Friday, May 21, 2010

Romania/CZ -- Czech 9 Gates Festival in Bucharest

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

This year, the annual (and of late traveling)   9 Gates Festival of Czech Jewish Culture is being hosted in Bucharest, Romania.

The schedule includes:


Neighbors who Disappeared
The project Neighbors Who Disappeared provides young people (12-21 years old) with an opportunity to search for neighbors who "disappeared" from their neighborhood - particularly during the Second World War. Students and children in the same schools children go to today, and what were the reasons for their sudden departure.

Tribute to the Child Holocaust Victims
The second stage of the project called A Tribute to the Child Holocaust Victims addresses again young people aged 12-21 and proposes tht they work independently on the stories of people who lived with their neighbours in a harmony until WWII and who were then mostly marked, restricte, persecuted, and finally liquidated. This projct’s topic, however is in the first place the life of the children and youngsters in the same community where children-participants live today.
Short Long Journey, Czech Republic, 2009, 82 min.
Director: Martin Hanzlicek
Producers: Fedor Gal, Jarmila Polakova
„About people, not only about Jews, about the evil in us, not only about the holocaust, about the present not only about the past“
In April 1945 Vojtech Gal was murdered on the way from Sachsenhausen to Schwerin. In April 2008 his son walked the same route in an attempt to find his father’s grave and leave a testimony. He was accompanied by friends, film makers and fellow pilgrims. They did not understand everything they came across. They could not comprehend some of the people with whom they talked. But it never occurred to them even for a moment that they were travelling without aim and meaning. They give harsh personal witness of their journey, anticipating neither agreement nor tolerance.
Diamonds of the Night, Cehoslovacia, 1964, 64 min.
Director: Jan Nemec
Screenplay: Arnost Lustig
Diamonds of the Night is set in Czechoslovakia during World War II. Two Jewish youths escape from a concentration camp-bound train. Captured by local peasants on a charge of stealing bread, the boys are sentenced to a firing squad. The men prepare to execute the boys, but simply laugh as they walk away instead of executing them. The ending is ambiguous: The men either actually spared the boys, or they could be walking into the afterlife.
Concert Naches
The Klezmer band NACHES interprets the traditional and the not so traditional folk music of the East European Jews. The band has taken part of many important Klezmer festivals, for example Klez- Fest in the UK.

For a full schedule click HERE

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Romania -- Historic synagogue in Iasi under restoration

 Photo (c) Simon Geissbuehler

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The historic 17th century Great Synagogue in Iasi, in northern Romania, is under restoration. The Swiss historian and diplomat simon Geissbuehler (who has written widely on Jewish heritage in Romania) visited the site last week and provided the picture above. He said the synagogue is empty, and that some work has been completed on the foundations, but that workers on the site did not have a time frame for the work's completion.

The synagogue was built in 1671 and is the oldest surviving synagogue building in Romania. (Before World War II, there were more than 110 synagogus in Iasi alone.) The synagogue has simple lines and tall dome and is set in a small garden, almost totally surrounded by new buildings. Inside, a huge, elaborate Ark, surrounded by frescoes, fills one end of the hall. The former women's gallery for years housed a small exhibit on local Jewish history, organized in the 1980s.

Romania -- Jewish culture festival next week in Timisoara

Just found out about this Jewish Culture Festival, which takes place in Timisoara, Romania next week -- May 24-27.

It is co-sponsored by the local Jewish community as well as the French Cultural Institute and features the internationally known actress Maia Morgenstern (who played Mary in the controversial Mel Gibson movie "The Passion of the Christ.")

Timisoara is a beautiful city, and its Jewish community is one of the largest of Romania's communities outside Bucharest.

Permanent Jewish settlement dates from the mid-16th century, and the oldest tombstone in the  Jewish cemetery is that of a rabbi and surgeon named Azriel Asael, who died in 1636The city's three remaining synagogues include the imposing, Moorish style Citadel Synagogue, designed by the Viennese architect Carol Schuman. It was built in 1864 -- the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph attended a formal dedication ceremony in 1867 and has a monumental façade, with small side steeples and a rose window over the horseshoe-arched entry. The prolific Budapest synagogue architect Lipot Baumhorn designed the so-called Fabrik Synagogue, which was built for the Neolog community in 1899 on Coloniei street. The building was one of Baumhorn's most ornate synagogues, with fanciful domes and carving and a gorgeous interior featuring huge pipe organ beneath scalloped double arches surmounting the lavishly decorated Ark and bimah.When I last saw it, some years ago, it was abandoned and in sorry dilapidated state....

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Germany and Poland -- Fire (Worms) and Flood (Auschwitz)

There has been an arson attack on the historic (rebuilt) synagogue in Worms, Germany, apparently by pro-Palestinian protesters who took out their anger at Israel by attacking a synagogue that had been built in the 11th century, destroyed by the Nazis, and totally rebuilt from the rubble and reconsecrated in 1961. It forms part of  a museum complex -- including the "Rashi House" Museum -- but also is used at times for services. The great 11th century Jewish scholar Rashi studied here, and the old Jewish cemetery in Worms is the oldest suriving in Europe, aside from the Jewish catacombs in Rome.

Reports said fires were set Sunday night at eight spots around the synagogue, but the fire department acted quickly and there was no serious damage. Police were reported to have found at the scene eight copies of a letter  that read, "Until you give the Palestinians peace, we will not give you peace."

Meanwhile, severe rains and flooding in southern Poland forced the closure of the Auschwitz Museum and Memorial at the former Nazi death camp and threatened the camp's archives.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hungary -- Rhapsodic recipes

I provided some Hungarian Jewish recipes to go with my JTA story last week on Jewish eating in Budapest. They include my friend Antonia Szenthe's spinach and fish casserole and Andras Singer's recipe for solet (cholent), as served at his restaurant Fulemule.

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

BUDAPEST -- Antonia Szenthe likes to read Jewish cookbooks such as "Spicy Eszter" Bodrogi's "Spice and Soul: Jewish Cooking Here and Now" and adapt the recipes to her family's taste. She also enjoys experimenting to adapt pork-laden traditional Hungarian recipes to kosher style.

"Instead of bacon or smoked pork, I'll use smoked goose leg," she says.

One of Szenthe's favorite main dishes is baked fish and spinach. She varies the quantities to taste.



Fillets of cod, or some other saltwater fish (enough for 4 people)

Just over 1 pound frozen spinach (or better, fresh spinach leaves)

About 10 ounces fresh mushrooms

2 cloves of garlic

About 1 1/2 tablespoons) butter for the sauce, plus butter to saute the mushrooms

1 cup and a bit milk -- or cream, if you do not mind the calories

2 tablespoons flour

Half a lemon

Grated Parmesan cheese

Grated nutmeg

Vegetable stock cube or powder, without MSG

Freshly ground pepper (preferably 4 colored peppercorns)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (or "moderate"). Arrange the fish fillets in an oven-proof, buttered pan, grind pepper and squeeze half a lemon on them. Thaw the spinach, or wash the fresh spinach and simmer it on a slow flame until soft. Wash and chop the mushrooms, saute them on high flame in butter.

Prepare the sauce: Melt the butter, mix it with the flour and add the cold milk. Season with plenty of ground pepper, vegetable stock or soup powder, ground nutmeg and mashed garlic. Cook it on slow flame, constantly stirring with a whisk, until it thickens. The sauce should be overly seasoned, as the spinach, the mushrooms and the fish absorb a lot of flavor.

Layer the spinach and the mushrooms on the fish fillets, pour on the sauce and grate plenty of Parmesan cheese on the top.

Place the pan in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until the cheese on top becomes a nice golden brown.


Everyone has his or her own solet (cholent) recipe, and family recipes are passed down from generation to generation. Some folks like dark beans, some like white beans and others, like me, prefer to mix them. All agree that for a good solet you need both smoked and regular meat.

Classic solet is baked for hours in an oven. Traditionally it was put in a sealed oven Friday before Shabbat fell to be ready to eat on

Saturday. But you can also prepare it on top of the stove.

For Facebook users, there is a solet interest group, which includes a recipe that uses four types of meat -- including ham! See

Andras Singer serves six types of solet at his Fulemule restaurant: solet served with eggs, with goose leg, with smoked meat and eggs, with goose liver and onion, with mixed meats and a non-traditional-sounding Mexican solet with chili.

He provided this basic recipe, which of course can be varied to suit individual taste.


About 2 cups dried beans (Singer prefers dark beans)

1 large onion, chopped

4 tablespoons goose, duck or chicken fat (schmaltz is recommended, but you can substitute cooking oil if you wish a lighter taste)


Singer's basic recipe calls for 1 1/2 pounds smoked beef brisket plus poultry legs -- 1 or 2 turkey legs, or 2 goose or duck

legs. But you can vary this to taste. Just make sure that you use at least 2 types of meat, and that one of them is smoked -- in Hungary it is easy to get smoked turkey or goose legs.

6 eggs in their shells, washed (Note: make sure that the eggs are fresh, as one bad egg could ruin the dish. Some people recommend cooking the eggs separately; others leave them out entirely.)

1 cup pearl barley, washed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic, or to taste

About 2 teaspoons powdered mild Hungarian paprika (or to taste)


Rinse the beans and soak them overnight. Preheat the oven to 275. While the oven is heating, saute the onions in 2 tablespoons of the fat until they become soft, using a very large flameproof baking dish, casserole or oven-proof pot. Stir about half of the drained beans into the onions. Add the meat, the eggs in their shell (see note above) and the barley. Cover with the remaining half of beans. Add salt, pepper, garlic and paprika, to taste, plus the remaining 2 tablespoons of fat or oil. Cover everything with water.

Cover the casserole tightly, place in the oven, and cook for 6 to 7 hours until the beans are very tender. (Check the solet after 4 or 5 hours and, if needed, add hot water.) When the solet is done, turn off the heat, but leave the solet in the cooling oven for another 2 or 3 hours. Adjust the seasonings to taste.

To serve, shell the eggs and quarter them. (Some people prefer to leave them whole or slice them.) Slice the brisket and remove the poultry meat from the bones. (Some people prefer to leave the poultry legs intact.)


"Spicy Eszter" Bodrogi is an influential Jewish food writer whose cookbook "Spice and Soul: Jewish Cooking Here and Now" and blog have had a powerful impact on the Jewish culinary lifestyle of today's younger generation of Jews in Hungary.

Her recipes, all kosher or kosher style, center on fresh ingredients and are elegant and often simple to prepare. Both her blog and her book also provide recipes for traditional foods and holiday fare, such as hamentaschen and matza balls. Hungarian speakers will find a treasure trove of gastronomic delight. Unfortunately, neither the blog nor the book is (yet) translated into English.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Poland -- Warsaw Jewish Book Fair coming up

The Jewish festival season is at hand..... most of my readers will know about the "big one" -- the Festival of Jewish Culture in Krakow, at the end of June/beginning of July, which celebrates its 20th edition this year  -- but there are many other festivals throughout the spring and summer months. I continue to add dates to the list that I post in the sidebar of this blog - click HERE.

Coming up at May 23-26 is the 13th annual "Days of Jewish Books" in Poland, sponsored by Midrasz, the Polish Jewish monthly.

Meanwhile, here's a link to the program of the Krakow Festival of Jewish Culture.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Budapest -- Eating Jewish

 Flodni advertised at Cafe Noe. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Here's a repost of an article I've written on  trends in Jewish eating in Budapest -- mentioning old classics (like the Fulemule restaurant and its six types of solet) as well as nouvelle places such as Koleves and Spinoza.

By Ruth Ellen Gruber (May 12, 2010)
BUDAPEST (JTA) -- Rahel Raj calls herself a 21st-century Yiddishe mama. The daughter of a rabbi and mother of a toddler, she and her family run a pair of popular Budapest bake shops that specialize in Jewish pastries such as flodni, a calorific confection of layered nuts, apple and poppy seeds that is one of the symbols of local Jewish cuisine.
"A modern Yiddishe mama is not someone who sits in a chair and says, 'Eat!,'" said Raj, a slim 29-year-old with long, dark hair. "I like to dress up, I have a profession, I have a baby -- but on Shabbat I serve a four-course Friday-night meal."
Raj is part of a burgeoning Jewish food scene in Budapest that’s making an impact on restaurant menus in the city and on the way Hungarian Jews eat at home. In addition to her pastry business, Raj writes a column for a local Jewish magazine and two years ago anchored a 10-part Jewish cooking series on a Hungarian TV food channel. On the show, Raj prepared dishes with several local Jewish cooks to demonstrate how old-style traditions now coexist with new forms of culinary practice, as Jews use food both to connect with their roots and reflect a contemporary Jewish lifestyle.
One of her guests was Andras Singer, whose award-winning Fulemule restaurant goes heavy on cholesterol-laden recipes handed down from his mother and grandmother. They include stuffed goose neck, chopped liver, spiced goose fat and six types of solet -- the Hungarian version of cholent, the slow-baked dish of beans and meat traditionally served on Shabbat.
But Raj also featured a young Jewish working mom who prefers to feed her family salads and Israeli favorites such as hummus and pita, which have become popular and easily available in Budapest in recent years thanks in part to an Israeli-run chain of hummus bars downtown.
Another guest was the influential Jewish food writer Eszter Bodrogi, who goes by the pen name Spicy Eszter. Bodrogi, who is in her late 30s, has helped spark new trends in Jewish at-home eating with a popular food blog and lavishly illustrated cookbook, "Spice and Soul."
Her message is that contemporary kosher (or kosher style) cooking can be elegant, easy, healthy and fun.
"Things are really different today," Raj said. "We want modern, lighter, quicker versions of the old traditional recipes -- using olive oil, for example, instead of goose fat. Or making gefilte fish with salmon, flavored with orange. Or instead of solet, maybe serving a barley risotto with smoked duck."
Read Full Article at JTA web site

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Poland -- tombstones recovered

The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland reports that more than 60 Jewish tombstones used during the World War II to pave a courtyard of the Gestapo prison in the town of Mogielnica, south of Warsaw, have been discovered, unearthed and secured. After the renovation of the Jewish cemetery in Mogielnica, the stones will be returned to the cemetery grounds

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Budapest -- Shameless Self-Promotion!

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I can't help it. I love to see my books piled up in nice displays in book stores or prominently positioned in the window. About a week after the book launch of the Hungarian edition of Jewish Heritage Travel, I found "Zsido Emlekhelyek" in almost every book store I chanced on in Bpest.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Wroclaw -- White Stork Synagogue, and More

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber, 2008

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

After years of stop and start work, the historic White Stork synagogue in Wroclaw, Poland was rededicated this week. The May 6 ceremony was at the heart of four days of cultural events, religious services, commemorations and other activities. These also included an international conference on Jewish religious life in Wroclaw. The full schedule of events can be seen HERE.

The central performer was the Israeli-born, New York-based Cantor Joseph Malovany, cantor of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue. Malovany has used his wonderful voice to encourage and instill hope in Jewish revival in post-communist Europe for many years. He is, in fact, one of the first people I met in this world -- he perfomed in 1989 at the dedication of the newly restored Great Synagogue in Szeged, Hungary, and also at the Dohany St. synagogue in Budapest which, at the time, was still in sadly derelict condition: the roof sagged perilously under plastic sheeting, held up by metal bands. He has sung in Moscow, in Macedonia, in Bucharest, in Warsaw, and in many other places and on many significant occasions: one of the most poignant was in July 2001, when he chanted kaddish at the ceremony in the small eastern Polish town of Jedwabne, during which Poland's then-president Aleksander Kwasniewski, offered apologies for the fact that local Poles had massacred their Jewish neighbors there in 1941. (In 2004, Kwasniewski named him a commander of the Legion of Honor.)

(I can't resist including this video of Cantor Malovany at the Singer's Warsaw Jewish festival in the Nozyk synagogue, in Warsaw, a few years ago)

As I have written previously, restoration and other work on the White Stork synagogue has been spearheaded since 2006 by the Bente Kahan Foundation, established by the Norwegian singer and stage artist Bente Kahan.

The New York Times featured the Synagogue, Kahan and the Jewish Quarter in a recent travel article.

In recent years, Wroclaw’s formerly neglected Old Jewish Quarter, with Wlodkowica street as its anchor, has become one of the city’s hippest neighborhoods, thanks largely to the work of Bente Kahan, a Jewish-Norwegian singer who serves as founding artistic director of the Jewish Cultural and Education center of the White Stork, the city’s only remaining synagogue.

The 19th-century White Stork was once the center of one of the largest Jewish communities in Germany. Since 2005, when Ms. Kahan assumed directorship and started a private foundation to finance community efforts, the White Stork has seen extensive renovations. On May 6 the synagogue will officially reopen to the public at a ceremony unveiling a permanent installation about the history of Jewish life in Wroclaw.

The surrounding neighborhood has also been given new life. Spots like the student-friendly watering hole Mleczarnia, and Sarah, a candlelit restaurant that serves up takes on traditional Jewish dishes, have turned the out-of-the-way Wlodkowica street into one of Wroclaw’s most fashionable avenues.

If you are planning to visit Wroclaw -- don't forget that the annual Simcha Jewish culture festival takes place the last week of May.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Romania -- Conference in Bucharest

This year's annual Internation Jewish Studies conference at the Goldstein Goren Center at the University of Bucharest will take place May 27-28 and focus on Jews and the City -- on  "how the Jewish minority shaped and was shaped by the urban space along history. The diverse Jewish lifestyles, relations and spirituality patterns, which created a characteristic space within the rich context of urbanism, and their economic expression, artistic values and social ties."

I haven't see the list of speakers yet.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Poland -- New and fascinating article on the stories behind the epitaphs

 Bagnowka cemetery. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The online Jewish Magazine runs another fascinating article by the scholar Heidi Szpek about the lives evoked by the epitaphs on Jewish tombstones, specifically those in the Bagnowka Jewish cemetery in Bialystok, where she has been doing research.

This time Szpek focuses on the reality behind the flowery and cliches language oftern used. Such epitaphs, she writes, led Jewish tombstone epitaphs to be described as
“exaggerated clichés that have nothing to do with the dead person”, “a Baroque ornament composed from a wreath of words and phrases”, “pompous”, and “overloaded thus hard to understand.” [...] More recently, in defense of the sincerity of these attributes, Monika Krajewska commented that these words offered “the system of values accepted by the Jewish community” – values that would include the centrality of Torah to Jewish life. 

The repetition of such phrases can indeed lull those who engage Jewish epitaphs – be they later ancestors of the deceased, the traveler who chances upon these Jewish epitaphs, or a translator such as myself, into not pausing to contemplate the sincerity and value of these words. As a translator of Jewish epitaphs, I am at times guilty of bypassing contemplation, assuming that the next inscription will offer yet another example of these stock phrases. Yet amidst this lull of expected repetition, unexpected phrases surreptitiously burst my complacency, offering words so precious and tender in tone to awaken in me a sense of the immense love of Torah that prevailed within the Jewish community of Bialystok [...]
 In particular, she writes of two epitaphs that "burst" her complacency. One is that on the tomb of is that of R. Aaron Lewin, who died in 1936. It reads:  "Here lies a man dedicated in charitable deeds, compassionate and engaged in Torah of God, prominent in Fear [of God] and wisdom, intelligent regarding truthful words and [one] who spread Torah with whispers all his days amidst the need, R. Aaron son of R. Meir Lewin. He died in a good name 11 Kislev 5697 [25 November 1936]. May his soul be bound in the bond of everlasting life."

She writes:
R. Aaron’s attributes of charitable, compassionate, scholarliness and reverence are repeated in inscriptions of other men still extant in the Bagnowka Beth-Olam in Bialystok, Poland. But that R. Aaron “spread Torah with whispers” is unparalleled. Such words give me cause to pause and contemplate: What does it mean “to spread Torah with whispers”? Did R. Aaron literally whisper words of Torah into the ears of his students, fellow scholars or family? Was the ‘need’ (ha-dahaq) which compelled him to spread Torah in whispers due to religious laxity or personal proclivities? Or was R. Aaron simply soft-spoken?
Read the full article HERE

Vienna -- Secret Garden-like Hidden Jewish Cemetery

 Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

It's always a pleasure to come across new sights and experiences in places you think you know pretty well.... A case in point is the Jewish cemetery on Seegasse, in Vienna, which I visited for the first time on Friday. (Shame on me, I know, for never having gone there before...)

If you didn't know about it, you would walk right by.... the cemetery, the oldest preserved Jewish cemetery in Vienna, is entered by walking through the lobby of a modern municipal old age home at Seegasse 9, in Vienna's 9th district, a five minute walk from the Rossauerlaende U-Bahn stop. (This may seem a cruel juxtaposition, but from 1698 to 1934 this was the site of a Jewish hospital -- and also in Prague the Jewish community's state-of-the-art seniors' home looks out over the New Jewish Cemetery...)

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Seegasse cemetery is believed to have been founded in 1540 -- the oldest legible stone dates from 1582 -- and it operated until 1783, when the Emperor Joseph II banned issued a decree banning burials inside what today is the "Gurtel" ring around inner Vienna. Many 17th and 18th century luminaries were buried here, including the financier and Court Jew Samuel Oppenheimer (who founded the Jewish hospital and restored the cemetery at the end of the 17th century) and Samson Wertheimer, who succeeded him as Court Jew.

Samson Wertheimer's tomb -- it's actually a mausoleum, and this is one end. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

 Tourists near Wertheimer's tomb. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

According to the guidebook "Jewish Vienna" published in 2004 by Mandelbaum Verlag, some of the few local Jews still living in Vienna in 1943 managed to rescue some of the tombstones, either burying them on the spot or transporting them to the Central Cemetery and burying them there.

In  the mid-1980s, after the discovery of these stones, the cemetery underwent a full restoration -- and the surviving stones were set up in their original places thanks to a map of the cemetery that had been made in 1912. Many of the stones are massive and feature elegant calligraphy, lengthy epitaphs and some vivid carving of Jewish symbols and floral and other decoration, similar to that on tombs in the Jewish cemetery in Mikulov, Czech Republic, and elsewhere in Moravia. Fragments that could not be put together were used to construct a memorial wall, similar to those that exist in other countries at restored cemeteries.

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber