Sunday, May 31, 2009

Romania -- Late News on a Jewish Heritage Conference

Siret synagogue, Romania. 2006. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I just found out today about what could have been an interesting conference on Jewish heritage that took place this past week in Bucharest. I'm posting it in the "it's frustrating, but better to know about it late than never" category. This category, alas, is a big one! So many initiatives take place on an individual level that it is often hard (or impossible) to keep track.

The program as a whole looked terrific. Many of the topics were of particular interest to me because of my own research and writing -- and my own interest in regarding Jewish heritage as part and parcel of national, regional and European heritage -- and also because of my new "(Candle)sticks on Stone" project centering on the respresentation of women on Jewish tombstones, particularly on the richly carved stones in the Jewish cemeteries of Radauti and other towns in northern Romania.

Annual International Conference on JEWISH HERITAGE
Bucharest, May 28-29, 2009

The University of Bucharest and the Goldstein Goren Center for Hebrew Studies
invite you to the annual international conference on Jewish Heritage Part
of the World and National Heritage.

Prominent scholars from Romania and abroad (Israel, France, Hungary, Turkey) will
lecture and debate on the Jewish intellectual heritage - its influence on local
and world culture and the current state of rehabilitation, restoration and
conservation options; a special panel will be dedicated to the Jewish monuments
of worship, synagogues and their art.

The event is open to the public and will take place on May 28-29, 2009, at the
Faculty of Letters, University of Bucharest (5-7 Edgar Quinet St., room 120 and
Council Hall).

On the occasion of the conference, the photo-documentary exhibition "Colors of
Time: The Synagogues of Moldova", belonging to the Romanian Cultural Institute
in Tel Aviv, will be on display.

The photographs presented in the exhibition are the work of Teodor Rafileanu, a
journalist and a photographer. These photographs were taken in the spring of 2007,
during the trip for the research of synagogues in Romanian Moldova, in which he
accompanied Dr. Ilia Rodov, lecturer at the Department of Jewish Art, Bar-Ilan
University. This tour was part of a research project supported by the Romanian
Cultural Institute in Israel.


Bucharest, May 28-29, 2009

Partners: Academia Romana – Institutul de Istorie a Religiilor
Federatia Comunitatilor Evreiesti din Romania – Centrul pentru Studierea Istoriei Evreilor din Romania
Institutul Cultural Român – Tel Aviv

Thursday, May 28, 2009
Opening, Council Hall
Chair: Andrei Oisteanu, Institutul de Istorie a Religiilor, Academia Romana – Romania

9.30 – 9.45
Welcome address by Prof. Dr. Liviu Papadima, Dean, Faculty of Letters/ Director, The
Goldstein Goren Center for Hebrew Studies, University of Bucharest

9.45 – 10.00
Welcome address by Traian Basescu, President of Romania, delivered by Dr. Bogdan Tataru-Cazaban, State Counselor for Culture and Religious Affairs

10.00 – 10.15
Welcome address by Prof. Dr. Aurel Vainer, President of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania

10.15 – 10.30 Coffee break

Morning Session, Council Hall
Jewish intellectual heritage and its influence on local and world culture
Chair: Felicia Waldman, Goldstein Goren Center, University of Bucharest – Romania

10.30 – 10.50
“Patrimoniul cultural evreiesc – document istoric prea putin uzitat”
Liviu Rotman, SNSPA; Centrul pentru Studierea Istoriei Evreilor din Romania, FCER – Romania

10.50 – 11.10
“ ‘In Nehardea There Are No Heretics’ – The Purported Jewish Interaction with Christianity in Sasanian Babylonia”
Barak Cohen, Bar Ilan University – Israel

11.10– 11.30
“From Monologue to Dialogue: the Varying Relationships of Jewish Thinkers to European Intellectual Culture”
Raphael Shuchat, Bar Ilan University – Israel

11.30 – 11.50
“Jews and Central Europe – A Double Legacy”
Raphael Vago, Tel Aviv University – Israel

11.50 – 12.10

12.10– 14.15 Lunch break

Afternoon session, Council Hall
Jewish monuments of worship – Synagogues and their art
Chair: Mariuca Stanciu, Goldstein Goren Center, University of Bucharest – Romania

14.15 – 14.35
“Ars brevis, vita longa: On Preservation of Modern Synagogue Art”
Ilia Rodov, Dept. of Jewish Art, Bar Ilan University – Israel

14.35 – 14.55
“Tradition and Innovation in the Romanian Synagogues – Structure and Decoration”
Ariella Amar, Center for Jewish Art, Hebrew University of Jerusalem – Israel

14.55 – 15.15
“The Great Synagogue of Budapest”
Rudolf Klein, St. Stephen University, Budapest – Hungary

15.15 – 15.35
“The Mural Painting of Romanian Synagogues – a surprising documentary source”
Mariuca Stanciu, Goldstein Goren Center, University of Bucharest – Romania

15.35 – 15.55
“Sinagogile din Bucuresti – perspective arhitecturala”
Alina Popescu, Goldstein Goren Center, University of Bucharest – Romania

15.55 – 16.15

Friday, May 29, 2009
Morning session, Council Hall
The Jewish Cultural Heritage – A Multifaceted Approach
Chair: Liviu Rotman, SNSPA; Centrul pentru Studierea Istoriei Evreilor din Romania, FCER – Romania

9.30 – 9.50
“The transformed Jewish Heritage of Târgu Neamţ – Romania”
Felicia Waldman, Goldstein Goren Center, University of Bucharest – Romania

9.50 – 10.10
“Patrimoniul iudaic din Romania – reabilitare, restaurare si optiuni de conservare”
Rudy Marcovici & Lucia Apostol, Federatia Comunitatilor Evreiesti din Romania

10.10 – 10.30
“Reportajul interbelic prin textele lui F. Brunea Fox, ilustrate de Iosif Berman ”
Anca Ciuciu, Centrul pentru Studierea Istoriei Evreilor din Romania, FCER – Romania

10.30 – 10.50
“Evolutia artei funerare evreiesti din Cimitirul Filantropia – Bucuresti in secolele XIX-XX”
Gabriela Vasiliu, Centrul pentru Studierea Istoriei Evreilor din Romania, FCER – Romania

10.50 – 11.15

11.15 – 11.30 Coffee break

Midday Session, Council Hall
Jewish heritage lost and found
Chair: Raphael Vago, Tel Aviv University – Israel

11.30 – 11.50
“Spatiul corpului si irealitatea targului”
Voichita Horea, University of Bucharest – Romania

11.50 – 12.10
“The preserved Jewish Heritage of Bursa – Turkey”
Bulent Senay, Uludag University, Bursa – Turkey

12.10 – 12.30
“The entirely lost Jewish heritage of Ştefăneşti – Romania”
Laurenţiu Ursu, Al. I. Cuza University, Iaşi – Romania

12.30 – 12.45

12.45 – 14.45 Lunch break

Afternoon session, Council Hall
Jewish heritage lost and found (continued)
Chair: Carol Iancu, Paul Valery University Montpellier III – France

14.45– 15.05
“The lost and found Jewish heritage of Montpellier – France”
Michael Iancu, Moses Maimonides Institute, Montpellier – France

“Patrimoniul evreiesc din sudul Franţei – exemplul sinagogilor din Carpentras si Cavaillon”
Carol Iancu, Paul Valery University Montpellier III – France

15.25 – 15.45
“Intre exclusivism şi inclusivism: CazulRonetti Roman”
Michael Shafir, Babes Bolyai University, Cluj – Romania

15.45 – 16.05
“Romancero sau Istoria unei comori de suflet”
Cristina Toma, Societatea Română de Radiodifuziune – Romania

16.05 – 16.25
“Leaving the Jewish heritage behind: Wartime Jewish emigration from Romania”
Mihai Chioveanu, Goldstein Goren Center, University of Bucharest – Romania

16.25 – 16.45

Friday, May 29, 2009

Poland -- Chmielnik Jewish Festival Program

Inside the Chmielnik synagogue, 2006. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I put information on this blog's Jewish Culture Festival page, but I don't post the schedules for all Jewish culture festivals I learn about. I thought I would point out the festival in Chmielnik, Poland, however. This year -- June 19-21 -- marks the seventh edition of the festival, which is organized by some enthusiastic local activists in the village of Chmielnik, not far from Krakow.

Before the Holocaust, some 10,000 of the town's then-12,000 residents were Jewish. Today, only 4,000 people live there -- none of them Jews. As the festival's organizer, the local historian Piotr Krawczyk, once put it succinctly: "No Jews here; no people."

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

A large synagogue building, which is under sporadic restoration, dominates the town center and is the focus of the festival. It is a large masonry structure with barrel vaulting, originally built in the 1630s. The Nazis turned it into a warehouse, but the interior still retains traces of lovely decoration, including 18th century stucco work and frescoes of lions, geometric forms, and the signs of the zodiac. There are also two Jewish cemeteries -- one has been recently restored, with a monument to the destroyed Jewish community.

This year, the festival takes place in Chmielnik and also in Szydlow, another small village nearby where there is a massive, fortress-style synagogue.

Krawczyk is one of dozens -- scores? hundreds? -- of non-Jewish Poles who have made a mission of recovering and promoting awareness of a past that was destroyed by the Nazis during the Shoah and then suppressed under communism. He has written a book about local Jewish history and spearheaded efforts to restore the synagogue and broaden knowledge of local Jewish history -- which, as he and others have often noted, is actually the history of the town itself.


19 june 2009 – Szydlow
19-20-21 june 2009 – Chmielnik

Friday 19 june 2009 – Chmielnik

Time: 15:00 (3 pm)
Movie projection in the House of Culture in Chmielnik:
“PO-LIN. Memory scraps”. Director Jolanta Dylewska, music Michal Lorenc, narrator Piotr Fronczewski. (

Friday 19 june 2009 – Szydlow

Time: 17:00 (5:00 pm)
Open the exhibition of the painting-sculpturing of the Plastic Arts Association in Kielce.

Time: 17:45 (5:45 pm)
Official open the ceremony in the Synagogue.

Time: 18:00 (6:00 pm)
The “Chmielnikers” Team concert from Chmielnik in the Synagogue.

Time: 19:15 (7:15 pm)
Open of the Jewish exhibition in the Synagogue.

Time: 20:00 (8:00 pm)
Theatrical performance called “NIGHT – TURNO” made by Poem Theatre “In Radziwill” from Szydlowiec.

Time: 20:40 (8:40 pm)
Theatrical performance called “Shabbat Supper” made by school children from Szydlow.

Saturday 20 june 2009 – Chmielnik

Time: 17:00 (5:00 pm)
Meeting with the Leopold Kozlowski in the House of Culture in Chmielnik.

Time: 18:30 – 19:30 (6:30 – 7:30 pm)
On the Chmielnik’s Market – Jewish dance training with the dancing show made by the children of the Elementary School in Chmielnik.

Time: 19:30 (7:30 pm)
On the Chmielnik’s Market – Show of the Hola-Hola Cabaret.

Time: 20:30 (8:30 pm)
On the Chmielnik’s Market – dancing show inspired by the Jewish music made by girls from the Basic School in Chmielnik.

Time: 21:00 (9:00 pm)
On the Chmielnik’s Market – band “SHARENA” concert.

Sunday 21 june 2009 – Chmielnik

Time: 12:00 (12 noon)
The solemn holy mass in the Church in Chmielnik.

Time: 13:15 – 13:30 (1:15 – 1:30 pm)
At the Synagogue put the wreath and inflammation before board ever-burning fire commemorating Jews of Chmielnik.

Time: 13:30 – 16:00 (1:30 – 4:00 pm)
In the Synagogue:
- Open the exhibition called “I see faces, hear steps” made by Malgorzata Gladyszewska and Andrzej Peczalski.
- Theatrical performance made by Elementary and Basic School children from Chmielnik.
- The Slawa Przybylska recital, Jan Krzyzanowski recite, Janusz Tylman accompaniment.
Time: 16:00 (4:00 pm)
On the Chmielnik’s Market – dancing show inspired by the Jewish music made by girls from the Elementary School in Chmielnik.

Time: 16:15 – 17:00 (4:15– 5:00 pm)
Ending of the First Youth Jewish Songs Contest in Chmielnik.

Time: 17:00 – 17:30 (5:00– 5:30 pm)
On the Chmielnik’s Market – Dance practice part 1.

Time: 17:30 – 18:00 (5:30– 6:00 pm)
On the Chmielnik’s Market – children show from the Basic School in Wola Jachowa.

Time: 18:00 – 19:00 (6:00– 7:00 pm)
On the Chmielnik’s Market – Results of the First Youth Jewish Songs Contest in Chmielnik and the “Chmielnikers” Team concert.

Time: 19:00 – 20:00 (7:00– 8:00 pm)
On the Chmielnik’s Market – Dance practice part 1 and dancing show inspired by the Jewish music made by girls from the Basic School in Chmielnik.

Time: 20:30 – 22:00 (8:30– 10:00 pm)
On the Chmielnik’s Market – band “Klezmafour” concert.

At the time: 13:00 - 20:00 at the Synagogue on the Sienkiewicza and Wspolna street will be the introductions of handicraft, Jewish food, plastic performances as well as the demonstrations of Jewish art of boiling, illumined the performance of klezmer team called the "Klezmafour".

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sarajevo -- Bob Cohen (and me) on Jewish Sarajevo

Ashkenazic synagogue interior, Sarajevo. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Bob Cohen is back in Budapest after a trip to Sarajevo, and he has posted a colorful account of Jewish life and history in the Bosnian capital on his Dumneazu blog.

Today, the Ashkenazic Synagogue is the center of Sarajevo Jewish life, although the majority of the congragation is of Sephardi origin. The Jews of Sarajevo - as in most of former Yugoslavia - lived in a culturally tolerant world almost devoid of the antisemitic atmosphere that prevailed in pre-WWII Europe, and it all the more tragic that they were almost entuirely destroyed during the Holocaust. Local Muslims and Christians, however, were active in saving the lives of many Jews, and Jews were prominent in the Yugoslav Partisan movement, such as Moshe Pijade, Tito's right hand man. There is a photo in the Jewish museum of a Jewish Woman - wearing a Jewish star armband - walking along the main street of Nazi-occupied Sarajevo arm in arm with her Muslim friend, a woman maintaining the tradition of a complete face veil.

Read full post
I haven't been to Sarajevo for several years. But my last visit there coincided with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, when the 16th-century Old Synagogue, turned into a Jewish museum after World War II, was reconsecrated as a house of worship.

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

As I wrote in an article at the time:

A mezuzah was nailed to the door of the austere stone building, from whose windows the slim minarets of neighboring mosques in Sarajevo’s Old Town are clearly visible. Services were held and the traditional melodies of the Sephardic Jewish liturgy were sung there for the first time in more than 60 years. “To be honest, all my life I’ve lived in Sarajevo, and this was the first occasion to have a service in the Sephardic synagogue,” said Jakob Finci, the head of the Bosnian Jewish Community. “This was the first time to have it on the right place on the right way. That means really a lot. Let’s hope that it becomes a tradition and not only for the High Holy Days but also for some regular Shabbats.” Originally built in 1581, the Old Synagogue was one of 15 that functioned in the city before the Holocaust, when Sarajevo was a major Balkan center of Sephardi culture and the city’s 12,000 Jews made up nearly 20 percent of the local population. Eighty-five percent of Sarajevo’s Jews were killed in the Holocaust. In 1965, during ceremonies marking 400 years of Jewish presence in Bosnia, the Old Synagogue, though still owned by the remnant Jewish community, was converted into a city-run Jewish museum. Jewish communal activities were shifted to an Ashkenazi synagogue, a grand, Moorish style temple built a century ago, which was converted to include offices and function rooms as well as a sanctuary. When the Bosnian War broke out in 1992, the Jewish Museum was closed and became a storage place for collections from other museums in the city. It remained closed until this summer, when it was reopened as a museum, under new management that includes Jewish-community as well as city representatives.
I was told at the time of the plans to update and convert the synagogue into a facility that would serve as a cultural and educational center for the Jewish and non-Jewish public, as well as a museum. The ground floor was to remain a consecrated synagogue where services would be held on special occasions, with an exhibition of ritual objects and Jewish religious traditions. The two upper floors, consisting of arched stone balconies surrounding the sanctuary area, were to house historical exhibits. Part of the museum was to show the richness of pre-Holocaust Jewish life. But for the first time, there would be a “huge” section on the Holocaust — as well as a section detailing the operation of the Jewish community during the Bosnian War.

Bob visited the completed new museum and reports on some of the exhibitions.

It is interesting to note that when the post-war conversion of the Ashkenazic synagogue took place, the lofty sanctuary was cut in half horizontally -- offices and function rooms are on the ground floor, and the synagogue sanctuary is on the upper floor. But, as you can see by the photo at the top of this post, all that remains is the upper horseshoe part of the arch over the Ark. It looks a little weird, with strange proportions, but it's functional -- and still ornate.

When I was in Sarajevo, Jakob Finci reminisced about the experience of the Jewish community during the Bosnian War, when -- as Ed Serotta has written in his book, Survival in Sarajevo -- the Jewish community came to the aid of their city.
During the war, the tiny local Jewish community and its social welfare arm, La Benevolencija, won international renown as a key conduit of nonsectarian humanitarian aid to all ethnic groups involved in the conflict. They ran a soup kitchen, medical and communication services, and organized exit convoys for refugees from besieged Sarajevo. “We have just 700 members, among them 180 survivors of the Holocaust, so we are an aging community,” Finci said. “At the same time, during the war we succeeded in helping at least 10,000 people.” Finci and other Jewish leaders transformed themselves from middle-aged, white-collar professionals into daring coordinators who juggled identification papers and navigated checkpoints, often risking death in the process. “It was really like a James Bond movie,” Finci recalled. “But if you ask me now if I would be ready to repeat it, the answer would be no. Because it’s only now that I realize how dangerous it was. At the time, it was a strange feeling of responsibility."

Read full Interview

Last year, Finci was named Bosnia's Ambassador to Switzerland.

ADD ON -- P.S.

In his blog, Sam Gruber reminds me I forgot to mention Sarajevo's most famous Jewish relic -- the Sarajevo Hagaddah, long a symbol of Jewish presence and survival in the Balkans! Handwritten and illuminated in 14th-century Spain, the lavishly illustrated 109-page manuscript was brought to Sarajevo after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and remained intact through years of conflict and upheaval. It served countless family seders over the centuries, and wine stains mar some of the pages. Owned by the Bosnian National Museum since 1894, it escaped the Holocaust, hidden away in a remote mountain village. It also survived the brutal Bosnian War of the 1990s, either locked in a bank vault or stashed away in private custody. In December 2002, the book went on display at the museum in a special room (although the copy on display now is, I believe, a facsimile -- a fullscale facisimile of the book was produced a couple of years ago and is currently on sale).

The original Sarajevo Haggadah, shown before its restoration, in the underground bank vault where it was kept for years. (Ruth Ellen Gruber)
Sarajevo Hagaddah. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Hagaddah and its story figured in the recent award-winning novel by Geraldine Brooks, People of the Book. Ed Serotta detailed the history of the Haggadah in a Nightline program.

To see a more complete account of Jewish heritage in Sarajevo and Bosnia, which I wrote (with Sam Gruber and the help of Ivan Ceresnjes) click HERE.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Poland -- New Virtual Shtetl Resource

The Museum of the History of Polish Jewry has just launched the beta version of its "Virtual Shtetl" project, which aims to be an ever-growing online archive and database of photographs, video, texts, old postcards, maps and other reference material on Jewish history and heritage in towns, cities and villages in Poland. Users will have the possibility of adding their own material.

Check out the site by clicking HERE.

The web site states:

The Virtual Shtetl Portal is devoted to the local history of Jews. Although at the moment of the Portal launching it contains a lot of information, its future is based on the cooperation of Internauts using Web 2.0 solutions. Thus a medium is created which constitutes a sort of bridge between the history of Polish Jewish towns and the contemporary, multicultural world.

The Museum of the History of Polish Jews has been creating this modern tool at the time when the construction project of the museum building is just beginning. The Virtual Shtetl is a museum without walls, a logical consequence of the initiative to build the Museum , it also provides the answer to social expectations.

The Virtual Shtetl depicts the history of Polish Jews, which in great part was created in towns (Yiddish: shetl). On the Portal one can find the information pertaining to the past but also to the present, to little towns, but also to large cities. The Portal presents both contemporary and also pre-war Poland. The English version will enable the Polish Jews and their descendants scattered all over the world to use the Virtual Shtetl Portal.

A full picture of Polish-Jewish history and relations has been and will be presented thanks to the effort of many institutions, organizations and private persons. Due to the richness of the subject the list of initiatives to be taken up is unlimited. A source of precious information has been provided by the Polin Portal as well the local community portal In the execution of the Virtual Shtetl Project the experience of the following Internet projects has been used: and Diapozytyw (Adam Mickiewicz Institute) as well as many years’ cooperation of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews with the Jewish Historical Institute.

The Virtual Shtetl is not a place, but the community by which it is created. Let us take pictures and look for the relics of the past, let us listen to accounts. Let us exchange information and encourage one another to take up initiatives. Let us get to know one another and act.

In some ways, the site is similar to the Polin portal of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (Fodz). (And in fact, some of the material appears to be the same -- looks like there is the same little video of the Jewish cemetery in Bielsko Biala.)

Jewish War Memorials

In honor of Memorial Day in the United States, Sam Gruber has posted pictures on his blog of war memorials to Jewish soldiers who fell while fighting for their (varied) countries in Europe....

Like Sam, I, too, have long been intrigued by these memorials and the stories that they tell -- at least the stories that they hint at. When you see a memorial in a Jewish cemetery in Germany, honoring Jewish soldiers who died fighting for Germany in World War I, a conflict that ended just 20 years before Kristallnacht and the start of the Holocaust, it does make you think.

Last week, in Bielsko-Biala, Poland, I photographed the World War I memorial in the town's Jewish cemetery.

Bielsko-Biala, 2009. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Israeli political scientist Sholmo Avinieri, who was born in Bielsko-Biala and who has restored the tombs of his grandparents in the cemetery, told me that the list of names included those of three Muslims -- two Bosniak Austrian soldiers (Dedo Karahodic and Bego Turonowicz), and one Muslim Russian prisoner of war (Chabibulin Chatybarachman) who died in an adjacent POW camp. "Who would bury them if not the Jews?" Shlomo commented.

One of the most poignant such War Memorials is in the wonderful, and historic, Jewish cemetery in Mikulov, Czech Republic -- it was founded in the 15th century and has about 4,000 tombstones. The oldest legible dates from 1605.

The World War I memorial honors 25 Jewish soldiers. "Oh, how the heroes have been cut down!" it reads, in German. The names of the dead include Moriz Jung, Max Fedsberger, Heinrich Deutsch, Hans Kohn, Emil Spitzer...

Mikulov. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Mikulov. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Poland -- Warsaw Museum Inches Ahead, More Quickly

The new Museum of the History of Polish Jews is one step closer to realization. The Museum reports that a contract has been signed with a Polish construction company, and actual work could commence as early as next month. The deal was made April 30.

Here's what the Museum says:

Five companies answered the call for tenders issued by the Warsaw City Development Board.The winning bid, estimating Museum construction costs at PLN 152,3 mln gross (USD 43.5 million as of 30.04.09), came from the Polimex-Mostostal/Interbud-West consortium. After accepting the offer when asked to comment, Robert Supeł, Museum Deputy Director for Finance and Operations, could not contain his excitement: “If yesterday’s decision is not contested, the contract with the consortium will be signed before the end of this month and construction will start very soon thereafter. This means that the Museum of the History of Polish Jews will open in the summer of 2012 at the latest.” Under the contract, the builder has 33 months to complete the project. After the building is completed, a few months will be devoted to equipping it and completing installation of the multimedia core exhibition – already being developed by an international team consisting of scientific experts from Poland, United States and Israel and designers from the UK.

Polimex-Mostostal is Poland’s largest engineering-construction company with experience especially in steel constructions which is very important when it comes to the construction of the unique free form wall of the Museum. The company posted an income of PLN 4.3 billion in 2008 (15% more than in 2007) and is among the 20 blue chip companies quoted on the Warsaw Stock Exchange. It carries out both large construction and industrial projects (motorways, railways, power plants, Legia stadium in Warsaw, Wisła stadium in Kraków) as well as special cultural projects (the Chopin Centre and the University Medical Library in Warsaw, the Artistic Education centre in Gorzów Wielkopolski).


Warsaw, 9.05.2009

Warbud S.A. which also participated in the tender filed an appeal on May 8. The company’s offer was worth PLN 163.3 million. The appeal is under consideration. It should be resolved within 10 days.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Berlin -- Jewish Museum to Expand

This news dates from a couple weeks ago, but I am just catching up -- the Jewish Museum in Berlin has announced it will expand its space considerably, taking over space across the street where the Central Flower Market is currently located to provide space for educational programs, and the archive, library and research facilities. The Market Hall, dating from the 1960s, will not be demolished, but it will be modified to suit the Museum's needs.

Here's the full press release, from April 29:

A hope the Jewish Museum Berlin has had for some time is now to be realized: The Museum will be granted its much-needed expansion into the area on the opposite side of the road which currently houses Berlin's Central Flower Market. The space provided by expansion into the market hall will satisfy the Museum's urgent need for additional room for educational programs, the archive, the library, and research. André Schmitz, State Secretary for Cultural Affairs in Berlin, has approved the project, ensuring that the state of Berlin will hand over the use and management of the whole hall to the Jewish Museum Berlin. The Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg District Authority is seeing to the alteration of the land-use plan for the area between Lindenstrasse and Friedrichstrasse, in which the Central Flower Market premises are currently a designated “mixed-use” area. This will enable the hall to be used as a cultural center in future.

Hall Conversion Financed Through the Generous Support of the State and Private SponsorsThe building planned by the architect Bruno Grimmek between 1962 and 1965 will not be demolished, but merely modified to suit the requirements of the Jewish Museum Berlin. Construction work can begin in 2010 when the approximately 6,000 m² hall will be vacated by the Berlin Central Market, which will move to the Beusselstrasse. The costs are estimated at 10 million euros, of which the state – under the direction of Bernd Neumann, Minister of State for Cultural and Media Affairs – will cover 6 million. The remaining 4 million euros will be raised by the Jewish Museum Berlin through sponsors. Amongst the Museum's supporters are a generous sponsor from the US and the American Friends of the Jewish Museum Berlin: Their gift to the Museum is the design for the hall's modification, for which it is hoped the Daniel Libeskind Studio can be won. Berlin's Kreuzberg district would thus gain a further architectural attraction, which alongside the Libeskind Building and Libeskind-inspired Glass Courtyard would complete the Lindenstrasse ensemble – without burdening public coffers with the expense of a star architect's design.

Education and Research Will be Under One RoofThe expansion has become necessary due to the growth of the education and research areas at the Jewish Museum Berlin. The new building is to bring the education department, the archive, and the library under one roof, thus creating synergies between scientific research and educational work. Direct access to information, a clearer overview of what is on offer, and more room for exchange, transfer of knowledge, and encounters – the new location will ensure all these. The objective is to establish in the Lindenstrasse in Berlin one of the most important research and education centers on the history and culture of German-speaking Jewry.

Increasing Demand for the JMB's Educational ProgramsSince the opening of the Jewish Museum Berlin in 2001, its educational work has more than doubled. In addition to the roughly 7,000 guided tours each year, the Museum holds around 300 educational events such as training courses, seminars for students, vacation programs, workshops on special exhibitions and Jewish festivals, workshops about the archive featuring talks with witnesses, theater workshops, programs against antisemitism, project days, and training courses for teachers. Over 100,000 visitors per year come to these events. Furthermore, at least 10 times a year the Jewish Museum Berlin hosts large-scale educational events with up to 300 school pupils, for example as part of international youth meetings or commemoration days for schools such as the Anne Frank School.

This diverse range of activities and the increase in demand, particularly where whole-day activities are concerned, has resulted in a space shortage that will be solved with the expansion into the Central Flower Market hall. It will enable more events to be held at the same time and a clearer representation of findings. More space will also be available for educational work on a theme the Museum intends to bring into sharper focus: Integration, understanding, and tolerance in a multiethnic society. Moreover, the spatial proximity of the archives, library, seminar rooms, workshops, and multimedia activities will ensure more efficient logistics in the organization of events. Last but not least, it will take the pressure off the flow of visitors into the Old Building and the Libeskind Building, which are frequented by more than 750,000 people a year visiting the permanent and special exhibitions.

Growing Archives and Intensification of Scientific ResearchThe archival holdings of the Jewish Museum Berlin have likewise more than doubled since its opening. Further growth is expected in the near and mid-term future, since the last generation of Holocaust survivors is passing away. The Jewish Museum Berlin (JMB) has the task of conserving this heritage by continuously adding to its collections. Furthermore, the archive would like to expand its holdings on postwar history of Jews in Germany.

In addition, there are the dependencies of important archives on German-speaking Jewry housed at the JMB: The holdings of the dependency there of the Leo Baeck Institute New York Archive have quadrupled since 2001. The Jewish Museum Berlin opened a dependency of the Wiener Library London in 2008. In cooperation with the British partners, the holdings, which have so far not been inventoried, are to be made accessible at the JMB.

The number of users has also risen appreciably: The holdings of the Jewish Museum Berlin, the Leo Baeck Archive, and the Wiener Library are in international demand. Inquiries from researchers come not only from Europe, but also from other parts of the world such as Israel, the USA, and Canada. The extension will not only ensure improved conditions for using the materials, but will also provide more space for collaboration with universities and other scientific institutions – an area that is to receive sharper focus. Alongside a fellowship program, more scientific events such as conferences, meetings, and lectures are planned.

Library Expansion and Improved Conditions for UsersThe library at the Jewish Museum Berlin will also move into the extension. Initially planned as a reference library for employees, it originally housed around 70,000 media and has been used as a specialist reference library since 2001. The holdings have trebled in the past 10 years. As well as literature on German-Jewish history, culture, literature, music, art, and other humanistic sections, it also boasts a historical collection whose oldest book dates back to the 14th century. In 2005, the library began to collect audiovisual materials and thus became a media center.

Hidden away at the back of the Libeskind Building, the current library is not in a part of the Museum to which the public has free access. Therefore prior notification is required of its visitors, who are then accompanied by staff to and from the reading room. In the new building on the opposite side of the Lindenstrasse, the library rooms will be freely accessible making use of them easier and thus more attractive.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Prague -- Yet More Golemania....

Dinah Spritzer writes the latest in the NYTimes orgy of Golemania.....

The golem of Prague is part clay man, part robot (a Czech word of origin) of giant-sized proportions with Biblical roots imagined by 19th-century eastern European Jewish writers as a protector of Jews. It has also been commercially repurposed as souvenir, restaurant theme and museum exhibition.
A great read, as all Dinah's stories are, but again, it's not much different from 15 or more years ago.....The photo of a Golem souvenir stand in my 1994 book Upon the Doorposts of Thy House is almost identical....

I found the story Dinah wrote for JTA about the run-up to the 400th anniverary of the semi-legendary Rabbi Loew's death much more interesting than the pieces that have appeared in the NYTimes, with much more depth -- and real news.

Europe -- Jewish culture festivals

Cantorial concert Jewish Culture Festival Krakow, 2008. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

A number of Jewish culture festivals of all sorts take place around Europe in the spring and summer. Some are dedicated just to music. Others are much broader. As far as I know, there is no central web site where you can find information on all of them. I will begin to post information here on dates and venues. I ask my readers to please send me information to include!

The culture festivals and other smaller events make good destinations around which to center a trip. Some, like the annual Festival of Jewish Culture in Krakow, are huge events lasting a week or more, which draw thousands of people and offer scores or sometimes hundreds of performances, lectures, concerts, exhibits and the like. Other festivals are much less ambitious. Some are primarily workshops but also feature concerts. Many of the same artists perform at more than one festival.

Dance workshop, Krakow, 2008. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

A highlight this summer will be three concerts by the 14-person ensemble of The Other Europeans project on Jewish and Roma culture, music and identity. This is an EU-co-financed project of the Yiddish Summer Weimar, The Festival of Jewish Culture in Krakow and the KlezMORE Festival Vienna.

Here is a partial list, with links to web sites -- I will add to it (here or on separate posts) as information comes in:

All Over Europe -- 10th annual European Day of Jewish Culture. Sept. 6. Events take place in nearly 30 countries. The theme this year is Jewish Festivals and Traditions.


Vienna -- KlezMORE Festival -- The festival itself is Nov. 7-22. But on June 28 it will present The Other Europeans concert. For detrails contact or Ruth Schwarz, tel. +43(0)699 - 1270 8645; e-mail: ruth(at)


Montreal -- International Yiddish Theatre Festival -- June 17-25. Not in Europe,
but with a lot of European Jewish/Yiddish Theatres participating.

Laurentian Mountains, Quebec -- KlezKanada Summer Institute, Aug. 24-30

Czech Republic

Boskovice -- Boskovice Festival 2009. July 16-19. Many types of music, performance and exhibitions, etc, aimed at supporting the restoration and promotion of the historic Jewish quarter


Paris -- Klezmer Paris -- July 6-10. Mainly workshops in dance, singing, playing.


Weimar -- Yiddish Summer Weimar. Workshops and concerts the whole month of July. The Other Europeans concert will be July 5.

Great Britain

London -- Nine Gates International Festival of Czech-German-Jewish Culture. May 30-June 1.

London -- Klezfest. August 9-14. There is also a Yiddish crash course August 2-7.


Bank Lake -- "Jewstock", August 6-8 (Now called Bankito, with new web site.)

Budapest -- Jewish Summer Festival, Aug. 30-Sept. 7


Vilnius -- Klezmer Festival. Aug. 25-29 (This will take place within the framework of the Third Litvak Congress, a meeting of Jews with origins in Lithuania, Aug. 23-31)


Wroclaw -- Simcha - 11th Jewish Culture Festival in Wrocław. May 31-June 5

Gdansk -- 10th Baltic Days of Jewish Culture. June 14-15

Lodz -- Jewish Culture Days, Lodz. June 14-30.

Bialystok -- 2nd Zachor Festival of Jewish Culture. June 15-16

Chmielnik -- VII Meeting with Jewish Culture, June 19-21

Krakow -- Festival of Jewish Culture, June 27-July 5. The Other Europeans concert will be July 3.

Warsaw -- Singer's Warsaw Festival of Jewish Culture, Aug. 29-Sept. 6. A big festival, increasingly similar in scope to that in Krakow.

Lodz -- Festival of the Dialogue of Four Cultures. Usually in September


Oradea, Cluj, Sighet -- Mamaliga and Gefilte Fish. Klezmer workshops and dance house. June 16-24. Oradea June 16, Sighet June 21, Cluj june 24. For Information contact

Poland -- Jan Jagielski Wins Award


Jan Jagielski in Warsaw Jewish Cemetery, 1993. Photo (c) Sam Gruber

I'm delighted to learn that my old friend, Jan Jagielski, has been awarded the second annual Irena Sendler Memorial Award by the Taube Foundation. The award, named in honor of a Righteous Gentile who saves Jewish children in Warsaw during the Holocaust, honors rescuers of Jewish Heritage in Poland.

Janek, whom I met back in 1981, when I was the UPI chief correspondent in Warsaw and we were both part of the semi-clandestine "Flying Jewish University" study and culture group there, is chief archivist at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw and -- as the Taube Foundation put it "a role model for all those who work to salvage and redeem the glory of Poland's Jewish legacy."

Born in 1937, he is a chemical engineer by training. He undertook his personal mission to document synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in, if I recall correctly, the 1960s. It was a way to -- as he and others put it -- literally fill in the blank spaces left by communist policy and regain part of Polish history and identity that had been destroyed by the Nazis and deliberately suppressed by the communist regime.

Back in 1990, when I first started documenting Jewish sites for the first edition of Jewish Heritage Travel, I vividly recall visiting him in his cramped apartment, in a prefab building on the site of the Warsaw Ghetto. It was stuffed, crammed, filled to overflowing, with boxes of photographs, maps and files that he had compiled.

Over the years, Jan often worked with Lena Bergman, who is now the director of the Jewish Historical Institute. He and Lena wrote a catalogue book on synagogues in Poland that came out in the mid-1990s. They also were instrumental in compiling the first comprehensive inventory of Jewish cemeteries in Poland, a project of the Jewish Heritage Council of the World Monuments Fund on behalf of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. Sam Gruber, who coordinated this project, wrote recently about Jan on his blog.

Jan, who also produced various detailed Jewish guidebooks to Warsaw, as well as other publications, has be recognized with a number of awards in recent years.

Mazel Tov, Janek!

Here's the Taube Foundation press release:


Award Commemorates “Righteous Gentile” Sendler and Honors Rescuers of Jewish Heritage in Poland

SAN FRANCISCO – Jan Jagielski, a Polish archivist, who has spent his professional career working to document and preserve Jewish monuments in Poland, although he himself is not Jewish, has been named the 2009 recipient of the Irena Sendler Memorial Award by the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture in San Francisco. The award is granted to a non-Jewish Pole who has worked to preserve Jewish heritage in Poland, in memory of the late Irena Sendler, a “Righteous Gentile” who courageously saved over 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. The award was announced on the first anniversary of Sendler’s passing and will be presented at the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow on July 1, 2009.

Jagielski, chief archivist at the newly renamed Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, was the first to initiate in the pre-1989 Communist era a project to document and ultimately preserve what remained of Jewish monuments in Poland. A non-Jewish Pole by origin, a chemical engineer by profession, his only motivation was his pain at seeing a part of his country's heritage go to ruin and oblivion. Acting alone and only in his personal capacity at first, he photographed neglected cemeteries and ruined synagogues and started to collect documentation on their former appearance and importance.

Since the fall of Communism in 1989, Jagielski has co-produced, with the City of Warsaw, excellent guidebooks to Warsaw's prewar Jewish history. Today, he leads a new major conservation program at Warsaw’s Jewish Historical Institute. Jan Jagielski remains one of Poland's top authorities on Jewish monuments and is a role model for all those who work to salvage and redeem the glory of Poland's Jewish legacy.

“The symbiotic relationship between Jewish culture and Polish culture cannot be overstated,” said Tad Taube, Honorary Consul for the Republic of Poland and chairman of the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture. “Jan Jagielski understands the importance of preserving Jewish history in Poland against the backdrop of today’s vibrant Jewish renaissance."

The Jewish community in Poland has come back to life in the 20 years since the fall of Communism in 1989, with synagogues and community centers being built all across the country and many Poles connecting with Jewish roots they did not know they possessed. Jewish culture is embraced by Jews and non-Jews alike; this is evidenced in the great popularity of the Jewish Cultural Festival in Krakow, celebrated in large part by non-Jews.

This award was founded last year to commemorate Irena Sendler, who passed on May 12, 2008 in Warsaw at the age of 98. Sendler, who saved twice as many Jews as Oskar Schindler during World War II, refused to give up the identities of the children she had rescued, even when captured and tortured by the Nazis. Sendler’s heroic actions went largely unnoticed until ten years ago when several Kansas school girls wrote a play about her. In 2007 she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

“Irena was a true hero to the Jewish community of Poland, and we believe that honoring her legacy with this award is very meaningful,” said Taube. “We hope that honoring people like Jan Jagielski who continue to work diligently for the preservation of Jewish history and culture in Poland is a fitting tribute.”

Nominations for the award were reviewed by a panel made up of foundation staff and grantees involved with the Polish Jewish community.

For more information, email:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Poland -- Big New Book on Polish Jewish Heritage

A new book on the post-war fate of Poland's Jewish heritage has been published in Poland. It looks as though it may only be available in Polish.

Here's the announcement from the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland:

It is with joy that we inform that thanks to the support of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland a book by Professor Kazimierz Urban was published by Nomos Publishing House in Cracow under the title ""Cmentarze żydowskie, synagogi i domy modlitwy w Polsce w latach 1944-1966 (Jewish Cemeteries, Synagogues and Houses of Prayer in Poland, 1944-1966)".

The book, composed of original Polish documents concerning mostly the fate of the property of the prewar Jewish communities, is a large, 800 pages wide publication. It is a perfect source of information for the scientific research, and a good lecture for all those interested in the history of Polish Jews after the World War II.

To order the book please contact the Foundation at

Poland --Po-lin: New documentary on pre-war Poland

Po-lin, Slivers of Memory, a new Polish documentary film with archival footage from pre-war Poland, has been shown at the New York Polish Film Festival. I posted a link to an AP story on this in March, but the link doesn't seem to exist anymore.

Here's the trailer:

My friend Carolyn Slutsky, who studied and reported from Poland, reviews the film in Jewish Week.

The details are heartbreakingly mundane: a watchmaker talks to his watches like they're sick patients; a teacher carries his shoeless pupils to the cheder; a Jewish midwife assists at the birth of a Polish Catholic child. In "Po-lin: Slivers of Memory," a new documentary written and directed by Jolanta Dyslewska, daily Jewish life in prewar Poland is revealed in all its routine and sameness, painting a stark and novel portrait of all that was lost when the Nazis invaded in 1939.

The documentary (Po-lin means "we shall stop here" in Yiddish) weaves footage shot by American Jews visiting their Polish-Jewish relatives during the 1930s with contemporary interviews of elderly Poles telling their memories of their Jewish neighbors and friends. Reaching far beyond the typical "some-of-my-best-friends-were-Jewish" mentalities often attributed to non-Jews in prewar Europe, the interviews show aging people grappling with sweet childhood memories that later turned dark as their Jewish friends were deported and gone. And the prewar home movies, which Dyslewska first found in a Jerusalem archive, are poignant not only for showing the world that would soon be destroyed but also for their shocking intimacy, since the cameramen were the relatives of these doomed Polish Jews.

Read full article

Monday, May 11, 2009

Prague -- NYTimes Discovers the Golem

Menu, Prague. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

One of the plusses, but also one of the pitfalls, of following certain phenomena for a long period of time is that you trace the development and look at what goes on today with that in mind. Dan Bilefsky of the New York Times has an article about the popularity of the Golem in Prague. It's a cute and lively article, pegged to the economic crisis that has hurt tourism in Prague (the Jewish Museum attendance fell by as much as 40 percent over the winter) as well as to the upcoming celebrations for the 400th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Jehudah Ben Bezalel Löw (or Loew), the great scholar whom legends recount as the creator of the Golem. But, like several other NYTimes pieces in the past couple years, it plows old ground.

The Golem, according to Czech legend, was fashioned from clay and brought to life by a rabbi to protect Prague’s 16th-century ghetto from persecution, and is said to be called forth in times of crisis. True to form, he is once again experiencing a revival and, in this commercial age, has spawned a one-monster industry.

There are Golem hotels; Golem door-making companies; Golem clay figurines (made in China); a recent musical starring a dancing Golem; and a Czech strongman called the Golem who bends iron bars with his teeth. The Golem has also infiltrated Czech cuisine: the menu at the non-kosher restaurant called the Golem features a “rabbi’s pocket of beef tenderloin” and a $7 “crisis special” of roast pork and potatoes that would surely have rattled the venerable Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the Golem’s supposed maker.
Read full article

The Golem frenzy in Prague may be taking some new forms, but it erupted in the early 1990s, after the fall of communism opened the country up for tourism, for "things Jewish" and for the commercial infrastructure and exploitation spawned by the tourist demand.

I have written about this in some depth in both Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe and Upon the Doorposts of Thy House: Jewish Life in East-Central Europe, Yesterday and Today. The first section of Doorposts, published in 1994, is a lengthy examination of Jewish Prague, the history, the legends, and the concentric circles of Jewish experience, focusing largely on tourism and on which Jewish aspects were promoted touristically and which were ignored and forgotten.

In both books I described the Golem kitsch, the Golem figures on sale, the contrast between Rabbi Loew as a real scholar and as a mythical Golem-maker, the power of the Golem legend as part of Prague folklore, the Golem restaurant with its non-kosher dishes. In Doorposts, I have a photograph of Golems on sale that is very similar to the one in the Times. For some reason, the Golems on sale in post-Communist Prague have always been modeled on one cinematic version -- the way the Golem appeared in a 1952 Czech movie called The Emperor and the Golem: a menacingly massive and clumsy, almost headless form held together by bolts and a big belt.

In a previous post, I wrote about my friend in Budapest, the late Levente Thury, a ceramic artist who used the Golem motif in all his work. He, like many other artists and writers, was inspired by the Golem because of the implications of the myth: technology spiraling out of control, the foiled attempt to compete with God, the failure to manipulate the universe. "I would like to make things that are a mixture of spiritual and material," he told me. "That is the most important meaning of the golem. The body of the golem is material: clay, stone and earth -- the oldest materials. The message, the amulet, the spell" that brings the golem to life is the spirit. Levent's golems, I wrote in an article about him were compositions of faces, heads and other body parts.

All the parts are distorted to some extent, as if their emergence from the clay was halted before it was finished.

A hand grasps an armless torso. A baby's features form a beautiful face on one side of a partially modeled head. In some pieces, tiny golem figures emerge from larger, partial forms.

The expressions on the faces are serene but soulless. The eyes are unseeing.

There is no explicit violence in the compositions, but the elements of Thury's work are arranged in ways that can be eerie and disturbing -- as well as highly sensual.

"I make the surfaces a little bit raw -- raw human bodies, details of bodies," he told me. "I don't want to make a complete human body. I prefer to make parts."

"They aren't human people, but remembrances of the body," he added. "They have no soul, no wish. The owner, the maker, has to give a soul to them, give direction, like a computer program."

Read full article

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Off (Geographical) Topic -- American Jewish Heritage Guide

Historical marker at the B'nai Abraham synagogue, Brenham, Texas. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

This, as I indicated in the title, is off topic -- geographically. In honor of May -- American Jewish Heritage Month -- Moment Magazine has published the first of what it says will be an annual Guide to Jewish Heritage in its current issue, which is also available online.

The average American knows more about the Jews who left Egypt 3,000 years ago than about the Jews who came to America over the past 355 years. When American history textbooks mention Jews, it’s often in connection with the Holocaust. But as the presidential proclamation makes clear, Jews have been part of the fabric of American life since their first steps on American soil in 1654. Jews have extended the boundaries of American pluralism, serving as a model for other religious minorities and expanding the definition of American religious liberty so that they and others would be included as equals. Jewish American history offers us the opportunity to explore how Jews have flourished in a free and pluralistic society where church and state are separated and religion is entirely voluntary. The institutions listed in this guide—archives, historical societies, museums and more—have taken the lead in preserving and recounting that story. Thanks to them, people here and abroad are becoming versed in the American Jewish experience. During Jewish American Heritage Month, in particular, we owe these institutions our gratitude.

The list includes Jewish Museums, Archives, Historical Sites and Historical Societies in North America and the Caribbean. Moment posts the following as a sample selection:
Washington, DC

Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington/Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum
701 4th St., NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 789-0900

New York City

Museum of Jewish Heritage
Edmond J. Safra Plaza
36 Battery Pl.
New York, NY 10280
(646) 437-4200

Tenement Museum
108 Orchard St.
New York, NY 10002
(212) 431-0233


National Museum of American Jewish History
Independence Mall East
55 North 5th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 923-3811


Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life/Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience

213 South Commerce Street
Natchez, MS 39120

3863 Morrison Road
Utica, MS 39175

(601) 362-6357

Miami Beach

Jewish Museum of Florida
301 Washington Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33139
(305) 672-5044


Janice Charach Gallery
D. Dan and Betty Kahn Building
6600 West Maple Rd.
West Bloomfield, MI 48322
(248) 432-5448


Spertus Museum
610 S. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 322-1700

Berkeley, CA

Judah L. Magnes Museum
2911 Russell St.
Berkeley, CA 94705
(510) 549-6950


Mizel Museum
400 S. Kearney St.
Denver, CO 80224
(303) 394-9993


Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art
2021 East 71st St.
Tulsa, OK 74136
(918) 492-1818

Los Angeles

Simon Wiesenthal Center/Museum of Tolerance
9786 West Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90035
(310) 553-8403

Skirball Cultural Center
2701 North Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90049
(310) 440-4500


Beth Tzedec Reuben & Helene Dennis Museum
1700 Bathurst St.
Toronto, Ontario
Canada M5P 3K3
(416) 781-3511

Virgin Islands

Weibel Museum/St. Thomas Synagogue
Originally built in 1796 by Sephardic Jews who migrated as a result of the Spanish Inquisition, the synagogue is one of the New World’s oldest.
15 Crystal Gade Charlotte Amalie
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
(340) 774-4312


Jewish Women’s Archive
The archive functions as an online “Museum of the Jewish Woman.”

Kudos to Moment and to the Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces, which sponsored the guide.

Romania -- More on Botosani Cemetery desecration

Lucia Apostol in Bucharest has sent me further information about the vandal attack last month on the Jewish cemetery in Botosani, in northern Romania.

The desecration was reported in local and national media. In all, 24 tombstone stones were destroyed, 21 of them very badly and two of them so badly smashed that it is impossible to tell whose graves they marked. Total damage is estimated at $10,000.

Police suspect four teenagers of the attack -- two of them 14 years old and two of them 16.

Friday, May 8, 2009

New York/Poland -- Mayer Kirshenblatt Exhibition

Mayer Kirshenblatt and daughter Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett speak at the Krakow Jewish Culture Festival on June 30, 2008. (Ruth Ellen Gruber)
Mayer Kirshenblatt and his daughter, Barbara Kirshenblatt Gimblett, Krakow 2008. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

An exhibition of Mayer Kirshenblatt's paintings is on at the Jewish Museum in New York -- and it received a wonderful review in the New York Times.

Sometimes it takes a family, and a persistent one at that. So it was with Mayer Kirshenblatt, a reluctant painter and accidental memoirist whose words and images form an extraordinary exhibition at the Jewish Museum.
The exhibit, “They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland Before the Holocaust” includes nearly 70 canvases and a dozen works on paper -- most depict pre-war scenes of Jewish life in Kirshenblatt's hometown, Opatow (of Apt, in Yiddish) Poland.

I interviewed Kirshenblatt and wrote a lengthy article about him and his work last summer, when he and his daughter -- the scholar Barbara Kirshenblatt Gimblett, who currently heads the project of the upcoming Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw -- took part in the Festival of Jewish Culture in Krakow, carrying on a dialogue in front of an audience to mark the publication of a beautiful book of Mayer's paintings and also an exhibition in Opatow itself.

KRAKOW, Poland (JTA) – When Mayer Kirshenblatt was born, the town of Opatow in south-central Poland was known to most of its inhabitants as “Apt.” That’s because most of the population was Jewish, and Apt was Opatow’s name in Yiddish.

The Holocaust left Yiddish Apt a distant memory, glimpsed dimly in sepia-tinted photographs or locked up in the hearts of the few people still alive who had known it before the destruction.

Kirshenblatt was one of them until 1990 when, at the age of 73, he taught himself to paint and began to record in colorful detail the vibrant lost world of his childhood hometown.

“I only paint one thing – that’s Apt,” he said. “I paint not from my imagination but what actually happened.”

- - - -

The recollections were published last year along with nearly 200 of Kirshenblatt’s paintings as a book, “They Called Me Mayer July.” The title stems from Kirshenblatt’s childhood nickname, “Mayer Tamez,” or “Mayer July” – slang at the time for “Crazy Mayer.”

The book has won several awards and brought international attention to the work of Kirshenblatt, who left Poland for Canada in 1934.

In recent months Kirshenblatt’s paintings have been exhibited in San Francisco, and in the coming two years they are slated to be shown in Atlanta, New York, Amsterdam and Warsaw. This summer, for the second year in a row, Kirshenblatt’s work was featured at the annual Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow.

And on June 28, Kirshenblatt and his daughter brought his memories of Apt back to present-day Opatow with an exhibition of 50 full-scale digital prints of his paintings, on display at the Opatow District Office building.

“It was absolutely fabulous,” Kirshenblatt later said. “We had over 200 people and they made a tremendous display. The event was well advertised all over the city with posters – even the priest mentioned it.”

He added, “I’ve had exhibitions elsewhere, but here the people, the atmosphere, was absolutely the best I ever had.”

It was, Kirshenblatt said, a far cry from the first time that he returned to his hometown. That was in 1988, when Poland was still in the grip of communist rule. “I was crying,” he recalled. “I came to the town and there was not a sign of Jewishness.”

Since then, Kirshenblatt and his daughter have returned on other occasions and established good relations with Opatow’s residents.

“I enjoy going back there, and Opatow is beautiful,” he said. “But it’s not Apt.”

Displaying the energy of someone far younger than 91, Kirshenblatt and his daughter have toured extensively, accompanying slide shows of his paintings with lively discussions of the incidents and people portrayed.

“At my age,” he said, “to have another career like this is most terrific.”

Detailed, wry and often witty, Kirshenblatt’s paintings are peopled by sometimes crudely drawn characters, each of which seems to come to life as an individual. They crowd around dinner tables or cluster in the synagogue. They peer into windows, carry water in wooden buckets, play music, walk to school, mourn the dead, even commit a crime.

To a certain extent, the paintings recall the work of the American Grandma Moses, another self-taught artist who took up the brush in her 70s and created remembered scenes of rural life in 19th-century America.

History, though, has given Kirshenblatt’s work a special edge.

The titles of his paintings alone reflect complex, even convoluted tales that defy common stereotypes. Some examples: “The Kleptomaniac Slipping a Fish Down Her Bosom,” “Boy with a Herring,” “The Hunchback’s Wedding,” and “Jadzka the Prostitute Shows off her Wares at the end of Market Day at Harshl Kishke’s Well.”

“What I’m trying to say is, ‘Hey! There was a big world out there before the Holocaust,’ “ Kirshenblatt told his daughter in one recent conversation. “There was a rich cultural life in Poland as I knew it at the time. That’s why I feel I’m doing something very important by showing what that life was like.”

“It’s in my head,” he said. “I will be gone, but the book will be here.”

Read full article

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Prague -- More on Rabbi Löw Exhibit

Golem figurines on sale in Prague. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

JTA runs an article by Dinah Spritzer with more information about the events that are being planned in Prague to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Judah Ben Bezalel Löw, a renowned scholar known as the Maharal and also the legendary creator of the Golem.

To celebrate Loew’s yahrzeit, which falls on Sept. 7, the Prague Jewish community is hosting a conference of scholars on the Maharal, and the Jewish Museum will be putting on an exhibit at the Prague Castle on Loew’s life. The exhibition runs from Aug. 5 to Nov. 8.

The show, at Prague’s most popular tourist site, will examine Loew and his legacy. One part of the exhibit will trace the development of the Prague ghetto and the Jewish cemetery during the rabbi's lifetime. An interactive installation, “Golem,” by the artist Petr Nikl, will be on view at the Jewish Museum’s Robert Guttmann Gallery from June 3 to Oct. 4.

Earlier this year, an institution dedicated to training rabbinical students in Loew’s teachings, the Maharal Institute, was opened by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in Prague's Jewish Quarter.

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Dinah's article notes how closely Rabbi Löw was bound up in the legends and folklore of Prague, and particularly how the Golem myth somehow became associated with him -- more than two centuries after his death. There is no evidence at all that, however, that Rabbi Löw was involved in any magical activity. On the contrary, he condemned sorcery in the strongest of terms and even wrote that anyone who use magic for worldly reasons deserved to die.

Many other legends grew up around him, too. Indeed, so intimately linked did the Rabbi become with Prague that a statue of him was erected as part of the decoration of the art nouveau New Town Hall, built in 1910. The sculpture shows the ancient, long-bearded rabbi (he lived to about 90 -- no mean feat back in his day!) recoiling in horror as a muscular, nude young woman -- representing death -- clings to his robes and tries to gain hold of his arm.

His tomb is the most famous grave site in the Old Jewish Cemetery -- Michelle Obama made a stop there on her tour of Jewish Prague in March, and she even joined thousands who came before her and left a kvittl, or slip of paper with a prayer.

The Golem, too, became a familiar local folk figure. But the Golem story also inspired artists, writers, painters, and poets. My dear friend, the late Hungarian ceramic sculptor Levente Thury only created art works whose theme was the Golem. Among other writers inspired by the Golem story (which possible was the inspiration for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein) The poet Jerome Rothenberg, who frequently uses Jewish imagery and themes, wrote a powerful poem called "Golem & Goddess."

I wrote in depth about Rabbi Löw, his reality and his legend, in my 1994 book Upon the Doorposts of Thy House: Jewish Life in East-Central Europe, Yesterday and Today, whose first section was devoted to an exploration of Jewish Prague.

PS -- Twenty years ago, the Jewish Museum in New York had a wonderful exhibition called Golem! Danger, Deliverance and Art -- which produced a marvellous catalogue book. It's out of print, but well worth getting used.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Romania -- Jewish cemetery in Botosani Vandalized

I've just caught up with the news that the Jewish cemetery in Botosani, Romania was vandalized last month, and 24 tombstones were destroyed. The Bucharest Herald ran a graphic picture:

Photo: Bucharest Herald

From the picture, it seems as if the graves that were desecrated were in the most recent part of the cemetery.
According to the Romanian media, local police said that their initial investigation indicated that the desecration had been carried out by a group of seven youths.
“There are no signs that show it was a proof of anti-Semitism as there were no other signs or inscriptions. I think there were a few young persons under the influence of alcohol. It is a pity that the value and beauty of these old monuments were destroyed,” the local Jewish community president David Iosif told the media immediately after the attack.
The Romanian Center for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism, meanwhile, issued a communique criticizing Romanian authorities for excluding any anti-Semite motivation when such incidents take place.

"As much as we would like to believe the official position, we can not ignore – taking into account all previous incidents - the fact that the Jewish centers are preferred targets of the 'vandals'."

I visited the Botosani cemetery in 2006. There are several sections -- the more modern section is still in use by the tiny Jewish community. The older part of this features gravestones with metal canopies.

Behind the modern section is an older, rather overgrown, section where tombstones feature extraordinarily vivid carvings of lions and other animals, many of them clearly by the same artist/stone mason.

Botosani Jewish cemetery. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Next to this cemetery there is an even older cemetery, also with elaborately carved stones, but when I visited it was almost impossible to enter because of the vegetation.

Botosani has one of Romania's most important synagogues -- very plain on the outside but with gorgeous interior wall and ceiling paintings dating from the early 19th century and an extremely elaborate carved and painted Ark that arches into the sanctuary.

Prague -- Heads Up for Summer Exhibition on Rabbi Löw

Sign for Golem Restaurant in Prague. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

This Sept. 7 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of the famous Rabbi Judah Löw ben Bezalel --a renowned scholar known as the Maharal and also the legendary creator of the Golem, the artificial man brought to life to defend Prague's Jews who then ran amok, was deactivated and then hidden in the attic of the Old-New Synagogue.

Prague is gearing up to mark the date with events including a major exhibition jointly sponsored by the Jewish Museum in Prague and Prague Castle.
This exhibition aims to trace the Maharal’s life and work and to examine the image of this scholar in the eyes of his contemporaries and succeeding generations. Few people have attracted such a broad range of admirers, including those with starkly contrasting religious, philosophical and cultural views. There is a cavernous divide between the historical Maharal and the predominant image of him today. This fact is of such importance that it serves as the basis for the exhibition concept.

The exhibition, called "Path of Life," runs August 5-November 8 at the Royal Stables . The exhibit is divided into two main parts, one focusing on the historical Maharal and the authentic traditions connected with him, while the second will look at Rabbi Löw's legacy and the origin of the legends that are linked to his name.
The idea of the Maharal as the personification of the mystery of the ghetto, a miracle worker, mathematician and creator of an artificial being may not be historically grounded but it has provided immense inspiration for literature, drama and art. The historical and the imaginary Maharal both have a right to exist.
A major catalogue of the exhibition will be published in Czech and English, and other events and exhibits are also planned.

Already on June 3, an interactive installation called Golem, by the artist Petr Nikl will open at the Jewish Museum’s Robert Guttmann Gallery (it will run until Oct. 4).