Thursday, April 28, 2011

Poland -- another synagogue restoration wins award

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The restoration of the synagogue in Ostrow Wielkopolski has won the "Facade of the Year" award for historic building preservation.

This is the second announcement this month of a synagogue restoration in Poland garnering an award, joining the synagogue in Zamosc, for whose restoration the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland won the 2011 Conservation Laurel, an annual award granted by the regional authorities and monuments conservator in eastern Poland's Lubelskie Region, where Zamosc is located

I posted about the Ostrow restoration project last fall, providing links to the town web site with a lot of photographs illustrating the transformation.

Germany/Music -- Alan Bern to Speak in NYC about Yiddish Summer Weimar, etc

Street dancing led by Zev Feldman at Yiddish Summer Weimar. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Folks in New York -- Don't miss Alan Bern  speaking in New York on May 9 at the Center for Traditional Music and Dance about the Yiddish Summer Weimar and related events and developments.  The talk is called "Weimar Republic."

Center for Traditional Music and Dance’s An-sky Institute for Jewish Culture, the Center for Jewish History and the American Society for Jewish Music present a multi-media lecture by composer/musician Alan Bern about klezmer and Yiddish music in Germany and his work in creating Yiddish Summer Weimar - now 10 years old and one of the most celebrated institutes for Yiddish culture in the world. In addition to founding and directing Yiddish Summer Weimar, Bern is Musical Director of the internationally renowned Brave Old World ensemble, and leads the Other Europeans, an amazing new international ensemble of 14 leading musicians who explore the deep connections between Jewish and Roma (Gypsy) musical traditions. A reception will follow the program. We are grateful for the support of the Keller-Shatanoff Foundation in making this program possible. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Poland -- New project on pre-WW2 Oshpitzin (Auschwitz)

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Auschwitz Jewish Center is launching on April 28 a new guide to pre-World War II Oshpitzin -- AKA Oswiecim, AKA Auschwitz.  The town had a majority Jewish population before World War II, and the project include an online map and hard-copy guide to the town's Jewish history and heritage.

The Auschwitz Jewish Center, opened in 2000, occupies a complex including the only surviving synagogue in Oswiecim and hosts a Jewish museum and education programs.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Poland -- Zamosc synagogue restoration wins prize

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (FODZ), has won an award for the outstanding conservation of historic buildings. The award specifically cited the recently completed restoration of the Renaissance synagogue in the town of Zamosc, in southeastern Poland. FODZ, which initiated and oversaw the restoration, announced on Thursday that it had received the award, the 2011 "Conservation Laurel." The award is granted each year by the regional authorities and monuments conservator in eastern Poland's Lubelskie Region, where Zamosc is located. The award ceremony will take place May 13. Granted annually since 2000, the Conservation Laurel singles out restoration projects characterized by appropriate and high quality execution as well as by particular care on restoring and preserving the historic value and significance of a monument. The Zamosc synagogue was rededicated this month after a three-year restorations project.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cemeteries: Somewhat off topic but related.....

Caretakers in Alba Iulia, Romania, cut hay in the Jewish cemetery. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Washington Post recently ran an interesting article about what can happen to a cemetery in an isolated area when its elderly caretaker can no longer take care. This is a common problem with Jewish cemeteries in some parts of Eastern Europe, where -- as in Romania, for example -- the small Jewish communities often contracted with local peasants to cut the weeds and maintain Jewish cemeteries in places where few or no Jews now live in exchange for housing onsite, or use of the hay or part of land where there are no burials. As these people age and pass away, the cemeteries may be left untended.

The article, by J. Freedom du Lac, was not about a Jewish cemetery in eastern Europe -- but about an African-American cemetery in rural Virginia whose longtime caretaker, Vernon Peterson, is now 80.

It’s what happens afterward, when he’s no longer around to look after Rock Hill Cemetery. For nearly half of its existence, the 122-year-old cemetery — where generations of local African American families are interred — has been carefully tended by Peterson, a fastidious Korean War veteran who grew up nearby in a country village that’s long since disappeared.

But Peterson is 80, and he can’t stop wondering: Who will care for this little-known repository of community and family history when he’s gone?

There are thousands of graveyards scattered across Virginia, many of them small family burial plots on private properties, according to preservationists and historians. Some date to the founding of Jamestown more than 400 years ago.

But they’re increasingly endangered as a generation of caretakers dies off and people with kin buried out back sell off their family land. The burial sites can become overgrown and, eventually, consigned to oblivion.

Bulgaria -- New Guidebook to Jewish Bulgaria

Synagogue in Sofia

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

A new, richly illustrated, guidebook to Jewish Bulgaria has been published by Vagabond Press. Written by Dimana Trankova and Anthony Georgieff, the 168-page book is the first such comprehensive, stand-alone guide. (My book Jewish Heritage Travel includes a chapter on Bulgaria along with chapters on 13 other countries.)  From what I saw in the online preview, the new book looks packed with information, history and photos.

Click HERE to see the web site and preview.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

List of Jewish Culture, etc Festivals 2011

At the Budapest Jewish Summer Festival. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

As usual, I am trying to put together a list of as many as possible of the numerous Jewish festivals -- culture, film, dance, etc -- that take place each year around Europe. Please help me by sending me information!

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

 The list will be growing and growing -- and again,  I ask my readers to please send me information and links to upcoming events. Thanks!

ALL OVER EUROPE -- Sept. 4 -- 12th European Day of Jewish Culture. The theme this year is "Facing the Future."


April 3-7 -- Vienna -- Jewish Film Noir festival

Nov. 5-2- -- Vienna -- KlezMORE music festival


 April 28-May 1 --Mikulov -- Days of Jewish Culture

June 12-16 -- Terezin -- Defiant Requiem performances

July 7-10 -- Boskovice -- UniJazz/Boskovice Festival. The festival is focused on saving and restoring of local Jewish quarter.

July 25-30 -- Trebic --  Trebic Jewish Festival, held in one of the most extensive and best-preserved old Jewish quarters in Europe, part of the town's UNESCO-listed historic center.

July 25-26 -- Namest nad Oslavou -- Jewish music at Folk Holidays Festival


May 10-13 -- Saint-Gildas-des-Bois -- Festival MusiqueS Klezmer

June 14-30 -- Paris -- Festival of Jewish Cultures

July 2-10 -- Bréau (Gard) -- Le Yiddishland à la rencontre des Cévennes


March 11-13 -- Fuerth -- International Klezmer Festival

May  18-31   -- Berlin/Potsdam -- 17th Jewish Film Festival 

June 23-26 -- Berlin -- "Sounds no Walls" -- Jazz and Jewish Culture

July -- Weimar -- Yiddish Summer Weimar

Oct. 23-Nov. 6 -- Dresden -- 15th Yiddish Music and Theater Weeks

November 12-30 -- Munich -- 25th edition of Jewish Culture Days


April 28-May 4 -- Budapest -- First Israeli Documentary Film Festival

June 5 -- Budapest -- Judafest

Aug. 4-7 -- Bank Lake -- Bankito Festival

Aug. 27-Sept. 5 -- Budapest -- Jewish Summer Festival 


May 7-9 -- Ferrara -- Festival of the Jewish Book in Italy

June 2-3 -- Casale Monferrato -- Oy Oy Oy Festival

June 26-July 17 -- in val d'Aosta -- Centrad festival/workshops in Ashkenazic culture

Nov. 12-16 -- Rome -- Pitigliani Kolno'a Festival (music, film, etc)

Nov. 20-27 -- Venice -- Festival of Polish-Jewish Culture 


October -- many venues around the country -- International Jewish Music Festival -- . See the web site for a calendar of Jewish music events.


May 1-6 -- Czestochowa -- International Festival of Sacred Music

May 6, 7, 13 -- Opole -- Days of Jewish Music and Culture

May 14-22 -- Warsaw -- Otwarta-Twarda Jewish Festival

May 15-18 -- Warsaw -- 14th Jewish Book Days

May 29-June 3 --- Wroclaw -- 13th Simcha Jewish Culture Festival

June 1 -- Szydlow -- 9th Encounters with Jewish Culture

June 4 -- Krakow -- Night of the Synagogues

June 11-17 -- Oswiecim -- Oswiecim Life Festival (international music festival with Jewish content, held in the town where Auschwitz is located)

June 18-19 -- Chmielnik -- 9th Encounters with Jewish Culture

June 24-July 3 -- Krakow -- Festival of Jewish Culture

August 19-21 -- Lublin -- Shalom: Encounters with Jewish Culture

August 20-21 -- Lelow -- 9th Cholent and Ciulim festival

August 27-Sept. 4 -- Warsaw -- Singer's Warsaw Festival


June 16-19 -- Bucharest -- Klezmer & More Festival

June 20-26 -- Bucharest -- First Bucharest Jewish Film Festival


June 12-21 -- Belgrade -- Ethno Fusion Fest (in courtyard of Belgrade synagogue)


June 18-19 -- Geneva -- Friends of Jewish Music Festival


July 24 -- L'viv -- L'vivKlezFest

Stones and Stone-carver images from a century ago

Here's a cross-post from candlesticksonstone

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The wonderful imagery on East European tombstones was created by talented and extraordinarily creative stone-carvers who are now, for the most part, anonymous. Everyone so often, a photograph of a more recent traditional stone-carver turns up. Sergey Kravstov has sent me the image below.

Stone-cutter in Ostroh, Volhynia (c. 1912-14)

The illustration is from the catalogue: The Jewish Art of Solomon Yudovin (1892-1954). From Folk Art to Socialist Realism, by Ruth Apter-Gabriel (Jerusalem, 1991). Yudevin was a wonderful artist born near Vitebsk, the same town where Marc Chagall was born.

The drypoint at right, dated 1939, is clearly based on the photo at left, taken in Ostroh/Ostrog in Volhynia — probably during the expedition into Ukraine led by the Yiddish writer An-Sky in 1912-14 to document the rapidly disappearing Jewish cultural life of the shtetl. This would mean that it was taken by Yudovin, who was a photographer on that expedition. It’s a very dramatic shot and to me looks staged!

I have tried to figure out what the design he is carving is — but I can’t make it out….

Here below is a wood cut by Yudevin that shows a funeral at a shtetl’s Jewish cemetery — including the gravestone of a woman that bears the typical candlestick motif.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Poland -- Jewish life in Krakow article

Jonathan Ornstein and Staszek Krajewski at a discussion on Jewish identity in Poland at the Krakow JCC in 2010. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber). 

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Jerusalem Post ran a long article about Jewish life and experience in Krakow, focusing on the role and work of the new Jewish Community Center, which opened in 2008. The author, Israel Kasnett, asks the usual questions, and writes about many of the usual scenes, paradoxes and tropes. I'm glad though to see a generally positive spin in his description of what I have called the "new authenticities" in the city.
For many people, Jewish life cannot conceivably flourish in Krakow – a city so close in proximity to the Auschwitz and Plaszow concentration camps where more than a million people were murdered. To them, Krakow has simply become a stopover on the way to the camps, to see where Schindler’s List was filmed or to visit the graves of ancestors.

But 66 years after the war, and 22 years since the fall of communism, the question remains: Can Krakow’s Jewish community flourish once again? My recent visit to its Beit Chayil Jewish Community Center proved that today there exists more than just death and a Jewish past.
 Read full article HERE

Monday, April 4, 2011

Publication -- New book to which I contributed is out: Philosemitism in History

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I'm delighted to announced the publication of "Philosemitism in History," edited by Jonathan Karp and Adam Sutcliffe (Cambridge University Press). I contributed one of the 14 chapters  -- "'Non-Jewish, non kosher, yet also recommended': beyond 'virtually Jewish' in post-millenium Central Europe."

Philosemitism in History
Too often philosemitism, the idealization of Jews and Judaism, has been simplistically misunderstood as merely antisemitism "in sheep's clothing." This book takes a different approach, surveying the phenomenon from antiquity to the present and highlighting its rich complexity and broad impact on Western culture. Philosemitism in History includes fourteen essays by specialist historians, anthropologists, literary scholars, and scholars of religion, ranging from medieval philosemitism to such modern and contemporary topics as the African American depictions of Jews as ethnic role models, the Zionism of Christian evangelicals, pro-Jewish educational television in West Germany, and the current fashion for Jewish "kitsch" memorabilia in contemporary East-Central Europe. An extensive introductory chapter offers a thorough and original overview of the topic. The book underscores both the endurance and the malleability of philosemitism, drawing attention to this important but widely neglected facet of Jewish-non-Jewish relations. This book offers a broad and ambitious overview of the nature and significance of philosemitism in European and world history, from antiquity to the present. It underscores both the endurance and the malleability of philosemitism, drawing attention to this important but widely neglected and generally misunderstood facet of Jewish-non-Jewish relations.
Table of Contents
Introduction: a brief history of philosemitism Adam Sutcliffe and Jonathan Karp 
Part I. Medieval and Early Modern Frameworks: 
1. Philosemitic tendencies in medieval western Christendom Robert Chazan
2. The revival of Christian Hebraism in early modern Europe Abraham Melamed
3. The philosemitic moment? Judaism and republicanism in seventeenth-century European thought Adam Sutcliffe
Part II. Three European Philosemites: 
4. William Whiston's Judeo-Christianity: millenarianism and Christian Zionism in early enlightenment England Adam Shear
5. A friend of the Jews? The Abbé Grégoire and philosemitism in revolutionary France Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall
6. Ordinary people, ordinary Jews: Mór Jókai as Magyar philosemite Howard Lupovitch
Part III. The Cultural Politics of Philosemitism in Victorian Britain and Imperial Germany: 
7. Bad Jew / good Jewess: gender and semitic discourse in nineteenth-century England Nadia Valman
8. Anti'philosemitism' and anti-antisemitism in imperial Germany Lars Fischer
9. From recognition to consensus: the nature of philosemitism in Germany, 1871–1932 Alan T. Levenson
Part IV. American Philosemitism: 
10. Ethnic role models and chosen peoples: philosemitism in African-American culture Jonathan Karp
11. Connoisseurs of angst: the Jewish mystique and postwar American literary culture Julian Levinson
12. 'It's all in the Bible': evangelical Christians, biblical literalism and philosemitism in our times Yaakov Ariel
Part V. Philosemitism in Post-Holocaust Europe: 
13. What is the opposite of genocide? Philosemitic television in Germany, 1963-1995 Wulf Kansteiner
14. 'Non-Jewish, non kosher, yet also recommended': beyond 'virtually Jewish' in post-millenium Central Europe Ruth Ellen Gruber.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Poland -- Restored Renaissance Zamosc Synagogue to be Inaugurated

 Photo from FODZ web site:

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

As I've reported earlier, restoration of the beautiful and important renaissance synagogue in Zamosc, in southeastern Poland, has been completed -- and the dedication of the building, which will be used for cultural purposes, will take place Tuesday. I wish I could attend the ceremony!

According to the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, FODZ, which oversaw the restoration project, the synagogue will house a tourist and cultural information center for the FODZ-sponsored Chassidic Route. A Multimedia Museum of the History of the Jews of Zamosc and the Surrounding Area will also be established there,  in cooperation with the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow -- . A part of the area will also be adapted for the needs of local NGOs.

Events at the dedication will include a two-day conference, “History and Culture of the Jews in Zamosc and the Zamosc Region," which will be held in the synagogue and kick off a project documenting Jewish history in the town.

AP runs a lengthy story, highlighting the synagogue's history and the complex restorations process.

The near-absence of Jews today "brings to light what war and genocide and the Holocaust really mean," said Monika Krawczyk, CEO of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, the Warsaw-based group that oversaw the preservation work. "Although the Jews in Poland today are small in number, the heritage is absolutely huge."

The renovation took about a year and cost euro1.7 million ($2.4 million), funded mostly by grants from Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

The restored synagogue will be presented to the public Tuesday in a ceremony attended by Jewish leaders, U.S. and Israeli diplomats and city officials. After that, it will serve occasionally as a house of worship for Jewish tourists who visit death camps in the area, including Auschwitz, Belzec and Majdanek. Ultra-Orthodox Jews are also drawn to the region because many founders of the Hassidic movement were from Polish and Ukrainian towns.

Mainly it will serve as a local community center, offering art students a place to show their work, schools a place for seminars, musicians a site for small concerts.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Deciphering epitaphs

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I learned from a recent Philologos column in The Forward about Madaleine Isenberg, who makes a career of deciphering insciptions and epitaphs on Jewish gravestones -- and coined the term "stelaeglyphologist" to describe her profession. So far, she has worked on more than 3,200 such inscriptions in 20 different cemeteries in Slovakia.

Her skills are greatly needed, as inscriptions on tombstones can be complex, poetic, and full of biblical references and abbreviations. Some include complicated acrostics and other veiled references. And, of course, many matzevot are weathered and eroded.

Several online resources, such as one of,  provide some of the rudiments -- and which, in fact, have aided me greatly in trying to read inscriptions. But most inscriptions are far too complex.....