Images of Candles being Blessed, on Tombstones in Radauti, 2006. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber
I have been awarded the Michael Hammer Tribute Research Grant by the Hadassah Brandeis Institute for a project called “(Candle)sticks on Stone: Representing the Woman in Jewish Tombstone Art”.
Each year the HBI awards 20 to 30 grants to support academic and artistic projects about Jews and gender. Debby Olins, the program director, told me that my project was selected by the HBI board as "an exceptional research award" to be dedicated to the memory of Michael Hammer, the husband of one of the board members, who died last year.
It centers around the richly decorated tombstones of women in the Jewish cemetery in Radauti, Romania, where my own great-grandmother, Ettel Gruber, is buried.
The aim of my project is to provide a photographic documentation of the often elaborate tombstones of women Radauti and (probably) several other nearby towns in northern Romania (such as Siret, Botosani, Gura Humorului, Suceava), focusing on the representation of candlesticks.
I then want to integrate these photographs with research, personal reflections and memoir to create an on-line gallery/exhibition, which will also include anecdotes, literary references, personal stories, etc. I also hope to write a broader photographic and literary essay (and/or other articles) for publication. And I plan to set up a separate blog -- linked to this blog -- on which I will report my progress and reflections during the research and writing process.
Sabbath candles are a common symbol on the tombstones of Jewish women. This is because lighting the Sabbath candles is one of the three so-called "women's commandments" carried out by female Jews: these also include observing the laws of Niddah separating men from women during their menstrual periods, and that of Challah, or burning a piece of dough when making bread.
The first time I saw a Jewish woman's tombstone bearing a representation of candles was in 1978, when I visited Radauti for the first time and found the tombstone of my great-grandmother, who died in 1946 and in whose honor I received my middle name.
As the author of National Geographic Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe, I have roamed thousands of miles around Europe's historic Jewish heartland, bringing Jewish heritage to light for on-site explorers and armchair travelers alike. On this blog I will post photographs, links and personal experiences related to Jewish heritage sites and travel, particularly in the countries of east-central Europe.
Aside from clearly marked quotations, links and pictures, all material on this blog is copyright ⓒ Ruth Ellen Gruber
I'm an American writer, photographer, and public speaker long based in Europe. I've chronicled Jewish cultural developments and other contemporary European Jewish issues for more than 20 years. My latest books are "National Geographic Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe," published in 2007, and "Letters from Europe (and Elsewhere)," published in 2008.
I also am working on "Sturm, Twang and Sauerkraut Cowboys: Imaginary Wild Wests in Contemporary Europe," an exploration of the American West in the European imagination for which I won a 2006 Guggenheim Fellowship and an NEH summer stipend grant.