Monday, April 22, 2013

Managing Jewish Built Heritage Conference this week -- opening to be live-streamed

Restoration work in synagogue in Spisske Podhradie, Slovakia, 2011. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

This post also appears on my En Route blog for the LA Jewish Journal

I've spent much of the past five or six months working on the organization of an international conference called Managing Jewish Immovable Heritage in Europe: A Working Seminar on Projects, Challenges and Strategic Thinking -- a three-day, invitation-only working seminar convened to discuss a wide range of issues, challenges, strategies and successes regarding the care, maintenance, preservation, use and promotion of Jewish material heritage. It is a direct follow-up to a seminar on Jewish heritage management that took place in Bratislava, Slovakia, in March 2009 and issued the Bratislava Statement, including best practices recommendations.

The conference takes place April 23-25.

The opening session April 23 will take place in the historic Tempel Synagogue, whose restoration, spearheaded by the World Monuments Fund and initiatied in the early 1990s, was one of the first major post-communist Jewish heritage restorations in Poland.

The session -- at 2 p.m. CET -- will be live streamed on internet. Keynote speaker will be Dr. Samuel D. Gruber, a pioneer in Jewish heritage preservation and documentation. You can watch it on the web site, or right here:

The seminar is being convened by the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe; the David Berg Foundation; the Cahnman Foundation, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; the World Monuments Fund; and the Taube Foundation, in cooperation with the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland; the Jewish Community Centre in Krakow; the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow; and the European Council of Jewish Communities. The U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad will also have a presence.

WHY: The restitution of Jewish property seized by the Nazis or nationalized by post-war communist regimes has been a hot-button international issue since the Iron Curtain fell. But the slow and often painful legal battles to gain restitution have often overshadowed the pressing practical concerns of what to do with such properties, whether they are owned by Jewish communities or by others. Many of them are huge. Many are dilapidated. Many are recognized as historic sites. And most stand in towns where few if any Jews now live. Even basic care and maintenance can stretch already strapped financial and professional resources. How to preserve, manage and promote these historic Jewish properties is a key issue faced by Jewish communities, civic bodies, NGOs., governments, municipalities, grassroots activists and others.

WHO: About 90 invited participants from about 20 countries, including experts in the field as well as a variety of direct stakeholders: Jewish community representatives, grassroots activists, NGOs, civic bodies, funders, researchers, government officials, etc.

ISSUES: Sessions will examine the issues that arose and the recommendations that emerged out of the Bratislava meeting, as expressed in the final Bratislava Statement of best practices. They will also consider new conditions that have arisen in the past four years – including new technology developments; the financial crunch and changed funding possibilities; changed local attitudes, etc. – and look toward the future.

The meeting will include general discussion as well as thematic workshops, and there will be a half-day trip to visit Jewish heritage solutions near Krakow.

Focal points of discussion will include:

Sharing experience/strategic thinking: Though each situation is specific, there are many shared problems and needs that can be addressed collectively. Importantly, there are also solutions that can be shared.

Making information available/using new digital technologies: Information on Jewish sites is most useful when it is most widely available. Efforts should continue and expand to make documentation available in publicly accessible research centers and through publications and on-line presentation, all the while considering safety, security and privacy concerns. New technology – ranging from smartphone apps to digital documentation to enhanced scanning – needs to be addressed as part of research, documentation and promotion of Jewish heritage.

Networking and collaboration/strategic thinking: Jewish communities and institutions should work together as much as possible to share existing information, methodologies and technologies, and to develop new and compatible goals and strategies to optimize the care and management of historic Jewish properties. They should also seek partners among NGOs, local, civic and government bodies, and individuals outside the Jewish community. And vice versa.

End-user development: Jewish communities and local heritage, cultural and tourist bodies (as well as NGOs, civic bodies, individuals and others) should work together to develop regional, national and trans-border heritage routes as well as local projects.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Door into Presov synagogue, Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Over the years I have traveled to many Jewish heritage sites all over Slovakia, and I have closely followed the development of the Slovak Jewish Heritage Route -- I have posted much in the past on my Jewish Heritage Travel blog. See some of those posts HERE

In its current edition, Hadassah Magazine publishes a lengthy article I wrote detailing this route, the brainchild of tmy friend Maros Borsky.

A far-reaching project ... aims to safeguard key sites of Slovak Jewish heritage while using them as tools to integrate Jewish history and memory into local tourism, culture and education. 
This is the Slovak Jewish Heritage Route (, a tourist and educational trail that links two dozen key sites in all eight regions of the country—synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, but also Jewish museums and Holocaust memorials. 
Formally launched in 2007, the route is the brainchild of Maros Borsky, Slovakia’s foremost Jewish scholar, who convinced communal leaders to focus scarce resources on a few significant places to ensure their long-term survival. 
“The only way to preserve these buildings is to find a different use for them, predominantly and preferably for cultural purposes,” Borsky says. “And what is very important is to generate an audience for them. There is no point in putting money into restoring these buildings if no one will use them.”
Read the whole article 

In the piece, I list and profile most of the sites on the Route -- north, south, east and west.

Synagogue in Malacky, now an art school. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Museum of the History of Polish Jews dedicated at last

I view the spectacular painted Gwozdziec ceiling

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

This post also appears in my En Route blog for the LA Jewish Journal.

I've been in Warsaw for events marking the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising -- and  filed a story for JTA on the "soft" opening of the long-awaited, long-delayed Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

Though I am not in love with the exterior of the buildng -- except for its location opposite the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes Memorial -- I was very impressed with the interior. In particular the way the big glass gash of an entrance frames the memorial when you look out from inside.

For me, who has followed the development of the museum for nearly 20 years, it was a rather emotional (and emotionally satisfying) moment to finally be inside -- and to connect and reconnect with so many people I've encountered here in Poland since the 1980s.

WARSAW, Poland (JTA) -- Krzysztof Sliwinski, a longtime Catholic activist in Jewish-Polish relations, gazed wide-eyed at the swooping interior of this city's Museum of the History of Polish Jews. 
Nearly two decades in the making, the more than $100 million institution officially opens to the public this week amid a month of high-profile, state-sponsored events marking the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. 
“It’s incredible, incredible, incredible how things have changed,” Sliwinski told JTA. “I remember commemorations of the ghetto uprising under communism when only a few people showed up. How good it was that we were optimistic.”
Sliwinski organized Jewish cemetery cleanups and other pro-Jewish initiatives under communism, when Jewish practice and culture were suppressed by the regime. 
In 1995, then-Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, an Auschwitz survivor, appointed him post-Communist Poland’s first official ambassador to the Jewish Diaspora, part of the state’s unprecedented outreach policy. 
On Sunday, both Sliwinski, now 73, and Bartoszewski, 91, joined hundreds of local Jews and other VIPs as Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, unveiled a mezuzah at the museum’s main entrance.
Read the full story

In writing this piece, it was fascinating to go back and see what I -- and others -- had written back in the 1990s.