Saturday, September 17, 2011

Czech republic -- Ten Stars project

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I spent two hours yesterday meeting with Jan Kindermann in Prague to discuss "Ten Stars"  -- the ambitious and very impressive EU-funded  Jewish heritage preservation project he is coordinating for the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic. The project  involves complex renovation and exhibition projects at ten synagogue buildings dotted all around the country. The towns include Úštěk, Jičín, Brandýs nad Labem, Plzeň, Březnice, Nová Cerekev, Polná, Boskovice, Mikulov and Krnov.

Krnov synagogue. Photo: 10 Hvezd project

"10 Stars" is a creative and very well thought out strategy of development and promotion that is funded by the Culture Ministry and an approxmately €10 million grant from the European Union. All the sites are owned by the Jewish community, and there are local partners in each place.

There is a comprehensive web site associated with the project -- but it's a pity that it is only in Czech, which means that awareness outside the country remains limited.

Planning took place in the approximately two years since the EU funding came through -- Jan showed me stacks of detailed files. Actual construction will being in October.

The idea is to create a network of 10 sites that will all be open to the public. Each site will house a permanent exhibition, based on one theme. Linked together, all the sites will in effect constitute a comprehensive Jewish museum spread out over the entire country. The "10 Stars" will issue a sort of "passport" (such as those used for other heritage and museums) to encourage visitors to take in all the components. Each time you visit one of the sites, you will get a stamp in the passport -- if you get stamps for all of them, you can turn it is and get some sort of "prize."

Thematic exhibits will include Jewish education, Jewish life and practice, Architecture, Industry, the Rabbinical world, etc.

Some of the sites on the list of Stars include places where synagogues  already have been restored. (Polna, Ustek, Boskovice, Jicin, etc)

Boskovice. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

In those places, the project will carry out much-needed maintenance (such as at the synagogue in Ustek, whose lower floor has suffered water damage) but will also restore a neighboring Jewish building for use as part of the exhibition complex -- in Ustek, this means the rabbi's house next to the synagogue. since the Ustek synagogue already includes a fine little reconstruction of the former school room, the permanent exhibition here will deal with Jewish education.

Ustek. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

In Plzen, where the Great Synagogue has undergone at least a partial restoration, the 10 Stars project will restore the Old Synagogue. And since Plzen is the only town on the list where there is an active Jewish community, the permanent exhibit here will deal with Jewish life and practice.

Many other synagogues have been  restored and are used for cultural purposed in the Czech Republic -- quite a few of these are owned by municipalities, not the Jewish community. But all should complement each other, meaning that CZ remains the country where a strategic vision and plan regarding Jewish heritage has had the most success, thanks  to pragmatic visionaries within the Jewish community as well as to local activists and a political and cultural climate that supports and welcomes involvement in these initiatives.

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