Saturday, January 30, 2010

Italy -- Kosher dining in Rome

A kosher cafe in Rome. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Forward newspaper runs a piece by food columnist Leah Koenig on kosher dining in Rome, particularly in the old Ghetto area. In the past few years, the Ghetto has undergone considerable development. The main street, via Portico D'Ottavia, is a pedestrian area, the Jewish grade school has moved into the neighborhood, and many new kosher eateries have opened. (Also Judaica stores).

Koenig mentions several places that I myself have recently sampled. The famous kosher pastry shop is a popular attraction -- it produces the best pastries in town, including a unique type of biscotto that combines spices and nuts.

Non-Jewish friends of mine recently introduced me to the newish restaurant Ba' Ghetto, a meat restaurant whose menu includes Sephardic, Ashkenazic and typically Roman Jewish dishes. When we dined there a few weeks ago, we started with appetizers that included a Roman-style torte of endive and anchovies, plus a Middle East platter of Humus and baba ghanoosh, plus a type of Yemenite puff bread. Two of us went on to cous-cous, while the third chose goulash. (The waiter also brought us a sample of excellent grilled steak.) Wine? We chose a kosher Italian red - but I can't remember which....

We reminisced with the waiter about the time, years ago, when there were no kosher restaurants in the Ghetto -- and only one in all of Rome, a Middle Eastern place called Da Lisa that was near the main train station. I don't think it exists anymore. But the family that runs Ba' Ghetto also has a place near piazza Bologna, outside the city center.

Earlier this month, when I was in the Ghetto to cover the pope's visit to the main synagogue, I grabbed a piece of pizza Romana (a sort of focaccia) stuffed with a little turkey mortadella at the Kosher Bistrot mentioned in Koenig's column. It was OK, but I was astounded at the price -- 5 euro, nearly twice what I expected to pay. The woman at the cash desk was unapologetic. "What do you expect," she told me. "It's all kosher, all controlled."

After the papal visit, I went with a friend to grab a slice at a kosher pizzeria a few doors down from the Bistrot -- it wax excellent pizza and only cost 1.5 euro.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Budapest -- Bob Cohen leads an audio culinary tour

 Me in Froelich's pastry shop in December.

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I've pointed out a lot of Bob Cohen's wonderful blog posts about food, travel and music and link to his blog, Dumneazu.

But now you can hear him -- Tablet Magazine's audio "Vox Tablet" runs a wonderful 10-minute visit with Bob to two of Budapest's most famous Jewish (or Jewish-style) eateries -- the tiny little Kadar lunchroom on Klauzal ter, and Froelich's kosher pastry shop on Dob utca.

Both are favorites with locals (and a five-minute walk from my apartment).

I vividly remember my first visit to Kadar, back in about 1990 or 1991. I was taken there by the  Peter Wirth, an architect who has carried out restoration work on several synagogues in Hungary and also produced a photographic book on Jewish cemeteries in northeast Hungary. (He won the Europa Nostra award for his restorations of the synagogues in Apostag, in the 1980s, and in Mad, in 2004.)

With Peter that first time, I remember I ordered the solet -- cholent -- with goose leg, a specialty. Kadar is not kosher and even serves sholet with pork. But for many local Jews it is a ritual to go there to eat solet on Saturday. One Saturday lunchtime my brother Sam and I shared a table with a man and his son eating solet -- and we then ran into him later at the Rabbinical Seminary synagogue, where he was the gabbai...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Poland -- new visual resources

Tomek Wisniewski has set up a YouTube channel where he has been posting both current and  pre-WW2 images of Jewish sites, both photographic and film.  (He also shows some non-Jewish sites.)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Greece -- Arrests in Hania Crete Synaogogue Arson attacks

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The BBC reports that arrests have been made in the two arson attacks this month that serious damaged the historic Etz Hayyim synagogue in Hania, Crete. In custody are a Greek man and two British men -- waiters in local restaurants -- and two Americans are sought.
The BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Athens said [that], according to the police, the men are aged 23 and 33 and are nightclub waiters in the seaside town. Police said they were arrested after a 24-year-old Greek man confessed, our correspondent added. The British men have been offered assistance by consul staff on the island.
Read full story HERE

Meanwhile, the synagogue blog continues to carry updates, including some reflective pieces by Tony Lerman.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Eastern Europe -- Initiative to protect mass grave sites

Marker at the site of mass execution/mass grave in Kremenets, Ukraine. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

A international initiative to mark, document and protect sites of Holocaust mass execution and burial is under way, and at a conference in Berlin this week groups taking part urged the German government to become involved.

The American Jewish Committee news release announcing this was not very clear about just what this was about, but one of the participants said that specifically, there is an initiative to persuade the German government through its war graves commission to pay for in general memorializing mass graves and in particular sealing the mass graves opened during research carried out by the French priest Patrick Desbois. Agence France Presse, in its article about the initiative, said Desbois's group Yahad-In Unum ("together" in Hebrew and Latin) already receives about 500,000 euros ($700,000) in funding each year from the German government.

Philip Carmel, the director of Lo-Tishkach, an organization tasked with documentive Jewish cemeteries and mass grave, took part in the conference. He told me that

“There is no better way to combat Holocaust denial and to learn the tragic lessons of the past than to physically mark the last reminders in all these thousands of towns and villages across eastern Europe that they all had living and vibrant Jewish communities and that they didn’t just disappear without reason. This in some way would mark an appropriate act of closure of our direct duty to the victims of the Holocaust.”

Here's the American Jewish Committee press release:
January 20, 2010 – Berlin – An international initiative spearheaded by AJC called today on the German government to join efforts to seal and memorialize mass graves in eastern Europe. The appeal came at a news conference hosted by AJC’s Lawrence and Lee Ramer Institute on German-Jewish Relations in Berlin.

“It is time to seal the graves.  It is time to commemorate the victims. It is time to rescue wherever possible the histories and memories of those whose lives were brutally extinguished,” said Deidre Berger, Director of AJC’s Berlin Office. She added that time is running out to solve the issue before the last witnesses and survivors die. The news conference took place one week before the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

A coalition of Jewish and non-Jewish NGO leaders outlined the incomplete level of information on Jewish mass gravesites, pointing to the lack of protection for thousands of sites in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. The difficulties of the local Jewish communities in addressing the issue were described by Rabbi Pinhas Goldschmidt, Chief Rabbi of Moscow, and Rabbi Yaacov Bleich, Chief Rabbi of Ukraine.

Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC’s Director of International Jewish Affairs, urged the creation of a German government-led task force to survey the problem and create a comprehensive approach to seal, protect and memorialize the gravesites.
Participants at the news conference stressed the important work of Father Patrick Desbois, President of the Paris-based Yahad in Unum, in documenting the sites and bringing the issue into public focus in recent years. Father Desbois has collected testimony and documented more than 400 locations in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine where German death squads shot and killed primarily Jewish victims. Romas and Soviet communists also were victims.

Father Desbois said that a war does not end until all the dead are buried, calling it an imperative to bury the Jewish Holocaust victims in Europe. He added that it is difficult for Europeans to have credibility solving international conflicts if it can not find means to bury its own dead.

Stephan Kramer, Secretary General of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, underlined the importance of cross-national reconciliation and education in working on solutions for memorializing the mass gravesites.  In talks with Ukrainian government representatives, Kramer said they indicated a willingness to create the necessary legal framework to deal with the issue of mass graves.

The President of the German War Graves Commission, Reinhard Fuehrer, stressed the moral responsibility of Germany to address the issue of the neglected grave sites, indicating the commission will take a role if it is given funds and a mandate by the German government.

Phil Carmel, Executive Director of the Brussels-based Lo Tishkach, responsible for mapping Jewish cemeteries and grave sites in Europe, said it is urgent to address the issue before the remaining markers and clues are lost completely. The best protection against Holocaust denial, he said, is visible graves and gravesites.

At the news conference, support for the initiative also was voiced by Christian Kennedy, U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues; Jiri Cistecky, of the European Shoah Legacy Foundation; Kathrin Meyer, Executive Secretary of the International Holocaust Task Force on Education, Remembrance and Responsibility; and Paul Shapiro, Director of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Poland -- Wroclaw synagogue: restoration of interior complete

Zdjęcie: Wnętrze synagogi Pod Białym Bocianem już zachwyca. Cała będzie gotowa na wiosnę (Paweł Relikowski)

 Photo from Gazeta Wroclawska newspaper. Click HERE

Gazeta Wroclawska newspaper reports that the restoration of the interior of the historic White Stork Synagogue in Wroclaw has been completed. The article is in Polish (it translates with Google translate) but also runs pictures you can see by clicking HERE.

The synagogue is to be rededicated in May. The article states that interior furnishings will be installed in April.

I posted previous information on the restoration in December -- click HERE.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Second attack on Hania synagogue!


Pictures courtesy of the Etz Hayyim blog.

Nikos Stavroulakis writes that there has been a second arson attack at the historic Etz Hayyim  synagogue in Hania, Crete -- just ten days after vandals broke in and set the interior alight on Jan. 5. The second attack  took place just hours after Friday night services and destroyed the archives of the synagogue, gutted the offices and damaged the sanctuary.  See more pictures at the synagogue web site/blog HERE.
On the night of Friday, January 15, after more than a week of work on the sanctuary – newly scraped, primed and re-painted; the wood-work oiled with lavender and the marble floor polished – we met for Erev Shabbat prayers and Kiddush. Later we locked the synagogue and returned to our homes feeling that we had set our steps forward. Saturday morning at 3:30 AM however the Synagogue’s director was wakened by the alarm that had been set off in the Synagogue and rushed there accompanied by two helpers to find the entire main office ablaze. They began putting out the fire with the garden hose as the firemen had not yet succeeded in getting their hoses connected. When the mains were finally connected the firemen set to work – by 4:45 the fire was only smoldering and all that remained of the upper and lower office was completely gutted. Also about a third of the wooden ceiling of the Synagogue itself was burnt, the benches covered in soot and broken wood, the floor a mess – but the EHAL was not touched! Everything in the main office – e.g. two computers, complete Talmud, Midraschim, 2 sets of Rashi lexicons (Aramaic, Greek and Hebrew) plus many reference books and the entire archive of the Synagogue have all been destroyed.
By noon the Siphrei Torah along with all of the silver ornaments (rimonim, tassim, yads etc.) and a precious early 17th century illuminated Qur’an were removed to a secure location. It was a sad moment to see them being taken away from the Kal as it was a joyous moment when they had been installed in 1999. But we are determined that they will come back!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My latest Ruthless Cosmopolitan column -- on the arson attack at the Hania synagogue

In my latest Ruthless Cosmopolitan column, I discuss the implications of last week's arson attack on the synagogue in Hania, Crete.

Attack on Crete synagogue carries special meaning

By Ruth Ellen Gruber · January 13, 2010

ROME (JTA) -- The vandals who torched the historic Etz Hayyim synagogue in Hania, an ancient port on the Greek island of Crete, left no doubt about their motives.

After breaking into the building on the night of Jan. 5 and setting its interior alight, they threw a bar of soap against its outer wall.

A bar of soap? That's because, explains the synagogue's director, Nikos Stavroulakis, "I'll make you into a bar of soap" is a common anti-Semitic taunt in Greece. Since the Holocaust, there has been a persistent belief that the Nazis made soap from Jewish corpses.

Even though scholars have disproved the idea, bars of soap have been buried reverently in some European Jewish cemeteries under solemn memorials.

"In this place lie the remains of Jewish martyrs exterminated by German fascists and turned into soap," reads the inscription on an obelisk in Piatra Neamt, Romania.

The power of this belief was examined in "The Soap Myth," a play by Jeff Cohen that ran last summer in New York. Based on a true story, the play focused on the efforts of an elderly Holocaust survivor "on a one-man mission to get the 'soap myth' reclassified as fact," Marissa Brostoff wrote in Tablet magazine.

But at the heart of the story was something much more.

What was at stake, Brostoff wrote, was "the way we choose to see the past, a struggle between a dispassionate approach relying on facts and figures and another, much more subjective one that holds survivors' testimonies to be unarguably true and ultimately sacred."

Anti-Semitic violence is anything but dispassionate.

The bar of soap hurled against the desecrated synagogue in Hania was a diabolically mixed metaphor: Soap usually symbolizes purity and godliness, but in this twisted context it spelled hatred and death.

The attack on the Hania synagogue was not just an assault on a building. It was an assault on the ideals that had transformed the structure from a wrecked relic of Holocaust destruction to a new symbol of community and compassion.

This transformation was accomplished largely through the efforts of Stavroulakis, a remarkable man who has devoted much of the past two decades to restoring a Jewish presence to a city made "Judenrein" by the Nazis.

I met Stavroulakis when I visited Hania in 1996. An artist, author and scholar who had co-founded and directed the Jewish Museum in Athens, Stavroulakis had returned to live in his family's rambling house in Hania after many years away.

The synagogue, which dates back to the 15th century, was in ruin. But over the next three years Stavroulakis made it his mission to raise funds and, with the help of the World Monuments Fund and other donors, oversee the building's rebirth. His aim was to make it a living spiritual presence, not simply a restored reminder of the past.

The synagogue now functions as a museum, and it hosts exhibitions and cultural events.

It’s also an active house of worship. A small Havurah community whose members include Christians and some Muslims -- as well as Jews of all persuasions -- regularly assembles there to celebrate Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

Stavroulakis himself leads daily prayers each morning, whether a minyan is present or not.

Prayers were held as usual at 9 a.m. Jan. 6, the morning after the arson attack. The fire had gutted a stairway, wreaked havoc on the synagogue library, and covered walls and precious furnishings with a thick layer of soot.

"Fortunately," Stavroulakis said, "the fabric of the synagogue was and is intact."

He was referring to the physical structure of the building, but I think he also meant that the symbolic identity of the synagogue also had survived -- and would be maintained.

"We must be angry over what has happened to our synagogue," he told the small group of worshipers gathered for prayers amid the soot. "If we were not, it would be an indication that we were either indifferent or morally numb."

But, Stavroulakis asked, just where should the anger be directed? Local indifference and the ignorance that promotes racism had to be addressed.

"We have tried at Etz Hayyim to be a small presence in the midst of what is at times almost aggressive ignorance," he wrote on the synagogue blog. "We have done this to such a degree that our doors are open from early in the morning until late in the day so that the synagogue assumes its role as a place of prayer, recollection and reconciliation."

There is, Stavroulakis wrote, little if any sign of overt security.

"This character of the synagogue must not change and the doors must remain open," he wrote. If not, that means "we have given in to the ignorance that has perpetrated this desecration."

A week after the attack, the Etz Hayyim blog posted pictures showing that thanks in large part to volunteers, the walls of the sanctuary already had been painted and other clean-up work was well under way.

"The impact of this [attack] will be wider than simply an act of terrorism against Jews," Stavroulakis told me. "Already it is being seen in a much wider social context that has to do with civic responsibility and care."
 Read story at JTA web site

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Poland -- Fascinating article on epitaphs in Bialystok Jewish Cemetery

Tomasz Wiesniewski opens the gate to the Bagnowka Jewish cemetery in Bialystok, 2006. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

by Ruth Ellen Gruber

The online "Jewish Magazine" publishes a fascinating article by the scholar Heidi M. Szpek about the epitaphs in the Bagnowka Jewish Cemetery in Bialystok, Poland.

Called "In the Bloodshed of Their Days," it explores how tombstone epitaphs provide a vivid picture of the people buried there, and thus shed light on the life of the community -- both the good times and the bad.
As I translated each of this cemetery's inscriptions, I read of the character and qualities of the Bialystoker Jews, of "perfect and upright men" and "modest and God-fearing women". On their tombstones are also words of praise for great rabbis, scholars, and charitable women. Old age is recorded as a triumph, especially in the case of an Abraham son of Israel who lived to be 102 years old. What history Abraham must have seen and experienced from 1830 to 1932, the century and more of his life! (Image 2) Occasionally, the lesser qualities of the deceased are remembered, as one father wrote of his daughter: "Her mouth ceased from (its) evil tongue" – she gossiped! 

These inscriptions also hold details that were sadly normal to life in a world a century ago in Bialystok, Poland. Inscriptions remember women who died in childbirth, especially in the cold winter months, women who died before they could marry, and a man who barely experienced the joy of fatherhood before his untimely death. And then there are the tombstones of children. Perhaps the most heart wrenching inscription is that of three sons – Chaim Lejb, Shalom Shechna and Israel Abraham, aged eight, six and four, who died in a fire in March of 1908! How did their father, Asher, and their mother endure this loss? Such deaths, though sad, are not unique to Bialystok; they were part of life without the comforts of the contemporary world.

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Szpek, a Professor of Religious Studies and Philosophy at Central Washington University (Ellensburg, Washington), is currently writing a book on the Jewish epitaphs from Bialystok. She spent three years translating all the epitaphs in the Bagnowka cemetery, the only Jewish cemetery to remain in Bialystok. Over the years she has worked with Tomasz Wisniewski, who has dedicated the past quarter century to documenting Jewish heritage in eastern Poland and who has been my own guide to Bialystok.
In Bialystok, Poland's Jewish cemetery on Wschodnia Street, the black Memorial Pillar that stands at its center is a blatant visual reminder of hatred vented in the past. The nearly 50 tombstone inscriptions that speak of "the bloodshed of the days" also bear subtle witness to Jewish persecution in the years 1905 onward. But of what value is this knowledge? The answer no doubt depends on the individual. For some people these tombstones might bring awareness that this entire cemetery - not just the tall, black Memorial Pillar – is a memorial to the "bloodshed of the days" in Bialystok's past. For others the knowledge imparted by these inscriptions fosters remembrance of the very personal world of Bialystok Jewry, a world at times gentle and loving, a world at times sad and violent. But for me, in particular, these horrific phrases, combined with a woman's name, a father's name, a child's name, with words of love mixed with words of grief, and a date, remind me of specific incidents in Bialystok's past. Together all these words also remind me that I am not simply translating words cut into stone. Rather as I translate I feel – if only for a moment – a touch of the anguish experienced by those of Bialystok's now 'lost' Jewish community, those perceived as 'the other' by past generations of Russians, Poles and Germans. In this brief moment of my anguish, an indissoluble desire is implanted in my mind and engraved on the tablets of my heart - that past hatred may not bequeath to us a future legacy of hatred and anguish. 
Read full article

The memorial to the 1905 pogrom, Bialystok cemetery. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ukraine -- Report on Cemetery Clean up and exhibit at Sniatyn

More on Ukraine -- Check Sam Gruber's blog for a long post and photographs about an "archeology of memory" project this past  summer organized by the Center for Urban History in L'viv to clean up the Jewish cemetery in Sniatyn, rescue tombstones that were used to pave a courtyard, and stage an exhibition.

The Center's web site reports:
The goal of the project was to return the attention of the inhabitants of Sniatyn to the multi-national and multi-religious heritage of their city with the help of the two week program of a volunteer camp made up of youth from Ukraine, Poland and Germany. The program included fixing up and recording the architectural cemetery ensembles of the city. Concurrently the camp become an opportunity for participants of the volunteer group to become acquainted with the heritage, as well as contemporary life of Sniatyn. The work of the volunteers focused on two cemeteries in Sniatyn - Jewish and Christian, which are found not far from one another. The Christian cemetery is still used as a place of ritual events. The Jewish cemetery is in a state of neglect and ruin, and gravestones are being destroyed by spreading tree roots. Both cemeteries are monuments to the culture and history of the city, witnesses of the life and death of Sniatyn’s past inhabitants.
 Nineteen young people took part in in the two week project at the end of July and beginning fo August.
The project was realized by the Centre for Urban History within the framework of the program "Memoria", which was initiated by the foundation "Memory, responsibility and future" and was led together with the Stefan Batory Foundation. The goal of the program is to inspire young people to look for traces of shared culture and history in the border territory. The geographical focus of the program is Central and Eastern Europe, where for centuries people from different cultures, religions and languages co-existed. The Second World War and the Holocaust, deportations and changing borders after 1945 almost completely destroyed the diversity of these territories.  That is why, within the framework of the "Memoria" program, events are organized with the participation of young volunteers from Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Russia, Belorus and Ukraine, which are aimed at the preservation of historical monuments, acquaintance with different aspects of border area history and culture and formation of contacts with the inhabitants of these populated points, where the camps take place. 

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ukraine -- New Report on Jewish Cemeteries in Kiev Region

Lo Tishkach, the international organization involved in documenting and preserving Jewish cemeteries, has just published a detailed report on the cemeteries and World War II Holocaust mass grave sites in the Kiev (Kyiv) region of Ukraine, which can be downloaded as a file.
This report on the Jewish burial grounds of Kyiv Region, or Oblast, is one of the results of a number of education and research projects undertaken by the Lo Tishkach Foundation in the spring and summer of 2009. It catalogues 52 Jewish cemeteries and 29 Holocaust-era mass graves. The publication, which can be downloaded HERE, also contains details of two mass graves dating from 1919, when many Ukrainian Jews were murdered in the wave of pogroms committed in the aftermath of the Russian revolution.
Thanks to the efforts of local partners and with the support of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, this material is now available for Kyiv Oblast, the area around Ukraine’s capital and its largest city. During the spring and summer months of 2009, 83 burial grounds in the Kyiv Region were located, visited, surveyed and photographed, creating a unique record of the region’s Jewish heritage.
The report gives the history of the cemetery and of the local Jewish community (in many cases destroyed in the Holocaust), as well as details of access, location and demarcation of the cemetery; graves, gravestones, memorial markers and structures; condition and threats.

Lo Tishkach surveys in the Kiev Oblast of Ukraine have shown that the following works are urgently required on the cemeteries listed below. 

Baryshivka Jewish Cemetery – Identification marker, fencing
Bohuslav Jewish Cemetery – Completion of fencing, vegetation clearance
Borodianka Jewish Cemetery – Fencing, reparation of broken monuments, vegetation clearance
Boryspil Jewish Cemetery – Identification marker
Brovary Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, identification marker
Byshiv Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, identification marker, restoration of remaining matzevot
Dymer Jewish Cemetery – Vegetation clearance, fencing, restoration of metal grave markers
Hermanivka Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, memorial plaque
Hnativka Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, fencing, identification marker
Hornostaypil Old Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, fencing, identification marker
Hornostaypil New Jewish Cemetery – Identification marker
Hostomel Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, fencing, identification marker
Hrebinky Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, identification marker
Kaharlyk Jewish Cemetery – Vegetation clearance, fencing
Kivshovata Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, fencing, identification marker
Kodra Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, fencing, identification marker
Kozyn Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, fencing, identification marker
Kyiv (Zvirynetske) Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, identification marker
Makariv Jewish Cemetery – Identification marker
Medvyn Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, fencing, vegetation clearance, identification marker
Obukhiv Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, identification marker
Piatyhory Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, fencing, identification marker, restoration of gravestones
Poliske Jewish Cemetery – Completion and restoration of fence, vegetation clearance
Rokytne Jewish Cemetery – Completion of cemetery wall
Rozhiv Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, fencing, identification marker
Rzhyschiv Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, fencing, identification marker
Skvyra Old Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, identification marker
Tetiiv Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, fencing, identification marker
Trypillia Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, identification marker
Vasylkiv Old Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, identification marker
Volodarka Old Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, identification marker
Volodarka New Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, identification marker
Voronkiv Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, fencing, identification marker
Yahotyn Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, fencing, identification marker, gravestone restoration
Yasnohorodka Jewish Cemetery – Delineation of cemetery boundaries, fencing, identification marker

Friday, January 8, 2010

Greece -- Full Report on the Destructive Arson Fire at the Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Hania

 Destroyed library of synagogue. All Photos courtesty Etz Hayyim web site

Sam Gruber posts pictures and a full description of the destructive arson attack Tuesday night on the beautiful Etz Hayyim synagogue in Hania, Crete.

The fire severely damaged the recently restored ezrat nashim (former women's section) of the historic synagogue, and entirely destroyed the library and computer stations. Additional damage from soot and water to the rest of the structure and furnishing can be repaired, but at a considerable cost.

Sam posts the description presented on the synagogue's web site by our old friend Nikos Stavrolakis, the director of the synagogue complex, who personally raised money for and oversaw the restoration of the building in the late 1990s.  I vividly remember visiting the synagogue with Nikos in 1996, when it was still pretty much a ruin, and listening to his hopes and plans for it.

In his description, Nikos reflected about the significance of the synagogue and the attempt to destroy it --noting that the perpetrators had thrown and bar of soap against the burning building -- a reference to a "common anti-semitic quip in Greek [that] runs…’I'll make you into a bar of soap!’" and that local people apparently did not react.

What was quite notable was the lack of ‘locals’ despite the quite incredible noise of the synagogue alarm system and sirens from the two fire engines screeching through the neighborhood. What was even more disturbing and an obvious sign of a lack of civic responsibility was the apparent lack of sensitivity to the fact that had the synagogue been engulfed in flames at least half of the old city of Hania would have gone up in flames as the narrow streets and inaccessible quarters would have prevented access by the fire brigades.

We must be angry over what has happened to our synagogue. If we were not it would be an indication that we were either indifferent or morally numb. But exactly against what is our anger directed? The urban context in which Etz Hayyim figures at this moment must be considered carefully and any indifference on the part of the citizens to the material fabric of this city and its collective ‘psyche’ is tantamount to abetting to a degree the desecration of monuments, of homes and sites of common meeting.
What we must be angry about is the ignorance that determines racism, discrimination or badly examined lives. We have tried at Etz Hayyim to be a small presence in the midst of what is at times almost aggressive ignorance. We have done this to such a degree that our doors are open from early in the morning until late in the day so that the Synagogue assumes its role as a place of prayer, recollection and reconciliation. In many ways we have been successful through this quiet presence – perhaps our ‘silent presence’ wears not too well on some and is even a source of annoyance to others.
Often I have pointed out that we are perhaps the only synagogue of significance in Greece, possibly Europe, where there is little if any overt sign of protective security. Hand-bags are not checked, ID cards and passports are not examined, and one is not obliged to sign in. This character of the Synagogue must not change and the doors must remain open – or we have given in to the ignorance that has perpetrated this desecration. Our awareness of what ignorance can do to us will certainly determine how certain repairs are to be made – but at the same time we must be cautious about allowing ignorance to affect or determine the nature of our presence. We will have a heavy burden of funding the necessary renovations and we hope that you as either old friends or new ones will assist us. Any donations will be deeply appreciated and, of course, welcome.

The web site has a slide show of images showing the extent of the damage, which included the destruction of the valuable library and music collection.
At approximately 12:20-1:00 AM on the night of the 5th January [,,,] one or two or even more individuals made their way into the south garden of the synagogue by climbing over the iron gate. Subsequent to this they set about making an improvised incendiary device by tearing open a large Ottoman cushion in the mikveh and then with the contents stuffed a canister that was filled with some flammable liquid which was then set afire under the wooden stair of the ezrat nashim. 
(The upper floor of the women’s section (ezrat nashim) serves as the office of the director as well as a library and reading room and contains valuable books in various languages on Ottoman, Byzantine and Jewish art and architecture as well as resource books on European and Near Eastern History from pre-historic times as well as a large section on Cretan history. A computer and CD player with over 150 CDs of Sephardic liturgical and secular music were also kept in the office.) Within probably minutes the assailants had taken off and the fire produced smoke that poured into the synagogue proper and then out into the street through the oculus in the facade of the synagogue.
Yannis Pietra, an Albanian emigrant living not far from the Synagogue, smelled the smoke and looking into the street saw it belching out of the facade and called the police, fire-station and then set off to find the director who arrived not long after along with Besnik Seitas the handyman of the Synagogue. At roughly the same time a young Moroccan, Nasr Alassoud, also traced the smoke that was coming down the street to the harbor. He proved to be a much needed hand by the director. By 1:45 AM the fire brigade had extinguished the fire and the police had begun their work. But the residual damage was only going to be apparent the next day.

Make donatation to efforts to repair the synagogue and rebuild the library to:

ALPHA BANK (Hania, Crete)
Account name: Friends of Etz Hayyim
Account # 776-002101-087154
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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Poland -- Moment Magazine publishes my article on Krakow

Me in the Ariel cafe, Krakow, 2006.

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Moment Magazine has published an article by me looking back over 20 years of watching the evolution (and shaping) of Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter of Krakow.

Scenes from a Krakow cafe

By Ruth Ellen Gruber, Jan/Feb 2010
It's a sunny morning in early July, and I'm having breakfast at an outdoor cafe table in Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter of Krakow. I have been sitting at cafes in and around Szeroka Street, the main square of Kazimierz, for nearly 20 years, watching the paradoxical Jewish components of post-communist Poland unfold, and Kazimierz itself evolve from a deserted district of decrepit buildings—some with grooves on their doorposts from missing mezuzahs—into one of Europe's premier Jewish tourist attractions, a fashionable boom town of Jewish-style cafes, trendy pubs, kitschy souvenirs and nostalgic shtetl chic.

As Poland's historic royal capital, Krakow is one of central Europe's most beautiful cities and was one of the few major Polish metropolises to escape wholesale destruction in World War II. Once Kazimierz was a center of Jewish life and learning, but after the Holocaust only its architectural skeleton remained: Krakow's 64,000 Jews (among three million of pre-war Poland's 3.5 million Jews) perished, but seven synagogues and a score of former prayer houses, stores, homes and cemeteries survived. After the war, under the communists, Kazimierz slid into ruin, and only in the early 1990s did the neighborhood begin to take on new life. Even before Steven Spielberg came here to shoot his 1993 film Schindler's List, set in the wartime Krakow Ghetto and the city's concentration camp, Plaszow, Kazimierz was beginning to rediscover its Jewish soul.

Although Krakow is now home to just a few hundred Jews at most (Poland itself has maybe 5,000 to 15,000 out of a population of 40 million), the streets beyond my cafe are crowded with people here for the annual nine-day extravaganza known as the Festival of Jewish Culture. There are Jews from within Poland and from outside: Rabbis, tourists, earnest seekers of family history, writers, filmmakers, bureaucrats, philanthropists, academics, musicians and artists wander the square and surrounding cobbled streets. The vast majority of visitors, however, are non-Jewish Poles who have come to celebrate both the Polish Jewish life that once was and the contemporary Jewish culture that is still very much alive around the world. Some of them have helped bring about the renaissance of Kazimierz and a revival of public interest in Jewish culture throughout the country. Newcomers and regulars, Jews and non-Jews, come together at the cafes that line Szeroka and other streets and squares, turning Kazimierz into a moveable feast of drink, food and conversation that migrates from cafe table to cafe table.

Read Full Story HERE

Friday, January 1, 2010

Poland -- A New Warning on Jewish Heritage

Abandoned synagogue, Nowy Korczyn, Poland, 2006. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The New Year brings a new warning that Polands Jewish hertitage sites are in danger. Scarcely new news, but important to stress.

Monika Krawczyk, CEO of FODZ, the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland,  makes the point in the Jerusalem Post.
"There are about 1,200 Jewish cemeteries and nearly 200 synagogues in Poland that survived the war," said Monika Krawczyk, president of the Warsaw-based Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, which oversees the sites on behalf of the Jewish community. "But now, many are in a terrible state of disrepair and are literally falling apart," she told The Jerusalem Post in an interview during a visit to Jerusalem, adding that, "if we don't act now to save these sites, in another 10 or 20 years there will be nothing left to see."
Read Full Story HERE