Ruth's Lecture Topics

Ruth Ellen Gruber is a popular and successful speaker at conferences, universities, synagogues, museums and other venues, ranging from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC to the Festival of Jewish Culture in Krakow, Poland to the International Country Music Conference in Nashville.

She gives one-off presentations but also can serve as scholar-in-residence or can arrange multi-appearance presentations at several venues in a specific city.

Her lecture topics range from Jewish heritage issues to journalism, to European country music and the Imaginary Wild West.

She also consults on Jewish Heritage (and other) travel, advising on sites to visit and helping arrange tailor-made itineraries in more than 15 European countries. She will join special groups or individuals as a personal cultural guide or resource.



From Shtetl to City: Jewish Heritage Travel in Eastern Europe

The author of National Geographic Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe, Ruth conducts an illustrated virtual tour of far-flung synagogues, shtetls, Jewish cemeteries, and other Jewish heritage sites in a variety of countries. She describes personal experiences and discusses the many changes she has witnessed in nearly 20 years of exploration of Jewish heritage in the region known as Europe's Jewish heartland.

Rebuilding to Remember: Reintegrating Jewish heritage sites, including Jewish quarters, into today’s living cities

Ruth describes how the different ways that old Jewish neighborhoods in Krakow, Budapest and elsewhere are being used as focal points for Jewish culture festivals, arts and historical projects, and efforts at reconstructing Jewish life. She describes how the annual Festival of Jewish Culture in Krakow, which was started in 1988 by non-Jews for a primarily non-Jewish audience, has changed over the years, and she discusses the new Jewish Quarter Hanukkah festival, a grass-roots initiative in 2009 that involved more than 30 local businesses.

Kitschy Jews/Jewish Kitsch: How similar stereotypes have different meaning

Stereotypes and cliches mean different things to insiders and outsiders. This illustrated talk reveals how the same imagery regarding Jews can have a different impact and understanding, running the gamut from nostalgic to self-ironic to anti-semitic.

(Candle)sticks on Stone: Representing the Woman in Jewish Tombstone Art

An illustrated presentation exploring the traditional portrayal of candlesticks on the tombs of Jewish woman. Ruth shows an evocative series of photographs of tombstones of women in East European Jewish cemeteries, describes finding the graves of her ancestors -- marked with candlesticks -- in the Jewish cemetery in Radauti, Romania, and, as a Jewish woman who has almost never lighted the Shabbat candles in her own home, reflects upon the meaning of this tradition and what it says about Jewishness and gender. This talk is based on research Ruth has carried out for an ongoing project - click HERE to see the project’s web site.

Memory and Commemoration: Holocaust Memorials and What They Say (and What they Don’t)

How the Holocaust is commemorated in Europe. Memorials, Museums, events such as national Holocaust Memorial Days -- in many countries held on January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. What do these memorials and commemorations say, to Jews and to non-Jews? What do they leave out?

Holocaust Legacy: Empty Spaces, Fading First-Hand Memories, Bold New Jewish Realities

Sixty-five years since the end of World War II, the impact of the Holocaust still resounds in Europe in many ways: fading memories, empty synagogues and abandoned cemeteries, yes. But also new life, new realities and new definitions of Jews and Jewishness. Ruth describes how the impact of the Shoah -- followed by 40 years of Communism -- is still a powerful backdrop, but she discusses the new forms of Jewishness, Jewish practice, and religious and cultural expression that build toward the future.
20 YEARS AFTER THE FALL OF COMMUNISM: Jews and the Jewish Experience in Europe

Ruth discusses her personal experiences in writing on Jewish issues from many countries over the past 2 decades and more. Focus is on the extraordinary changes in Jewish status and life since the fall of Communism 20 years ago, also describing conditions as she found them in Poland, Hungary, Romania and other Communist countries in the 1970s and 1980s. Ruth also notes readers' expectations compared to what is seen on the ground.

... & THE IMAGINARY WILD WEST (and more...)

Sturm, Twang, and Sauerkraut Cowboys: Country Music and Wild Western Spaces in Europe

Country music forms the soundtrack for a multi-faceted "wild west subculture" in Europe. Wild west theme parks, rodeos, saloons, ranches, hobbyist camps and numerous country music festivals and other events form "wild western spaces" inhabited by thousands who feel perfectly at home amid the Americana. Ruth’s presentation focuses on how, within these scenes, local artists singing and writing in their own languages (e.g. the German Tom Astor, the Polish "Lonstar", the Czech Honza Vycital and others) take American country music, transform it, and make it their own, creating new (if debatable) authenticities that define or redefine "country" in local terms.

Sauerkraut Cowboys and Klezmer Cafes: Europe’s Real Imaginary Spaces

A colorful journey through the Virtually Jewish World and the Imaginary Wild West in Europe -- illustrated with dozens of eye-catching photographs. Two European trends as analogous phenomena: the “virtually Jewish scene” and codification of what “Jewish” means in physical, mass cultural, and touristic contexts, and the parallel, multi-faceted, “Imaginary Wild West,” which also deals with myth, stereotype, physical space, and performativity. In both, questions of ownership, appropriation and “authenticity” are central, and we find “new authenticities” -- and “real imaginary spaces,” often with the creation of new local traditions, definitions and cultural components.