on the size or prominence of synagogues. The Swiss ban is just the latest example of how governmental authorities target religious architecture as a means of limiting religious or cultural expression.
"Beginning in the fourth century and continuing through the Middle Ages, and again in the 20th century, the 'legal' restriction and destruction of synagogues quickly led to the same policies applied against individuals, and then whole communities.
"Restricting specific types of religious or cultural expression -- especially when such restrictions are deliberate exceptions to existing building, zoning, health and safety codes -- is discriminatory."
It is, he said, "an act of denigration of cultural custom and, by extension, of the people who cherish, or the religion that requires, those very customs."
Before World War II, about 100,000 Jews lived here. The Great Synagogue, standing in the heart of what is today's postcard-perfect Old Town, was the most magnificent of more than 100 synagogues and prayer houses in the city. The Vilnius Old Town today is on UNESCO's roster of World Heritage Sites, but almost no physical traces of its Jewish past remain. There are a few street names, wall inscriptions and plaques, but that's it.
The project Jewish History in Galicia and Bukovina is designed to preserve the once vivid world of Galician and Bukovinian Jewry. Our goal is to save historical documents and vestiges of Jewish material culture in Galicia and Bukovina before these historical records and objects disappear. We intend to make them available to the wider public as well as to the growing community of researchers worldwide through this website..The site includes search options, interactive databases and other aides. It looks great!
The project begins with the region of southern Galicia, which was known as the Stanislawów Voivodship (województwo stanisławowskie) in interwar Poland and is known as the Ivano-Frankivsk Region (Ivano-Frankivs'ka oblast') in today's Ukraine. In this region, primary attention is paid to four communities around Ivano-Frankivsk (Stanislawów): Bohorodczany (Brotchin, Bohorodchany), Lysiec (Lysets', Łysiec), Nadworna (Nadvirna, Nadwórna) and Solotwin (Solotvyn, Sołotwina).
The core of the project Jewish History in Galicia and Bukovina is an electronic database of primary materials pertaining to Galician and Bukovinian Jewry. Ultimately, the database will include: archival documents, newspapers articles, oral history testimonies, and documentation of Jewish cemeteries and communal buildings. The database also includes information regarding Jewish communities, Jewish communal organizations and the lives of individual Jews in the region. The project's website also includes part of the archival catalogue of the Central Archives for the History of Jewish People in Jerusalem (CAHJP).
The project Jewish History in Galicia and Bukovina was initiated by a generous donation from a private foundation that wishes to remain anonymous. The project is conducted under the auspices of the Leonid Nevzlin Research Center for Russian and East European Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in cooperation with The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem. Other organizations, such as the Sefer Center in Moscow and the Center for Jewish Art in Jerusalem also take part in the project.
The present building is halfway underground, probably built like this to conform to regulations that forbade synagogues from being higher than surrounding Christian buildings. The sanctuary is entered down stairs leading from a little outer prayer room, where regular services are held. Chandeliers hang from the ribbed wooden dome arching over the dull, browny-green walls decorated by pale stenciled flowers. Carved and gilded lions, griffins, bunches of grapes and other decorations ornament the compact but elaborate Aron ha Kodesh, built in 1835 by one Saraga Yitzhak ben Moshe.Sam Gruber has posted further information and comment on his blog.
Called “Quarter6Quarter7,” the festival, which starts Friday and is the first of its kind, features some 130 events in more than 30 different venues in and around the city’s Seventh District, central Budapest’s first and most important Jewish neighborhood.Read Full Story
“It's a Hanukkah festival, but it’s not just a Jewish event; it’s a festival of the Quarter, of everyone who lives here and visits here,” said Adam Schonberger, one of the organizers. “Living culture is the key, and the district itself becomes a house of culture, where it all is going on.”
The Bente Kahan Foundation, supported by the Municipality of Wroclaw and the Association of the Jewish Religious Communities in Poland has a clear vision of future functions of the synagogue. The Center for Jewish Culture and Education will strengthen the role of the temple as one of the most attractive spiritual centres in the country by opening its doors for concerts, shows, theatre, workshops, films, lectures seminaries and so on. This living Jewish heart in the centre of Europe will beat even stronger!
The creation of the modern Jewish Museum in Wroclaw (2012) will definitely help to reach that goal. The Museum will be located in the basement and on the balconies of the synagogue floors. The Staircases and the separate entry will enable free communication with the building without disturbing the sacral and cultural space of the temple. By using of modern 3D and holographic techniques, the museum will show the rich and unique world of the Silesian Jews and their thousand-years-old history. It will also be a place for exhibitions, lectures and workshops. The museum will become no just another tourist attraction but also an important link in the educational proces, especially in the context of young people.Kahan has set up web site dedicated to the synagogue and its restoration (only in Polish).
Synagogues and former synagogues should retain a Jewish identity and or use whenever possible, though each one does not necessarily need to be restored or fully renovated.
Former synagogues, no matter what their present ownership or use, should be sensitively marked to identify their past history.
As part of the effort to restitute communal and religious property, when a property of historic value - such as a synagogue - in disrepair or otherwise in a ruined condition (while in the government's possession) is returned, States should help either by modifying laws which impose penalties for not maintaining properties in reasonable condition, or by providing financial and material assistance to undertake necessary repairs and restoration.
The archbishop, who is president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said dwindling numbers of worshippers at some churches meant it now made sense to sell, or even destroy, the buildings.
"Faced with falling number of worshippers, a phenomenon which we are also unfortunately witnessing in the centre of Rome, churches without any artistic value and which need significant work can be sold or destroyed," he told reporters.Read full AFP story
Gyorgy Hunvald, the mayor of District 7, which includes the Jewish quarter, was deeply involved in selling off historic properties and allegedly making buckets of cash in the process. Hunvald was arrested in February and is now in jail facing charges of bribery and abuse of office.Read full story at JTA web site
Perczel sketched out a mind-bogglingly complex story of how investors, developers and the authorities in District 7 colluded to sell off properties, move people out of their homes, and tear down historic buildings for redevelopment. Some aspects of the corruption she describes border on the comical, as when a document that the district was obliged to take into account in formulating its development plan was declared secret and sealed for 15 years.
The Madach Promenade, in fact, is the latest incarnation of a grandiose dream that city planners have tried to implement at intervals over the past century. The failures left the district in limbo, compounding damage done by war and communist-era neglect. Three years ago, architect Andras Roman singled out the Madach plan as an example of how a bold but misplaced vision contributes to urban blight. In ''The Tragedy of an Avenue,'' which appeared in a Budapest cultural journal, Roman traced the failures to the city's behavior as a living organism. City planners, he wrote, ''didn't realize that a city wants to progress by its own rules. It is an inner process that resists the artificial.''Read full Business Week story
Today, despite all the plans, this process persists. In fact, many locals doubt that the Madach scheme will ever come to pass. But the state of limbo may turn into a fait accompli. Demolition by neglect is a byproduct of inertia, and vacant lots can be more valuable than those with old buildings on them. The Seventh will change, but perhaps not as anyone now envisages.
When asked what I do I often reply " I collect dead Jews" - their photos, their market places, their shtetls and towns, their Synagogues, their festive occasions, their lives in black and white and their deaths in the Holocaust. I try to recall a particular face whenever I say Kaddish as all members of most of the families were murdered at the same time and ask others who look at my postcards and photos at my Exhibitions to do the same. My Rabbi at one occasion told me that I am "ransoming the captives"….especially when most of my postcards come from Eastern Europe or Nazi family albums. A good many of the cards in my collection are from the late 1880's and what are called Cabinet Cards taken in photography Studios. I was born with the "collecting gene".In addition to the web site she maintains a flickr stream with thousands of old postcards -- and also photographs, some of which she has taken.
November 7, 2009Read Full story
Where Art and Faith Embrace in Gura Humorului, Romania
By RUTH ELLEN GRUBER
GURA HUMORULUI, ROMANIA — The Bucovina region in the far north of the country, wrote the Romanian scholar Silviu Sanie, is “one of those blessed realms where sacred and secular monuments have enriched the enchanting natural landscape. [...]”
Here are Romania’s famous painted monasteries, built in the 15th and 16th centuries when the region, a stronghold of Orthodox Christianity, was threatened by Ottoman invaders.
The vividly colored frescoes on their exterior walls, masterpieces of Byzantine painting, tell the tales of saints and heroes, and portray in epic imagery the cataclysmic struggle between good and evil at the end of days. [...]
Here, too, however, are religious sites far less known and rarely visited that also form important components of the region’s deeply rooted spiritual patrimony. These are the centuries-old Jewish cemeteries, whose weathered tombstones bear extraordinary carvings that meld folk motifs and religious iconography into evocative examples of faith expressed through art.
By Ruth Ellen Gruber
On a frosty November morning, I walked around the two massive, ruined synagogues that form a unique surviving Jewish complex in Kalvarija, a small, sleepy town in southern Lithuania near the border with Poland.
One of the synagogues was built in the early 18th century. Its roof had fallen in and its bottom windows were bricked up, but it was possible to see arches and other architectural detail and decoration.
The other, built in about 1803, was more or less intact, but crumbling. Between the two stood a red brick building, a former rabbi's house and a cheder, or Jewish school, with a big Star of David above the door.
As I have done in hundreds of other cities, towns and villages in more than a dozen countries, I took pictures of the synagogues from every angle.
With my eye focused through my camera, I didn't watch where I was walking. Suddenly, I tripped over a broken brick, half buried in the uneven yard, and went crashing to the ground.
Trying to save my cameras, I ended up twisting my ankle so that I could hardly walk.
The injury took weeks to heal fully, but everyone told me that my spill was beshert -- fated -- and maybe it was.
Kalvarija is the town from which my great-grandfather, Pesach Susnitsky, emigrated some 120 years ago, ending up in the small town of Brenham, Texas.
In Brenham, Pesach became Philip. He was the patriarch of a huge family of children, including my grandmother, who was born in Brenham, and a pious pillar of the Jewish community.
In Brenham, he helped found a Jewish congregation. The little wooden synagogue that was built in 1894 still stands.
When he left Kalvarija in about 1880, Jews made up more than 80 percent of the town's population. By 1939, it had dropped to about 25 percent, but still about 1,000 Jews lived in the town.
No Jews live there today, and I must say that given the depressing and bloody history of the town and region during World Wars I and II, and decades of later Soviet domination, I am enormously thankful that my great-grandfather had the courage to leave when he did.
Still, the buildings I was photographing were not just fascinating sites of Jewish heritage in general: they were the places where my ancestors worshiped and studied.
The streets of the town, with their small, mainly low wooden houses, and the central square dominated by a big, white church with two ornate towers, were the streets and square where my ancestors walked.
I had driven there with a friend after spending the night near the Polish town of Suwalki, about 20 miles to the south. Until a few years ago, such a day trip from Poland to Kalvarija would have been difficult if not impossible.
For one thing, American citizens today do not need a visa to enter Lithuania. While Kalvarija is the first town in Lithuania across the border from Poland, the border crossing-point was opened only four years ago.
I didn't have a real genealogical agenda for my visit -- I just wanted to see the town. But I had hoped to spend much of the day walking through the quiet streets, poking into corners and possibly talking to local people.
My injured ankle cramped my capabilities, though -- and here's where beshert comes in.
An old woman told us where the Jewish cemetery was located, on the other side of the little Sheshupa River that winds through the town, and my friend and I decided to drive straight there.
Pesach Susnitsky died in Texas in 1939 at the age of 83. Several years ago, I visited his grave in the Jewish cemetery in Brenham.
I had little hope of finding any Susnitsky graves in Kalvarija, but I was eager to visit the cemetery just to see it.
We found a small, fenced-in, triangular plot of ground right in front of a huge electric grid, which contained several dozen simple tombstones, some of them toppled.
Hobbling, I starting photographing the site. Just then an old man came by, wheeling a bicycle.
"I know everything, everything," he smiled. All his teeth were capped in gold. "I remember everything how it was."
He propped up his bike and began to talk. He described how the cemetery used to extend much, much further, stone after stone, all the way down to the river, but the Germans destroyed it, and most remaining stones were stolen.
Now on top of the area, there are ugly, poor barracks where people live -- with no indoor plumbing, they have to walk 50 yards or so to toilets. Pigs and dogs frolic around. A man passed by leading a cow.
Of the remaining graves, the only mausoleum, he said, was that of a certain Menashe who was a "millionaire."
I asked the old man if he remembered the Susnitsky family -- and he did.
"Of course! There were a lot of Susnitskys here, a lot." Particularly, he said, before the war, there were two Susnitsky brothers in town, Alter and Yankel, who must have been nephews or great-nephews of Pesach. "Alter was a big, tall man," he said. "Yankel was small, curved over and had a hunch back." He demonstrated, scooping out his own body.
The brothers lived together in a big house on a hill, he said -- and then he led us there to see it. Indeed, it was one of the most imposing wooden houses in the village. Undergoing some renovation, it even sported a satellite dish.
Both brothers were killed when the Germans deported the Jews to nearby Mariampole during World War II, he told us.
The old man said all the houses on this street were occupied by Jews, and that Jews lived all over the town. "So many, so many!" He gestured forlornly.
He was clearly nostalgic for past times -- and the disappearance of the Jewish community represented for him a change for the worse. Nonetheless, in describing the Jews in town, he used the Polish term Zydek or "little Jew" -- a term Jews regard as pejorative.
The Jews in Kalvarija were "good people," and "wealthy," the man said, they took care of each other and everyone got on with everyone.
"They were called Yankele, Alterke, Menashe, Meyshke," he recalled. "They would say, 'Oy vey, oy vey.'"
"When you mention Poland, most Jews feel it is a forbidden land, nothing but a cemetery," he says. "People have created the idea that Poles were responsible for World War II and the Holocaust."
Why do so many Jews in some ways "have more powerful, passionate feelings about Poland than about Germany?" he asks. "You have the strongest feelings about those to whom you have the closest ties. When a family member betrays you, it is worse than when a stranger does."
Traison wanted to find answers for himself on these matters, and for that, he had to visit Poland. He flew to Warsaw, alone, intending to stay for four days, then go on to Israel.
"I couldn't speak a word of Polish and few Polish people knew how to speak English," he says. "I was basically on my own, communicating by body language, isolated, yet knowing the streets, the places, almost like I had been there before."
The connection to the land was instantaneous. "I feel like the month I was born, October 1946, there must have still been smoke from the chimneys of the camps, and I must have inhaled the souls of some of our people," he says.
On that first visit, "for whatever reason, I had positive experiences," he says. "I encountered Poles and they saw me walking, wearing a kippah. People would offer to show me the local cemeteries or synagogues. They viewed it as part of their own Polish history and culture." He also met others "who were afraid I was coming to take back my property. There was a certain amount of fear and anxiety, but many people were very hospitable."Read full article
That visit was "a life-changing experience" for Traison, he says. Soon he found himself visiting there four times a year, then every month. Eventually he combined the journeys with his law practice - he is a principal in a large Chicago firm, Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, that has three offices in Poland, and practices commercial law.
[...] his trips to Poland grew more frequent and his involvement in projects relating to the Holocaust and the country's Jewish population more intensive. (He notes that a Google search of his name and "Poland" yields dozens of entries.) Today he spends about 25 percent of his time there - about a week out of every month - and is now engaged in 75 different projects.
In 1857 Gura Humorului had a Jewish population of 190 souls. In that year also the Jewish cemetery was established. That cemetery was active until 1920. In 1920 the "New" cemetery was established right near the "Old" one, and it is still open today. This cemetery (the old and the new) has about 2060 graves. Stones beautifully cared for, many in German. The new part was renovated recently by The Association of Gura - Humora Jewish Community Descendants.
By Ruth Ellen Gruber, Oct. 30, 2009
ROME (JTA) -- Under communism, Jewish suffering in World War II generally was treated as a footnote to the overall losses in what the Soviets called the "Great Patriotic War."
Public monuments existed at some Holocaust sites in Eastern Europe, such as Auschwitz, the Paneriai forest near Vilnius where at least 70,000 Jews were killed, and Babi Yar, where tens of thousands of Jews were killed in ravines outside Kiev. But these usually commemorated generic "victims of fascism" and did not acknowledge the involvement of local collaborators.
Since the fall of communism 20 years ago, however, a host of new Holocaust memorials have gone up in post-communist states while and Communist-era monuments have been revamped by state authorities, local civic groups and Jewish organizations, giving the Jewish tragedy of World War II more prominence.
The new memorials range from simple plaques to modest monuments to huge memorial complexes, such as the monument at the Belzec death camp. A joint project of the Polish government and the American Jewish Committee, the monument was inaugurated in 2004 by the Polish president.
Some new sites, such as Belzec and the state-run Holocaust memorial center in Budapest, which also opened in 2004, include museums or educational facilities.
In other cases, including at Babi Yar and Paneriai, new inscriptions or components have been added to provide more accurate information and context in order for the memorial site to teach and inform as well as commemorate.
This can become contentious if, for example, the new inscriptions make reference to local collaboration in the killing of Jews.
"After the problem of funding, the hardest part of getting monuments and memorials erected has not been getting some kind of general consent, but it has been working out the specifics of the design and especially the language on the inscription," said the president of the International Survey of Jewish Monuments, Samuel Gruber, who has written about Holocaust memory and consulted on Holocaust monument projects.
"Most older memorials have been very general in their language, so much so that it is often hard to figure out what events are being commemorated, and rarely can one learn about who did what to whom and when,” he said.
This remains a concern, even with monuments whose positioning and design make them prominent. Some memorials form a striking symbolic presence, but provide little or no information as to what they commemorate. Visitors are presumed to know already what they represent.
In the heart of the Slovak capital Bratislava, for example, a chiseled image of a destroyed synagogue now serves as a Holocaust memorial. But other than the word "Remember," no information is provided on how the wartime fascist state collaborated with the Nazis in killing most of Slovakia's 135,000-strong prewar Jewish community.
Likewise, in Sopron, Hungary, a small but powerful sculptural monument depicting empty clothing hung outside the Auschwitz gas chambers stands near an abandoned synagogue. The memorial bears Hebrew lettering and the Sh’ma prayer, but no further information.
"How can one remember what one doesn't know?" Gruber said. "How can one 'not forget' what is never fully discussed or taught?"
On Slovakia’s Holocaust Memorial Day, Sept. 9, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico presided over the dedication of a memorial to Slovaks who helped rescue Jews at the time of the anti-Nazi Slovak National Uprising in 1944.
Funded by the Israeli Chamber of Commerce in Slovakia and several private sources, the memorial was built in the town of Zvolen next to the mass gravesite of Jews who were killed by the Nazis. It also includes a digital information point.
"This represents a different way of presenting Slovak national history that is at the same time a rejection of the [Nazi-allied] Slovak national puppet state of Josef Tiso," said Rabbi Andrew Baker, the American Jewish Committee's director of international Jewish affairs who has advised on Holocaust memorial projects in several countries. "Fico deserves credit for doing this, and he also speaks emotionally about the importance of Holocaust education in his country."
Though flawed at times, the memorials serve an important purpose.
"Memorials have a permanent presence," said Warren Miller, chairman of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, which has been involved in Holocaust memorial projects in Latvia, Romania, the former East Germany and other countries. "Going to a powerful memorial will help people want to learn more."
...When I was a little boy, my parents took me there for the very first time. I didn't like the place at all.I too remember the Dohany Street synagogue where it was in terrible condition, dark and dank and with its ceiling sagging down over the sanctuary, swathed in plastic sheeting and held up by metal bands. But I also remember it -- even then -- as, at least on the High Holidays, being, despite everything, a place of life, where thousands of people congregated. They were there to make a statement of belonging and identity -- I'll never forget walking in to Yom Kippur services in 1983 and being aghast at the noise of what amounted to a giant schmooze fest under that sagging ceiling.
It was dark, gloomy; the lingering smell of crumbling plaster and mildew was in the air. I didn't understand why everyone's eyes were filled with tears.
Later when I understood all too well, I went back whenever I could to say Kaddish for my grandparents. They didn't come back from Auschwitz, along with the other 600 thousand Hungarian Jews who perished during the Holocaust. Challenging the watchful eyes of the ever-present Secret Police, I went there with my family and friends to demonstrate that we belonged there rather than Communist Party meetings.
The location was Budapest, Hungary. The place, the Dohany Street Synagogue.
In 1979 I left Hungary seeking political, religious and artistic freedom.
The next time I saw her was a few years ago. I couldn't believe my eyes! She was gorgeous and probably looked better than when she was born in 1859. Her breathtaking beauty made me fall in love.