Friday, July 23, 2010

Prague -- New Kosher Shop

There's a new kosher shop in Prague, which Dinah Spritzer writes about in the New York Times. It is located in the Old Jewish Quarter at v Kolkovne 4, around the corner from the kosher King Solomon restaurant, which is run by the same management, the Gunsberger brothers.
As only a few thousand Jews currently live in Prague, the store initially targeted temporary residents who struggled to find Passover staples like matzoh and gefilte fish. But now the Günsbergers want their deli to be a hot spot for anyone seeking a taste of something Jewish, like rugelach (stuffed and rolled pastries), babka (cakes filled with chocolate, cinnamon-nut or almond paste) and kishka (beef intestine stuffed with matzo meal).

“We are especially popular with kids going to schools in New York who are spending a few months here,” said Michal. “They don’t care about the kosher part, but they love that we have Israeli cookies and huge pickles.”

The shop also carries a mix of packaged products like crackers, goat cheese and (milk-free) chocolate from France, Britain, Israel and the Czech Republic.
Read full story here

Hungary -- Bankito festival coming up

My latest article for JTA looks at Budapest's progressive Jewish music scene, as a sort of preview to this year's Bankito Jewish culture festival, held near Budapest August 5-8.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to get to Bankito -- I'm going to southern Italy with my father and brother to attend a conference on the art work that my mother carried out in a small Calabrian village in the 1970s and 1980s.

But the Bankito line-up looks good -- and fun.

Jewish fusion music key to Budapest’s ‘Jewstock’ festival

By Ruth Ellen Gruber · July 22, 2010
BUDAPEST (JTA) -- Flora Polnauer, 28, tilts back her head, half closes her eyes and hums a few bars of a song by her hip-hop/funk/reggae band HaGesher. The song is "Lecha Dodi," the Shabbat evening prayer -- sounded over a Yiddishized version of the Beatles song "Girl." It's just one of the many unconventional songs of the band, whose vocalists rap their own lyrics in Hebrew, Hungarian and English.
"It's modern Jewish music because it's influenced by Jewish things, but it's not the replaying of old Jewish songs," says Daniel Kardos, 34, a composer and guitarist who plays with Hagesher and several other bands. "I pick up many things and mix them."
Hagesher is one of about half a dozen bands in this city of European Jewish cool blending jazz, hip hop, rap and reggae with Israeli pop and traditional Jewish folk tunes and liturgy to form an eclectic urban sound.
"It's a big mix of contemporary Jewish musical identity," said vocalist Adam Schoenberger, the son of a rabbi. "All of us find Jewish culture very important. Hagesher is a platform for us to articulate musically our different musical interpretation of Jewish cultural heritage."
As the program director of the popular Siraly club, whose dimly lit basement stage is a regular venue for Hagesher and other groups, Schoenberger, 30, is a leader in Budapest's Jewish youth scene. He is also one of the organizers of Bankito, sometimes referred to as "Jewstock" -- a youth-oriented Jewish culture festival Aug. 5-8 on the shore of Bank Lake, north of Budapest.
Bankito includes concerts, exhibitions, performances, workshops, seminars and lectures, a poetry slam, sports events, movies, and Jewish and interfaith religious observances. A number of events at this year's festival will highlight Roma, or Gypsy culture, and focus also on social and civic issues such as the rights of the Roma and other ethnic minorities.
Music is a highlight of Bankito. Hagesher, the Daniel Kardos Quartet and other Jewish bands such as Nigun and Triton Electric Oktopus will perform. "We're at a fascinating moment in Jewish music: It's hip again," said Michigan's Jack Zaientz, who authors the Teruah Jewish music blog. "There's an amazing gang of musicians who are young, smart, urban and Jewish, and making their Jewish identities a core part of their music and stage identities."

Read full story at

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lviv Klezmer Festival next Sunday


The second "LvivKlezFest" will take place Sunday in and around the inner Jewish quarter of L'viv, near the ruins of the Golden Rose synagogue -- a final late-night concert will take place in the square next to the ruins.

Participating bands come from Poland, Germany, Israel, Russia, and Ukraine, and there will be workshops, guided tours and other participatory events as well as concerts.
It's wonderful to the the (rather crumbling) district used in this way.

Here's the press release:

The Festival of Klezmer music “LvivKlezFest”  will welcome its guest for the second time on July 25, 2010 from 10.00 a.m. until 23.00 p.m.
You will enjoy the theatrical Jewish wedding procession on the streets of medieval Jewish quarter which will be adorned by playing of  Klezmer groups from different countries. Then the ceremony will fluently turn into a great long-lasting gala-concert on the ancient square near the legendary synagogue “Golden Rose”.
You will be also offered the master-classes on Jewish dance and handicrafts, walking tours in Jewish quarter and, certainly, you will taste traditional Jewish cuisine.
Those who will visit this big holiday of Jewish culture in Lviv  in the very heart of Eastern Galicia will get unforgettable feelings due to the combination of natural scenery in conjunction with unique Klezmer music.
The Festival is organized and supported by  All-Ukrainian Jewish Charitable Foundation  “Hesed-Arieh” (Lviv),   “Joint Center”(Kiev), Company of Emotions “!Fest”(Lviv).

The Schedule of «LvivKlezFest-2010» (July 25, 2010)

10.00–13.30     Every half-hour free tour walks in  the Jewish quarter  of the city (the tour walks will start  from the cafe "Diana", Rynok square)

from 12.00  -  Theatrical performance "А hаsеnе in Galitsie" - "Jewish wedding-party in Galicia" accompanied by  Klezmer orchestras - (cafe "Diana", Rynok square); Treating, master-classes on Jewish handicrafts  -  (Br.Rogatyntziv street); Jewish workshops - (Staroyevreyska street).
14.30–23.00    Gala-concert ”Muzl Tov!” - “Happiness”! with participation of klezmers from Ukraine, Russia, Germany, Poland (Arsenalna square, across the  synagogue “Golden Rose”).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ukraine -- Hebrew University research expedition to Galicia begins

Researchers from  Hebrew University in Jerusalem have begun another foray into Ukraine as part of the ongoing Jewish Galicia project. The group, headed by Dr. Vladimir Levin, will document Jewish heritage sites, including former synagogues, around the town of Nadvorna.

I posted about the project last year, after I met  Levin at a conference in Vilnius. Click HERE for that post.

Read a story about the expedition in Jerusalem Post story by clicking here

Monday, July 19, 2010

India -- Jewish Heritage Trail here, too!

The Jerusalem Post runs a lengthy article by Shalva Weil about a nascent Jewish heritage trail in southern India. It is pegged to the situation of the 17th century synagogue in Parur, which is currently being renovated by public authorities after remaining abandoned and somewhat derelict for decades.

Last month, the government of Kerala, India’s southernmost state, armed with a matching grant from the central government, started the reconstruction of the Parur synagogue that used to be frequented by Cochin Jews before they came on aliya, largely in the 1950s. The last of the community immigrated in the 1970s, leaving behind a mere handful of people, and the synagogue has remained in disuse since then. Today, fewer than 40 Cochin Jews remain on the Malabar coast.

The conservation is progressing at such a pace that the chief architect in charge of the project, Benny Kuriakose, believes it will be completed by the autumn. This governmental and federal project could be a beacon for other countries, which pay lip-service to the preservation of Jewish heritage.

“I was very excited to hear that the Kerala government is renovating the Parur synagogue and restoring it to the glory of its past,” said Tirza Lavi, a native of Parur, and a today a curator of the Heritage Center for Cochin Jews at Nevatim, south of Beersheba. “We hope that Parur will be a showcase to the younger generation, displaying our communities’ rich and interesting history. I am sure that Cochin Jews in Israel will be glad to take part in the project and share their knowledge and memories.”

Weil writes that the Jewish heritage trail and Parur synagogue are part of a much larger project.

The reconstruction of the Parur synagogue is only a small cog in the wheel of a huge project called the Muziris Heritage Project, which includes archeological excavations and the reconstruction of other historical monuments in the area, such as temples, churches and mosques. The idea is to create a tourism trail from the ancient port of Muziris, today known as Kodungallor, through Cochin, Parur and other nearby areas, and develop the already-existing tourism boom. Today, Kerala is the eighth most favorite tourist destination in the world.

The seeds of the monumental project were planted only a few years ago. The beautiful Paradesi synagogue in Jew Town, Cochin, constructed in 1568, has been a well-known tourist site ever since Indira Gandhi attended its quatercentenary celebrations in 1968 and the Indiangovernment issued a special commemorative stamp on the occasion. In more recent history, however, the Kerala government agreed to undertake the renovation of another abandoned Cochin Jewish synagogue belonging to the Malabari Jews in the village of Chendamangalam, near Cochin. In February 2006, the synagogue was reopened with an exhibition on the Cochin Jews, and the synagogue has become a popular tourist destination.

Read full article here

Friday, July 16, 2010

Poland -- New Schindler's Factory museum in Krakow

 Schindler's desk. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

When I was in Krakow for the Festival of Jewish Culture, I had the opportunity to visit the new Schindler's Factory museum -- a branch of the city's History Museum that tells the story of the Nazi occupation of Krakow in 1939-45 and is located in the administration building of what was Oskar Schindler's enamelware factory.

 Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

The museum is a wonderful combination of traditional objects and interactivity and in particular uses sound in a remarkably evocative way.

I wrote a piece for the International Herald Tribune and New York Times web site.

On June 11, the factory’s sprawling administration building opened as Krakow’s newest museum, an ambitious, multimedia evocation of Krakow’s experience under Nazi occupation from 1939 to 1945. Three years in the making, Schindler’s Museum (4 Lipowa Street, cost €3.7 million, or about $4.7 million.

The new museum uses Schindler’s famous story as a springboard to recount a broader narrative that encompasses oppression and resilience, heroism and deceit.

“The history we see here is a reminder that there is an alternative to inaction, a reminder that when we learn of crimes that cry out against our conscience we cannot stand by in quiet revulsion, hoping the world will fix itself,” said the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who toured the museum during an official visit to Krakow July 3.

Formally a branch of Krakow’s Historical Museum, Schindler’s Factory is “a museum of the occupation that shows what the wartime experience was like in Krakow and shows the context of all the stories — of Jews in Krakow, of Oskar Schindler, of Cracovians, of the German occupiers,” said Edyta Gawron, a historian who was part of the team that developed the museum concept. “Such a museum was needed,” she said. “People visit Auschwitz, but they have no idea of what life was like here in Krakow.”The new museum combines photographs, artifacts and other traditional objects with interactive components, sound, set-piece reconstructions and film and photo projections to provide a full-immersion effect.

You can watch contemporary film footage out the windows of a wartime-era tram, for example — film of traffic, pedestrians, soldiers and roundups. Or peek into cramped family quarters or the hideout of underground resistance fighters. Or read posters announcing everything from circus performances to executions.

A labyrinthine route leads through exhibit sections based on chronology, specific themes, and the experiences of individuals. Personal testimony and interviews are used throughout. The choices people had to make in order to survive also form part of the story, and some sections deal with collaboration and betrayal.

Sound effects ranging from music to reproduced radio broadcasts to ordinary city noises heighten the impact of the visuals.

The symbolism is sometimes tangible. One section is paved with floor tiles that bear the Nazi swastika.

“It was a dilemma how to show Nazi symbols without seeming to promote them,” Ms. Gawron said, “but in this case, though some people are shocked, it clearly works — the swastikas are there, but they are being trampled underfoot.”
Read full story HERE

The one aspect of the museum that has raised criticism (among people I talked to) is the section on the role of the Catholic Church during the occupation, and in particular that of the Archbishop of Krakow, Adam Sapieha. The information panel on Sapieha states that he aided Jews by intervening with German authorities and urging local clergy to help hide Jews and issue false baptismal papers.

 Photo: Emily Finer

But it ignores the general anti-semitic attitudes expressed by the church and Sapieha himself. I was told, however, that more information including interactive material would be added to this section of the museum exhibit. I hope this is true and that the full context will be presented.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Czech Republic -- Singer records Yiddish CD in synagogues

 Inside the synagogue in Mikulov, now a museum, Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

by Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Czech-born Canadian singer Lenka Lichtenberg is recording Yiddish and Jewish liturgical songs for a new CD in several former synagogues scattered around the Czech Republic --  in Prague, Plzen, Radnice, Liberec, Turnov,  Boskovice, Mikulov, Polna,  Hartmanice. Some of these synagogues are used now as museums.

Lichtenberg told the Czech news agency CTK that she envisaged the CD as a "certain homage to synagogues, their atmosphere and the local Jewish communities that do not exist any longer".
She said it crossed her mind to record Jewish liturgic songs in synagogues in the country last year when she had a concert in the synagogues in Liberec, north Bohemia, and in Plzen, west Bohemia. Each of the 14 songs will be recorded in a different synagogue as every synagogue has specific acoustics and every venue will fill the song with a different content and spirit, Lichtenberg said. Apart from traditional liturgic songs, the CD will offer two songs that she has written and four by modern authors from Toronto. Lichtenberg has also recorded one song, a prayer for the dead, in a hidden synagogue in Terezin, north Bohemia, where an internment camp for European Jews was set up during WWII. Her mother was interned there, she recalled. The CD will include a booklet with photographs of the synagogues and information about the local Jewish communities. It should also be sold in the synagogues where it was recorded.
Read full CTK story here

Monday, July 12, 2010

Poland -- Piotrkow Trybunalski cemetery photos

I have posted a photo gallery of images of the Jewish cemetery in the Polish town of Piotrkow Trybunalski on the web site of my (Candle)sticks on Stone project. They show women's tombstones and a variety of candlestick images, including broken candles, as well as mythical animals and other imagery and iconography.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Poland -- CNN on Jewish cultural and other revival

CNN has run a piece on Poland's rediscovery of its Jewish past I'm delighted that it mentioned the Jewish culture festival in Bialystok, as well as that in Krakow.

This phenomenon has, of course,  been going on for several decades already. By now, at least a score of Jewish culture festivals of one sort or another take place in Poland each year -- I've listed quite a few of them in the sidebar of this blog. Krakow's is the oldest and biggest; founded in 1988 it marked its 20th edition this year.

The success of the Krakow Festival  helped spark other Jewish festivals of various types around the country. In 2000, the a mapping of Jewish culture project by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research i London identified seven of them. In 2009, I counted more than 20, including at least two Jewish film festivals. Some were one-day affairs, others spanned a weekend or longer.

Some took place in towns with small Jewish communities, such as Wroclaw, Poznan and Gdansk. Others took place where no Jews live today. These included the sixth edition of a festival dedicated to the Yiddish author Shalom Asch, scheduled for early December in the central town of Kutno, the third edition of an annual Jewish culture festival in the village of Checiny, a Jewish theatre festival in Ostrowiec Swietokrzyski, the annual Jewish culture festival in Chmielnik, a Jewish culture festival in Bialystok, another in Szczekonciny, another in Przysucha, and so on. Festivals celebrating a diversity of cultures and religions, including Judaism, took place in Lodz, Wlodowa and Szczebrzeszyn.

‘I often joke that now the mayor of every small town feels obliged to make excuses [if] he/she has no Jewish Festival in his/her town,’ Anna Dodziuk, a psychotherapist who is also a Jewish activist and editor, told me. ‘To put it short: it is politically correct now to explore the Jewish history of the local communities, to commemorate Jews of a shtetl who perished in Holocaust, to celebrate somehow Jewish culture. So more and more Jews start to feel secure enough to be openly Jewish (or to be visible).’


 Prague. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

I'm slow: still processing my recent visits to Warsaw, Piotrkow Trybunalski and Krakow (and Festival of Jewish Culture.) Meanwhile, here are links to my two latest columns for -- on Jewish Prague and Jewish Vienna.

by Ruth Ellen Gruber 
PRAGUE -- Lying between the Vltava River and the Old Town Square, Prague's medieval "Jewish Town," Josefov, is one of the most popular attractions in a magical "golden city" that draws millions of tourists a year. Here, amid historic synagogues, the Old Jewish Cemetery, the Jewish Town Hall and other major sights, is the Ground Zero of Jewish Prague: the stomping ground for heroes and villains and the evocative background setting for a host of old legends, not to mention the cradle of present-day Jewish life. Here, Jewish heritage and legacy are cultivated and exploited as an integral part of the ancient city. At peak season, tourists swarm through the district, making it sometimes difficult to navigate the cobbled streets, and souvenir hawkers sell everything from miniature golems to embroidered kippot.
I imagine the Jewish presence in Prague as a series of concentric circles centered on this medieval ghetto area and then expanding outward, like widening ripples of water, to the edge of the city and beyond. Physical sites, as well as Jewish memory and contemporary Jewish life, are concentrated in the innermost circle: there are a Jewish education center, kosher facilities and Jewish communal offices, and regular services take place in several venues. But there are many places of Jewish interest well away from the city center, too. These are much less visible and well off the beaten track of most visitors to the city, but they, too, form an integral part of the Jewish experience in Prague. The following itinerary will let you sample some of these outer circles of Jewish history and culture as well as the city's inner core.
The Inner Circle
Tourists aside, Prague's old Jewish quarter today bears very little resemblance to the dense welter of narrow alleys, tiny squares, dark passageways and crowded courtyards where generations of Jews were compelled to live from the Middle Ages to the mid-19th century, when the Habsburg monarchs granted them civil rights. After emancipation, many Jews moved out, and Jewish Town became a slum. An urban renewal project in the late 19th century swept away almost everything but a handful of synagogues and a few other historic sites, and the medieval ghetto was replaced by the handsome complex of buildings we see today. On the façade of the building at Maiselova 12, across from the Old-New Synagogue, you can see Jews symbolized by the star of David, money and stereotype profiles.
Jewish Town is still, though, where the city's main Jewish sights are concentrated. And if you can brave the crowds, you will see some of the finest and best preserved and presented Jewish heritage sites in Europe.
These include the 13th-century Old-New (or Alt-neu) Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Europe still in use. Built about 1270, the compact Gothic building has a high peaked roof and distinctive brick gables. The twin-naved sanctuary features soaring Gothic vaulting and a central bimah enclosed by a late Gothic iron grille. Carvings of grape vines surround the Ark.
Across narrow Cervena alley is the High Synagogue, built in 1568, which, like the Old-New Synagogue, is today an active house of prayer and study. Right next door to the High Synagogue is the Jewish Town Hall (entrance at Maiselova 18), which still serves as the headquarters for Jewish community offices and activities. Built in the 1560s, the Jewish Town Hall is one of the landmarks of the Jewish quarter, with a distinctive tower and big clock with Hebrew letters, that seems to run backwards.
Prague's Jewish Museum occupies several historic synagogue buildings in the district. The museum was originally founded in 1906 to preserve items from the synagogues that were demolished in the urban renewal clearance of the old ghetto. Most of its collections, however, come from the more than 150 provincial Jewish communities in Bohemia and Moravia that were destroyed by the Nazis. The Nazis brought the loot to Prague, and even during World War II used the empty synagogues to exhibit precious relics of the people they sought to annihilate. The museum was run by the communist state after World War II, but it was returned to Jewish administration in 1994.
Read full story HERE

by Ruth Ellen Gruber 
Vienna looms large in Jewish history and memory. The imperial Habsburg capital was the vibrant hub of a vast, multi-national Empire that stretched across Europe and encompassed a colorful and sometimes contentious mix of peoples, languages, religions and local cultures.
Jews lived here for centuries. Surviving pendulum-swing periods of tragedy and triumph, prosperity and persecution, they made key contributions to the cultural, economic and intellectual development of the city.
Nineteenth and early 20th century Vienna in particular was home to some of Europe's most influential artists, authors, musicians and thinkers -- from the writers Joseph Roth, Arthur Schnitzler and Stephan Zweig, to the composers Arnold Schoenberg and Gustav Mahler, to the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. Vienna was also the cradle of some of the icons of popular culture: the filmmaker Billy Wilder grew up in the city, and the novelist Vicki Baum, the author of Grand Hotel and other best-sellers, was born here and wrote about her Viennese childhood in her memoirs. "To be a Jew is a destiny," she once said.
The Holocaust swept this world away. But monuments, museums and other vestiges of this long and creative Jewish presence can be found in many parts of the city.
What's more, Vienna is home, now, too, to a new flowering of Jewish life and creativity, both religious and secular. Vibrant schools, synagogues and other Jewish centers bear living witness to a remarkable Jewish rebirth in the decades since the Shoah. And Jewish writers, artists, musicians and filmmakers are putting their stamp on contemporary culture.
Visitors to Vienna can get a taste of both worlds. Most Jewish historical sites and monuments, as well as most active synagogues and Jewish centers, are located in central parts of the city, embedded in a historic urban setting that conjures up the grandeur of the past amid the contemporary bustle of modern-day life.
The following itinerary highlights some of the most important (and most easily visited) Jewish sights, but still, alas, gives only a brief taste of the richness of Jewish experience in the city.

Read full story HERE

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Auschwitz -- US Pledges Aid to Restore Camp

 Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

On Saturday, U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton visited the brand new Schindler's Factory Museum in Krakow -- a branch of the city's history museum dedicated to the period of Nazi German occupation in World War II. During her visit she announced U.S. plans to pledge $15 million over five years to help restore and maintain the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, not far from Krakow. The site was made into a memorial/museum after World War II but has suffered considerable deterioration over the years. Flooding this year forced it to be closed to the public.

Below is the US government statement. For a full text of Clinton's speech click HERE

Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation Announcement

Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
July 3, 2010

In a speech today, July 3, at the Schindler Factory Museum in Krakow, Poland, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the U.S. intention to contribute $15 million over five years to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, subject to Congressional authorization and appropriations. The World War II-era factory of Oskar Schindler, the German entrepreneur who saved hundreds of Jewish factory workers from the Holocaust and, Krakow, the closest major city to the camp and an important center of Jewish life before WWII, provide a meaningful setting for the U.S. announcement. The Secretary’s announcement of the anticipated U.S. contribution illustrates the significance of the Auschwitz-Birkenau site, helps commemorate the 1.1 million victims who perished there, and demonstrates America’s commitment to Holocaust education, remembrance, and research.

U.S. Contribution

*Subject to Congressional authorization and appropriations, the United States’ contribution of $15 million over five years will begin in FY 2012.

*The U.S. contribution will help fund a €120 million endowment to preserve and safeguard the remains of the camp. Due to the temporary nature of the camp’s initial construction, the buildings and other artifacts at Auschwitz-Birkenau are in poor condition and in serious danger of irreversible deterioration.

*The United States strongly encourages other nations who have not already done so to follow suit and to contribute to the Auschwitz-Birkenau fund to preserve the site for future generations.

Importance of Auschwitz-Birkenau

*The Auschwitz-Birkenau death and concentration camp is one of the most widely recognized symbols of racism, bigotry, and hatred where untold millions suffered unthinkable and heinous treatment under Nazi tyranny. While there are hundreds of other historically important camps and mass grave sites, Auschwitz-Birkenau has become a symbol of the Holocaust.

*In 2009 alone, more than 1.3 million people from around the world visited the museum and memorial, among them survivors of Nazi persecution and their descendents, students, educators, and many who only for the first time learned of the horrors that went on at this infamous camp.

*The preservation and continuation of Auschwitz-Birkenau is essential so that future generations can visit and understand how the world can never again allow a place of such hatred and persecution to exist. It is also an important educational tool to show those who doubt that the Holocaust ever existed that indeed, tragically, it did.