Friday, December 31, 2010

Jews, Travel, Anti-Semitism?

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Hilary Larson, a travel writer for the New York Jewish Week, has written an article about anti-Semitism and the Jewish traveler...
In Europe, I have found, ugly remarks about Israel and Jewish stereotypes surface as a matter of course, with the tacit assumption that everyone shares an anti-Israel viewpoint — and that nobody present is Jewish.
If it is unfashionable to say ethnically pointed things in historically multicultural America, it can sometimes seem the opposite abroad, at least with regard to Jews and Israel. And it can make traveling to otherwise lovely lands, filled with otherwise friendly people, very uncomfortable for American Jews.
 She also writes:
I’ve seen a lot of swastikas in my travels, and heard plenty of verbal equivalents. But I’ve also been surprised by the degree to which some Europeans are excited to meet a Jew (a rare specimen in some parts), or demonstrate genuine interest and enthusiasm over Jewish culture — like my German classmates in Italy who made a point of touring local synagogues.
Though anti-semitism is not the focus of this blog -- I'm wondering what readers have to say on the subject.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Eating Jewishly

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

A couple of months ago, Saveur magazine published a series of articles by David Sax about eating Jewishly in Budapest and Bucharest. I advised him on the piece and pointed out people to talk to in Budapest -- essentially the same people that I noted in my own article about Jewish food in Budapest for JTA.....
A visit to eastern Europe reveals the origins of the cured and smoked meats, matzo balls, pickles, and other beloved staples of Jewish delicatessens around the world. "It hit me that it's nothing short of a miracle that these foods, these traditions, have survived," writes author David Sax.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Ukraine --Design competition in L'viv

Starlings over the dome of the former Jewish hospital (now the maternity hospital) in L'viv next to the Besojlem site. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber
As I noted in earlier posts, I was in L'viv, Ukraine, this past week as part of  the nine-member international jury for an important design competition for sites of Jewish history in L'viv (or Lvov, Lwow, Lemberg, Leopoli, as it is called in various languages...) that was organized by the municipal authorities in association with the L'viv Center for Urban History and the German organization GTZ -- the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit. The idea for the competition goes back to an international conference held at the Center for Urban History in October 2008 on "Urban Jewish Heritage and History," at which I was the keynote speaker. (I have already posted the results  -- or see them HERE.)

The jury was composed of two eminent architects/urban designers from Switzerland and Germany, the L'viv deputy mayor, three local city architects/heritage experts, and three "Jewish representatives" -- myself, Josef Zissels (chairman of one of the main Ukrainian Jewish umbrella organizations) and Sergey Kravtsov, from the Center for Jewish Art in Jerusalem, who comes from L'viv and is an expert on all aspects of Jewish heritage there.  (See full list below.)

Our brief was to consider some 70 designs sent in from 14 different countries for projects marking three key sites, taking into consideration the following stated criteria:
The competition has two distinct, but interconnected purposes. First, the competiton seeks to respond to the growing awareness of Lviv's multi-ethnic past by contributing to the rediscovery of the city's Jewish history and heritage through creating public spaces dedicated to the city's historic Jewish community. Secondly, the competition also seeks ways to re-design these three open public spaces in such as manner as to improve the quality of life for the contemporary inhabitants and visitors of Lviv.

Our first order of business was to visit the three sites. (We got started late as two of us -- including myself -- got stranded overnight in Vienna because of the snow chaos, and we arrived a day late.)

     -- the "Valley of Death" that was linked to the infamous Janivski concentration, labor and mass murder camp  set up by the German occupation during World War II, where more than 100,000 Jews were killed;

     This site is a deep, rather narrow valley rimmed by steep banks.The site of the camp itself, atop a plateau overlooking the valley, is now occupied by a prison. In the valley there is a pond where bodies were thrown. For a full description, click HERE. Marking the spot is currently a memorial stone and a sign.

     -- the site of three destroyed synagogues in the center of the city's downtown Jewish quarter, just off the main market square, or Rynok;

Ruins of Golden Rose synagogue
Excavations for Bejs Midrash

    The site is an open public space located in the southeast part of Lviv’s historic inner city, which is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, on the site where once stood the Great Synagogue and a Bejt HaMidrash. They adjoin the still-visible ruins of the 16th century Turei Zahav or Golden Rose Synagogue. Some of the buildings in the immediate vicinity of the site date back to the 16th century. For fuller description click HERE. It is a sensitive area, where gentrification is beginning to clash with historic memory, preservation goals and potential Jewish restitution claims for communal property.

     -- and "Besojlem," the small piece of open ground that is the only section of the centuries-old Jewish cemetery (founded in late medieval times and closed in 1855) that was not built over -- virtually all the rest of the cemetery is now covered by a big market bazaar, the Krakovsky Market. Adjacent is the city's maternity hospital, a Moorish style structure with a dome that was built originally as the Jewish hospital. It occupies a part of the cemetery site where no burials took place.
This is a particularly sensitive site, given the fact that burials still exist here but exactly where is not known. Also, it is believed that a number of old tombstones also lie beneath the surface. There is a long and contentious history  regarding attempts by the Jewish community to regain the cemetery -- or at least have the market removed. Sam Gruber has posted a concise summary on his blog.

 All the submitted designs were hung in the city's drafty, Soviet-era Palace of the Arts and were on public display as of December 16.

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Our deliberations took place here -- in a vast hall that was freezing!

Sofia Dyak, the director of the L'viv Center for Urban History, at our work table. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

The jury included a varied group of experts from several countries, and we each looked at the sites and projects from different viewpoints and experience. This made our deliberations  extremely intensive, thoughtful, thought-provoking, exhaustive -- and exhausting. We examined the displayed plans, as well as other information, and discussed each not just on its design, but on its  feasibility of implementation and sensitivity to place.  The concerns of the Jewish community were also taken into consideration, even though (aside from L'viv native but current Jerusalemite Sergey Kravstov) there was no representative of the local L'viv Jewish community on the jury. All of the submissions were anonymous, so we had no idea where they came from -- in the end, it turned out that there were submissions from 14 countries.

In addition to myself, the Jury members were:
Oksana Boyko (Ukraine, Lviv), architectural historian, research fellow at the institute “Ukrzakhdproektrestvratsia,” author of the monograph “Synagogues of Lviv” (2008)
Bohdan Cherkes (Ukraine, Lviv), professor for architecture, director of the Institute of Architecture at the National Polytechnic University in Lviv
Carl Fingerhuth (Switzerland, Zürich), architect, city planner and author, advisor to the city governments of Bremen, Salzburg, Halle, Karlsruhe, Cologne, Stuttgart, Heidelberg, Regensburg; Chief Architect Basel 1979-1992, since 1995 Honorary Professor for Urban Planning at the University of Darmstadt, private projects in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and China
Vasyl Kosiv (Ukrain, Lviv), Deputy Mayor for Humanitarian Issues of Lviv, Director of the Department of Graphic Design at the National Academy of Arts in Lviv
Sergei Kravtsov (Israel, Jerusalem), architect, historian of architecture, researcher at the Center of Jewish Arts at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Yuriy Kryvoruchko (Ukraine, Lviv), head of the Department of Urban Planning of Lviv City Council, Chief Architect of Lviv, professor for architecture at the National Polytechnic University in Lviv
Ingo Andreas Wolf (Germany, Leipzig), architect, Urbanist, advisor to city governments; Professor for urban planning and design, University of Applied Sciences in Leipzig
Josef Zissels (Ukraine, Kyiv), Chairman of the General Council of Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, chairman of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine (Vaad Ukraine), executive vice-president of the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine and the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine

Discussing one of the designs. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

In the end, we were were almost totally unanimous in choosing the three designs that we awarded the first prize in each category. For each of them, however, we appended recommendations as to changes or amendments we felt needed to be taken into consideration before implementation. (I'm not sure these have all be made public yet -- I will append them when so.)

The first prizes went to:

    -- Ronit Lombrozo, from Jerusalem, for Besojlem. A landscape architect and exhibition designer who often deals with heritage issues, Lombrozo submitted a design that envisages a raised walkway and also the use of unearthed tombstones as part of the memorial.

    -- The design team of Ming-Yu Ho, Ceanatha La Grange, and Wei Huang, from Irvine, California, for the Janivski concentration camp site. Their design was radically different from most of the others. Most of the others envisaged the area as a sort of park. The winning team's idea was to turn it into a form of land art -- a raised walkway leading to and curving around a slope covered with slabs representing symbolic tombstones.

    -- The Berlin, Germany team of Franz Reschke, Paul Reschke and Frederik Springer for the synagogue square site, a design that incorporates the archeological excavations of the Bejs Midrash and also traces the form of the Great Synagogue. One of the things that we liked is that it leaves the way open for modifications in the future, should the site be restituted or other excavations be foreseen.

Other prizes and honorable mentions went to designs from Italy, Poland, Germany, Austria and Ukraine.

I was particularly pleased to see how young the Ukrainian winners were -- some in their early and mid-20s, even students -- and to witness how thoughtful and sensitive their approaches were to reintegrating and restoring a component of local history that has for far too long been suppressed, ignored, forgotten and/or distorted.

L'viv deputy mayor Vasyl Kosiv announces the awards at a public ceremony. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Ukraine -- Jewish heritage initiatives

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

JTA last week ran a nice story by Dina Kraft about an initiative to document and rescue Jewish heritage sites in western Ukraine, with the help of local Ukrainians. One of the Israeli experts is Vladimir Levin, whom I met last year in Vilnius, when we both took part in a seminar organized by the Lithuanian Culture Ministry about how to deal with Jewish heritage in Lithuania.
Levin, a 39-year-old immigrant to Israel from St. Petersburg, Russia, is part of a team of Israeli historians attempting to document what remains of a once populous and vibrant Jewish life in the regions of Galicia and Bukovina, most of which is in the western edge of present-day Ukraine.
As part of efforts to recover the world that once was in these towns and shtetls, where some 1 million Jews lived before the Holocaust, the researchers are partnering with Ukrainian academics. The idea is not only to boost the level of scholarship but to highlight to Ukrainian locals a Jewish past that spanned centuries but is rarely remembered publicly in the country. 
"Jewish history is not part of the agenda” in Ukraine, said Yaroslav Hrystak, director of graduate studies at the Ukrainian Catholic University, which has partnered with the Israeli researchers. “It's like a whole subject that disappeared.”
The project aims to collect oral testimony and document cemeteries and synagogues left derelict or used for such purposes as canning factories to storage space, and enlist young Ukrainian historians to do Jewish-related scholarship. An online database has been established on the project's website to make the research widely accessible. The project also has set up a scholarship for Ukrainian graduate students to spend a year at Hebrew University to learn Jewish history, Hebrew and Yiddish.
"Records are being lost in front of us, and so the goal is collection and preservation," said David Wallach, a professor of molecular biology at Israel’s Weizmann Institute who is among the group of families that helped establish a fund called the Ludmer Project to help pay for the research.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Virtually Jewish in Japan: Fiddler on the Roof

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Before I think deeply and prepare some reflections on my five days in L'viv as part of the international jury for the city's design competition to mark three key sites of Jewish history, I just have to post this -- "If I Were a Rich man", from a Japanese production of Fiddler on the Roof in 1982; a priceless example of Jewish virtuality:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ukraine -- results of Lviv design competition for sites of Jewish history

International Design Competition to Mark Sites of Jewish History in Lviv Results
December 22, 2010

We are pleased to announce the results of the three competitions and the winning projects.

Synagogue Square Site

1st Prize


Dipl. Ing. Landscape Architect Franz Reschke Frederik Springer, Paul Reschke, Berlin, Germany

2nd Prize


Yuri Stolarov, Paul Mokrel, Roman Belbas, Olha Malynovska Lviv, Ukraine

3rd Prize



Honourable Mention


Moomoo Architects Jakub Majewski, Łukasz Pastuszka, Tomasz Bierzanowski, Bartołomiej Skowronek, Miriam Otero, Martyna Szymańska, Monika Komendacka, Zhenze Huang Lódź, Poland

Honourable Mention


Markian Kossak Lviv, Ukraine

Honourable Mention


Żaklina Nowodworska, Michal Podgórczyk Gdynia, Poland


Competition “Besojlem Memorial Park”

1st Prize


Ronit Lamrozo Jerusalem, Israel

2nd Prize not awarded

3rd Prizes


Michelangelo Acciaro, Nora Lau Milano, Italy

3rd Prize


Danylo Shvets Andriy Zinkevych Stepan Glukhovetsky Lviv, Ukraine

3rd Prize

012007 Gerhard Rennhofer Gerhard Hauser Vienna, Austria


Competition “Yanivsky Camp Memorial Site”
1st Prize


Ming-Yu Ho, Ceanatha la Grange, Wei Huang Irvine, California USA

2nd Prize


Carmela Canzonieri Emanuele Cassibba Luigi Vella Aggius Benjamino Faliti Giovanna La Rosa Vittoria, Italy

3rd Prize


Stefan Jan Cichosz Berlin, Germany

Honourable Mention


FDKV Fedchena Nazar Lviv, Ukraine

Honourable Mention


Yuri Stolarov, Paul Morkel, Roman Belbas Lviv, Ukraine


Countries: Ukraine, Poland, Italy, Germany, Austria, USA, Israel

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lithuania -- promo video for Vilnius Jewish Library

By Ruth Ellen Gruber 

Wyman Brent is a non-Jew from San Diego who has been working to create a Jewish library in Vilnius, Lithuania. It is now scheduled to open next year. Part of the "virtually Jewish" experience -- he now has a promotional video for the endeavor. It's a bit long, but it gives interesting insight into the virtually Jewish appeal, as well as the appeal and perception of Jewish culture and art.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Budapest -- Hanukkah party central continues

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The eight night festivities go on.... last night, in cafe Siraly's basement, the hip-hop/fusion/klezmer/etc band haGesher, with Adam Schonberger (far left) and Flora Polnauer (right) on vocals....

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Budapest -- Adam LeBor on Possibilities in Budapest's Downtown Jewish Quarter

Adam LeBor has a nice commentary in the Economist about the Jewish quarter in Budapest, pegged to the Quarter6Quarter7 Hanukkah festival.
District VI and District VII have survived wars and revolutions, invasion by the Nazis and the Soviets, and decades of communism. But capitalism has proved perhaps their deadliest enemy yet, as property developers—many of whom, ironically, are Israeli—knock down large swathes of the area and build ugly modernist office blocks and parking lots.
Yet the twists of Hungarian politics, and the recession, may prove the Jewish quarter’s greatest allies. The developers have run out of money, at least for now. The Socialist municipal officials who permitted historic buildings to be destroyed lost office in October's local elections. György Hunvald, the disgraced former mayor of District VII, is in detention awaiting trial on corruption charges.  

Municipal government was decentralised after the collapse of communism, giving Budapest's district mayors substantial powers. The new Fidesz mayors and their officials are said to be pragmatic and open-minded—and doubtless aware of the political and financial value of a thriving Jewish quarter. The Quarter6Quarter7 festival is already attracting commercial support: Vodafone has sponsored audio guides to 30 locations that can be downloaded on to a mobile phone.

We win an award!

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I've just be notified that this blog has been named one of the top 50 Jewish blogs by the Guide to Online Schools.

We scoured the web to find the best blogs pertaining to Judaism and came up with this list of 50. These blogs were selected because they demonstrate expertise and passion, are updated frequently, and provide a wealth of information and other resources. 

Guide to Online Schools

Top 50 Jewish Blogs

All over -- Other Europeans video by Mark Rubin

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Bassist/tuba player extraordinaire  Mark Rubin has posted a fantastic collection of his videos of the "Other Europeans" project, taken over the past three years in many places.

The band
is an international gathering of 14 leading klezmer (Yiddish) and lautari (Roma) musicians. Created and directed by Alan Bern, this new intercultural supergroup is creating powerful, deeply emotional and virtuosic music that restores a centuries-old cooperation between two groups who cohabited the same space in present-day Moldova before being torn apart by war, holocaust and immigration.

Bringing together some of the most distinguished soloists from seven countries, the Other Europeans Band is building new cultural relationships between two peoples who are often considered marginally European, but have played a major role in creating and transmitting European musical traditions.

Much has been said about the Jews and the Roma. Now musicians from both worlds have joined, researching and demystifying their connected cultures to create a new heritage, an exciting contribution to a shared new European and Cosmopolitan identity.

Budapest -- The Hanukkah Festival is on!

Tour guide Agi Antal leads a group to the Dohany St. synagogue in Budapest during the 2009 Hanukkah festival. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I'm back in Budapest for Hanukkah again -- I arrived last night and plunged right in to events in this year's Quarter6Quarter7 Hanukkah festival, which takes place in the city's downtown old Jewish quarter (the 6th and 7th Districts). I wrote about last year's festival for JTA and the New York Times online.

My train from Prague was too late to catch the concert I wanted to hear of Shkayach, a group that sings updated versions of Israeli and traditional Jewish songs. The group's singer, Flora Polnauer, also fronts hip-hop klezmer fusion groups -- and she chanted the Rosh Hashanah service this year for a Budapest reform congregation.

But I did manage to catch the concert by the Polish Klezmer Jazz group, the Bester Quartet.

And afterwards, I had a drink with the festival's organizer, Adam Schonberger, at "M"  restaurant -- which is serving special menus during the festival. Last night there was a Sephardic menu; I had the fish empanadas with a orange and black olive salad.

Adam told me that he is experimenting with the festival format this year. Instead of having concerts, performance, openings and other events for the full eight days of Hanukkah, as last year, the last four days are devoted to a film festival.

One of the innovations this year is a downloadable Jewish quarter tour guide app for smart phones -- more on this after I take a look at it. So far it's just in Hungarian, but an English version is coming.

As last year, though, more than 30 local venues and businesses in the 6th and 7th district are involved in the festival, hosting events or providing programs.

Lithuania -- Jewish heritage trip being organized

Vilnius synagogue. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

A roots-oriented Jewish Heritage trip to Lithuania is being organized this July. Here's the info:


JULY 5 TO JULY 15, 2011

We will be visiting Lithuania this summer, would you like to come with us?

We have been planning trips to Lithuanian for groups of people interested in their Jewish heritage for 18 years. In addition to visiting Vilnius and Kaunas, we will have two days for individual roots tours.

Our main purpose in planning these trips is to offer Jews an opportunity to go back to their roots, to encourage them to research their ancestors, and to enable them to see the latest efforts being made to keep Judaism alive in Lithuania. Since profit is not the main motive, all arrangements are made in a first class manner intended to make the trip enjoyable and meaningful for all.

Prior to the trip, we will inform you of the do’s and don’ts - what to wear, what to take with, what to leave home, and many other little tips that help make the trip an enjoyable one. While this is a group trip, we try as much as possible to make it a personal trip, tailored to individual needs.

Please respond to -

Peggy Freedman
8335 Berkley Ridge
Atlanta, GA 30350 USA

Howard Margol
4430 Mt. Paran Pkwy NW,
Atlanta, GA 30327-3747 USA
Email -