Sunday, April 29, 2012

Impressive Jewish Visitors' Center in Brno

This post originally appeared on my En Route blog, for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Once again I have to hand it to the Czechs for the exemplary way that they preserve and promote Jewish heritage, heritage sites and memory.

I spent a day this past week in Brno, the Czech Republic’s second largest city and the capital of Moravia. I was there for a totally different —- non-Jewish—reason (a country music concert and a meeting related to the Czech country music and bluegrass scene) but I took the time to visit the Jewish Tourism and Information Center that was opened last year at the city’s Jewish cemetery, a sprawling and beautifully maintained expanse that includes about 9,000 grave markers, from simple matzevot to grand family tombs.

The Center operates as part of the Jewish Brno Project, a collaborative initiative of the Jewish community in Brno and the city’s Tourist Information Center.

A deceptively boring view of the Jewish Visitors Center. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

I was already a big fan of the project’s web site—an informative and easy to use portal to Jewish heritage in Brno and at least 16 towns in southern Moravia where there are historic synagogues, cemeteries and old Jewish quarters – Mikulov, Boskovice, Trebic, Ivancice, et al.
The Brno Jewish Visitor’s Center opened in January 2011, and it sports the green “i” logo of general Czech tourist info centers. It occupies one of the three early 20th century buildings that form the mortuary complex.

The Cemetery is located at Nezamyslova 27, in the Zidenice district of town, an easy tram ride from the city center. Trams 8 and 10 from the main railway station stop right in front.

The Visitors Center provides a range of services, including guided tours of Brno Jewish sites, tourist packages and itineraries outside the city. There are stacks of free informational material, including well-produced brochures in various languages on local and regional Jewish heritage. The Center has free WiFi internet access, and there is an English-speaking staffer.

For the cemetery itself, it provides individual free tours as well as free audio guides. A brochure guide to the cemetery includes a map locating the graves of prominent people interred there – the brochure provides brief biographies and photos of their gravestones. And there is also a computer screen with a link to the cemetery database, so that you can search for individual tombs.

I didn’t have much time the day I visited, but I spent a very pleasant half hour strolling around the cemetery and following the map up and down the rows of tombs – most of them stately obelisks, and many (in the style of the late 19th century) bearing laminated photographs of the deceased.

Brno was a center of modernist architecture. Here's a modernist gravestone in the Jewish cemetery. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Jewish Tourism and Information Center

Nezamyslova 27
615 00 Brno, Czech Republic
Tel: +420 544 526 737

Brno Tourist Information Center

Radnicka 8
658 78 Brno, Czech Republic
Tel: +420 542 427 150

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Jewish Cemetery Rescued in Slovakia

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Bravo to the local Leustach civic association for organizing a clean up operation for the long-abandoned and overgrown 18th century Jewish cemetery in the village of Janikovce,  near Nitra in central Slovakia!

Here's a link to my  Jewish Heritage Europe report (with links to galleries of before and after pictures):
Dozens of volunteers, aged from 9 years old to over 70, took part, clearing brush, cutting down trees and removing waste from the cemetery, which for many years has been used as a dump site. They found discarded refrigerators, construction waste,  car parts, tires, construction material, plastic and asbestos tiles on the site. Many of the volunteers were pupils at a local middle school. [...]
The idea is to clear and clean up the cemetery and maintain it as a sort of park, but also to restore the memory of the Jewish community that had lived there for centuries until the Holocaust.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Web Site Aimed at Jewish Visitors to the Summer Olympics in London

This post originally appeared on my En Route blog on the Los Angeles Jewish Journal

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Summer Olympic Games in London, July 27-August 12, are just around the corner (more or less) and to help Jewish visitors and sports fans, the Jewish Committee for the London Games has launched VISIT JEWISH LONDON —a web site with a wide variety of information, from sightseeing to synagogue-going.

It looks like a very useful and easy to use resource. This is what the web site says it aims to do:
Our goal is to ensure that all visitors have access to relevant Jewish cultural and religious information. To this end we have created this website for you, which aims to provide a one stop shop presenting comprehensive information on Jewish London and the U.K. as a whole in order to help you access everything that you may need during your visit.
The site is also intended to provide appropriate and updated information about the 2012 London Olympic Games, which includes links to partner groups and networks concerned with the wider values and the future legacy of the Games, as well as the Official site of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Metropolitan Police, public bodies and other faith based and religious organisations specifically involved with the Olympic Truce. The Olympic Truce is an original Olympic ideal which aims to ensure that competitors and visitors travel to the Games in peace and security.
You may want to attend a synagogue while you are here in order to participate in a shabbat service, make up a minyan or perhaps you have a yahrzeit and want to say kadesh. We can point you in the direction of a designated commemoration associated with the Games or where shabbat hospitality is available. We have also provided details of the Jewish Museum, Judaic books and gift shops, guided walking tours as well as particulars of other interesting iconic, cultural and famous historical Jewish sites in London.
We aim to provide you with a variety of opportunities to ensure you enjoy a warm, welcoming and interesting visit whilst taking advantage of all that the great city of London has to offer its guests. If you keep strictly kosher, you will need to know where to go to eat, so we have provided information about where you can find kosher or deli style provisions and dine in a wide range of supervised and unsupervised restaurants. So whether you’re into chopped liver, chicken soup, shwarma, falafel, humus, pitta or pizza, we’ve got the nosh for you!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Jewish Life -- Life! -- in Krakow

This post first ran in my En Route blog on the Los Angeles Jewish Journal

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I’ve written a lot about the Jewish scene in Krakow over the years— the “virtually Jewish” side of both homage to and nostalgic exploitation of the past—but also the new Jewish life. (See, for example, my long piece in Moment Magazine where I view the city, the scene, and the changes I’ve seen over the past 20-some years).

New York Jewish Week now runs a long piece by Steve Lipman that provides a good look at some of what’s been going on, focusing on the activities of the JCC, founded in 2008. Steve writes:
Poland’s former capital, Krakow is a natural magnet, he says — Poles come because of the city’s open, cosmopolitan nature; visitors, because of nearby Auschwitz.
At the first-night seder I conducted last week — using supplies donated by J. Levine Books & Judaica, in Manhattan, and by local friends Lisa Levy, Michael Wittert and Debby Caplan — the chairs were filled with singles and young families, children and Holocaust survivors, American college students and tourists from several foreign countries.
Unlike the participants at the seders in many other Polish cities, most of the Polish natives at the JCC seder seemed familiar with the Haggadah’s reading and rituals, thanks to the seders the institution has hosted in recent years. As a sign of the growth of Jewish resources here, other seders took place this year under the auspices of Chabad, the Reform movement, and Rabbi Boaz Pash, an emissary of the Shavei Israel outreach organization.
The JCC was initiated by Prince Charles, who during a visit to Krakow a decade ago, was moved by a meeting with aging Holocaust survivors and asked what the Jewish community needed. A senior center, he was told. Officials of World Jewish Relief, headquartered in London, suggested that a facility serving the entire Jewish community would be more worthwhile. In April 2008, with the Prince in attendance, the JCC, largely funded by WJR and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, opened its doors.
Lipman highlights the wonderful 7@Night event that debuted last June —when all seven of the synagogues and former synagogues in the old Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, were open to the public and hosted programs that illustrated contemporary—not nostalgic—Jewish culture.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My JTA story on the new threats to the historic Jewish cemetery in Nis, Serbia

This post first appeared on my En Route blog on the Los Angeles Jewish Journal



By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I spent most of last week in Serbia, on a fact-finding trip to assess the condition of Jewish heritage sites in the towns of Nis and Pirot. I will (I think) be posting on the trip itself, but meanwhile, I am posting some links to pieces I have already published elsewhere.
JTA today ran my article on the new threats to the Jewish cemetery in Nis, nearly 8 years after a well-publicized clean-up operation appeared to guarantee its preservation of this important site.
A historic Jewish cemetery that long has been threatened by the encroachment of a growing Roma, or Gypsy, settlement that occupies one-third of the site is now being threatened by the encroachment of commercial enterprises into the domain of the old Hebrew gravestones.
In the labyrinthine Roma village, or mahala, 800 to 1,500 people live in brick and concrete houses separated by narrow passageways and irregular courtyards. Laundry hangs from the windows, water drips from open taps and some roofs sport satellite TV dishes. At one end is a stable for horses, and at the fence that separates the village from the open part of the cemetery, sheep and goats peer out at the graves.
Eight years ago, a well-publicized cleanup campaign cleared the cemetery of garbage and waste that had covered the tombstones and eliminated the open sewers that had run amid the graves.
But the campaign’s success proved to be fleeting and now new warehouses, a restaurant and other illegal construction, including a cut-rate department store, intrude on another third of the cemetery, according to Jasna Ciric, the president of the Nis Jewish community, which numbers just 28 people.
I already posted a more detailed report on

Monday, April 16, 2012

Matzo Apple Cake in Budapest -- Rachel Raj's Recipe

Rachel Raj and ingredients. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

 This originally appeared on the En Route blog of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.

I’ve been meaning to link to this piece I did for The Forward’s The Jew & the Carrot blog, about the Budapest Jewish chef and pastry cook Rachel Raj. (I had written about her in the past, in an article about the Budapest Jewish food scene in general.)

It was a delight to research—eating pastries in Budapest and talking about food! I like the Cafe Noe I write about here…. it’s a nice, intimate place with a hidden little terrace garden.

Enjoy!  Oh—and here is Rachel’s recipe for matzo apple cake, which is nice and light and good all year round.
Rachel’s Matzo Apple Cake:
- 3.3 lbs apples
- sugar
- Cinnamon
- 6 eggs
- 6 Tbsp. sugar
- About 5 oz ground walnuts
- Matzos
- Approx. 1-1/2 cups of white wine, sweet or dry
Grate the apples and mix with sugar and cinnamon to taste
Separate the eggs and beat the whites until stiff.
Beat the yolks separately with the 6 Tbsp of sugar, then mix the yolk mixture with the ground walnuts and the beaten eggwhites.
In an oiled baking pan, place a layer of matzo that has been well moistened with wine. On top of this place a later of the apple mixture. Cover this with another layer of wine-moistened matzo, then cover that layer with the nut and egg mixture. Add more layers, making sure that the top layer is the nut and egg mixture.
Bake in a moderate oven (325-350 F) for about 35 minutes, cool and cut into squares. It’s good lukewarm, room-temperature, or even cold.

Jono David's Jewish Geography App Free for 24 Hours

This post originally appeared on the En Route blog of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal

The Japan-based photographer Jono David has used some of his thousands of images of Jewish heritage sites around the world to create a “Jewish Geography” game played via an ITunes app…. He has just let me know that the app can be downloaded for free—but just for 24 hours, from 7:00 p.m. Monday, April 16 to 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, April 17, 2012, Japan Standard Time.
Here’s what Jono says:
Jewish Geography. You know the game. Or do you? Uniquely different than the familiar “Do you know so-and-so?” degrees of separation kibitzing, this fun and challenging app quiz game measures by how many degrees you’re separated from your own Jewish geographical knowledge. Challenge yourself or compete against friends and family. The more you play, the more you’ll know, and the fewer degrees you’ll be separated from Jewish Geography!
Game description, features, and device requirements @
Preview on YouTube (time: 00:00:38)
A fun product by JonoDavid LLC featuring the photography of Jono David from his HaChayim HaYehudim Jewish Photo Library (HHJPL).
Thank you, and happy Jewish Geography playing!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

News for Jewish Heritage Travel Blog

Here's some organizational news for this blog.....As of today I now have a travel blog called En Route: Jewish Heritage and Travel with Ruth Ellen Gruber that is hosted by the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.... so -- I will be posting items to that blog, and then reposting on this site (or, I guess, occasionally vice versa).

This will not affect the Jewish Heritage Travel Facebook page.

And all the archives and other material on this Jewish Heritage Travel blog will remain here intact.

Crystal Cruises Expands Jewish Heritage Tours

 This post was originally published in my En Route blog on the LA Jewish Journal

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Here’s what looks like some good news for my first En Route post…. Crystal Cruises has announced it will expand its Jewish heritage tour options for the 2012 season.
According to a press release,  the tours “visit neighborhoods, museums, monuments, synagogues, and more somber sites in/near Palamos, Berlin, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Dublin, Hamburg, Rome, Odessa, St. Petersburg, and Israel. “
Announced highlights include:
Haifa: A kibbutz, the ancient holy city of Safed, Golan Heights, and a second-century Jewish burial ground.
Girona: El Call, one of Europe’s best-preserved Jewish Quarters, by Segway or foot.
Dublin: The homes of Dublin’s Jewish Lord Mayors and ex-Israeli President Herzog, the first dedicated day school, and Jewish cemetery.
Stockholm: The Jewish Museum and three local synagogues, from Stockholm’s first (1790) to one whose interior is originally from another synagogue in Hamburg.
Berlin: Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, the Grosse Hamburger Strasse deportation area, Otto Weidt’s broom-making factory, and the 205,000-square-foot Holocaust Memorial (two different excursions).
Athens: Athens’ Jewish Museum, containing 8,000+ domestic and religious artifacts from 2,300 years of Greek Judaism.
Odessa: Kosher refreshments, Ukraine’s only Jewish history museum, Shomrei Shabbos synagogue, and Beit Grand Jewish Cultural Center.
Hamburg: Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial, home of 100,000+ WWII prisoners.
Ashdod: Jerusalem’s Western Wall, Old City, and Holocaust artifact-filled Yad Vashem memorial.

For more details see the Press Release

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Geographically off topic -- but right on target

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I came across a wonderful post on the Cemetery Traveler blog about a visit to an abandoned Jewish cemetery in Gladwyne, PA  -- only a few miles from where I grew up in suburban Philadelphia.

The description of the abandoned site -- and the evocative photographs taken by the blogger, Ed Snyder -- are so similar to those of people exploring abandoned Jewish cemeteries in Eastern Europe that I felt I had to repost.

Snyder writes:
Walking through this place is a MUST for any cemetery explorer – you may be appalled, afraid, amazed, or desire to use the location for your next zombie movie. You walk into the place and it starts off quaint - the tilted headstones, the  lone cradle graves. As you walk further through the weeds, you begin to see small clusters of graves, surrounded by rusty decorative fencing. Most of the fencing has fallen to the ground and is waiting for you to trip over. [...]

The history of this place is not well-documented. The fragments of supposed fact come from letters and oral recollections. "Har Ha Zetim Cemetery", aka Gladwyne Jewish Cemetery and "Mount of Olives," was supposedly established in 1860, and served the poor Jewish population of Philadelphia and Norristown until the 1920s. No doubt some of the the people interred here emigrated from Russia during the pogrom in 1881. The fact that this exodus occurred on Passover of that year oddly coincides with my writing this blog on the eve of Passover, 2012. [...]

Walking through Gladwyne's Abandoned Jewish Cemetery is not like finding a lonely outcropping of headstones in a farmer’s field somewhere – this was a COMMUNITY! A community of ancestors, now lost to the ages. But as you walk through the lanes of graves, the presence of all these people is alive in the air, they were REAL. They lived. They had rites, manners, and customs that were as real to them as ours are to us.
 Read the full post 
Snyder provides  links to further reading about abandoned Jewish cemeteries in the Philadelphia area, including this article from the Forward in 2004 about a Jewish cemetery in west Philadelphia that explicitly makes the parallel with the rediscovery of Jewish cemeteries in eastern and Central Europe, and his own blog post about the site.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Still Early Spring in Budapest

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I seem to have been eating a lot this trip.... spending a lot of time at the Cafe Noe, in the 7th District Jewish quarter, and Torta, near the Danube, sampling Flodni, Matzo Apple Cake and other items... both places are run by Miklos Maloschik and Rachel Raj.

Matzo apple cake and Flodni, at Cafe Noe. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Cafe Noe is around the corner from the grand Dohany st. Synagogue (the biggest in Europe) -- last week, before the leaves started coming out, I could actually get a picture of the full complex. The section on the left houses the Jewish museum. It was built in the 1930s on the site of the hosue where Theodor Herzl was born, in a style that matches that of the synagogue, which was completed in 1859.

Dohany St. Synagogue. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Early Spring in Budapest

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

It has been a busy visit so far in Budapest, with little time to stop and reflect (or post). Here are a few highlights..... and with luck I'll be able to add a bit more in the coming days. Today at least I managed to stock up on matzo for Passover -- there are several kosher shops now selling kosher for Pesach brands, at a wide variety of prices, I might add. The commercial kosher shops sell it for just about twice the price of what the Jewish-community run outlets do. But that's business....

Let me perhaps tell it in pictures:

Last week I attended the opening of a newly enlarged synagogue -- three times its original size -- in a residential neighborhood in Buda. And then I went there for services.  Here's a link to a 360 degree panorama of the place. And my own pic from the opening:

Synagogue on Karoli Gaspar ter. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

This is one of three synagogues in Budapest that have young and growing congregations. Another is the lovely courtyard Frankel Leo synagogue, also in Buda.

Frankel Leo Synagogue. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Frankel Leo synagogue. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber