Saturday, February 28, 2009
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Haaretz has run a long and very interesting article discussing the schizophrenia exhibited by Lithuanian authorities vis-a-vis Jews, Jewish culture, historic memory and the like. It is pegged to a "cultural offensive" by the Lithuanian Embassy keyed to the Jerusalem International Book Fair.
This cultural offensive, however, is not being welcomed wholeheartedly. Despite the fact that one of the sessions to be presented at the fair will deal directly with the subject of the Holocaust (Is It Still Difficult to Speak about the Holocaust in Lithuania? at 5 P.M. Tuesday), the Lithuanian-sponsored campaign has been met with some derision by those who see it as a mere fig leaf to cover an official reluctance in the country to deal with its anti-Semitic past.Read the Full Article
Calling Lithuania's participation in the book fair "propaganda," Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Israel office, told Haaretz that Lithuania, the country with the highest percentage of Jews killed during the Holocaust, has been a 'total failure' at bringing Nazi collaborators to justice.
The article, by Raphael Ahren, is thoughtful and presents a good picture of the contradictions and paradoxes of the situation.
He quotes the Lithuanian ambassador to Israel as being
convinced that her country's interest in its Jewish past is genuine and sincere. Jews have been in Lithuania for already six or seven centuries, they're a part of our culture and it's part of our mentality, part of heritage and history, she said when asked about her country's presence at the book fair. The Jews who lived in Lithuania before World War II contributed a lot to our culture, philosophy and mentality, and also to research in a lot of scientific fields. The Baltic country wants to present those parts of our history to the Israeli public, she said.Recently, however, I got a long email from Wyman Brent, detailing some of the bureaucratic (and other) problems he has had in trying to put together and donate a Jewish library to Vilnius... Last I heard, he has 165 boxes of books en route as a gift to the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum, but, he says, "The museum is in dire straits as the government is now saying that it will no longer pay for the necessities of water, gas and electricity" and one of the museum's buildings may have to close down....
The Vilnius Yiddish Institute opened at the University of Vilnius in 2001, there is a new Jewish tourism office in the capital city, and in 2007 a Jewish nursery school started teaching Yiddish to its children in an attempt to preserve the language as Ashkenazi Jews' mother tongue.
The German Emigration Center in Bremerhaven -- a museum specializing on the topic of emigration -- got in touch with me a few days ago to bring to my attention a new ticket deal they have with the Jewish Museum in Berlin.
Visitors, in short, can buy pay the entrance fee to one of these museums and visit the other on the same ticket -- within three months of the original visit.
It sounds like a good deal to me!
I haven't visited the Emigration Center in Bremerhaven -- but I think that that is where my own grandparents (and probably great-grandparents) sailed from en route to the United States.
Indeed, as the museum points out, more than 7 million emigrants gathered in Bremerhaven between 1830 and 1974 to board a ship headed for the New World. Among them were 3 million Eastern Europeans (my own ancestors, from what today is Romania and Lithuania, would have been among them).
The German Emigration Center is Europe’s largest theme museum and in 2007 was named European Museum of the Year. It is located on the site where the ships departed from the European mainland. It features reconstructions and multimedia productions to illustrate the history of emigration. Visitors can also trace their family roots.
The Jewish Museum in Berlin presents objects form everyday life and art objects, photos, letters etc. that tell the story of German Jewish life from the Middle Ages up to the present day. It is famous for is spectacular architecture, by Daniel Libeskind.
There are, in fact, several museums in Europe that deal with emigration. In the little town of Buttenheim, Germany, for example, the Levi Strauss museum, in the birthplace of the inventor of blue jeans, uses Strauss's life story to tell the more general tale of (Jewish) economic emigration in the 1840s.
More general emigration museums include the big the Ulster American Folk Park, opened in Northern Ireland in 1976, which tells the story of emigration from Ireland. There is a small museum on Czech emigration to Texas in Lichnov, in the eastern part of the Czech Republic.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Here's a link to my latest Ruthless Cosmopolitan column -- on Punk Cabaret klezmer danse macabre in Germany. In other words, a concert in Freiburg by Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird at the height of the uproar over the pope's rehabilitation of a Holocaust-denying bishop... I've written about klezmer music in Germany a lot over the years (including in a long section of my 2002 book, Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe.) The scene keeps changing and evolving -- and the political edge and genre mix of Daniel's group illustrates this. It may not be "pure" pre-war shtetl music, but it's rooted there, and it takes the music into the 21st century. It was a great concert, and the band's new CD -- Partisans and Parasites, is also worth buying.
FREIBURG, Germany (JTA) -- At the height of the recent uproar over Pope Benedict XVI's rehabilitation of a Holocaust-denying bishop, I attended a klezmer concert in the pontiff's native Germany.
The timing was coincidental. I didn't deliberately set out to counter the pernicious folly of denying history by listening to music rooted in the culture the Nazis sought to destroy.
Still, the concert started me to thinking -- about what and how we remember; about what and how we forget; and about the role contemporary cultural expressions play in determining how we think about things.
I had been to many klezmer concerts in Germany in the past. The traditional music of East European Jews has had a wide following here since the 1980s, when American and other artists began to tour. Scores of homegrown klezmer bands have been formed, and several leading American Jewish music performers settled in Berlin or elsewhere in the country.
Germany's particular history, of course, played a role in the music's popularity.
Some Germans, especially those from older generations, became attracted as part of the manifold process of dealing with the Nazi legacy that is commonly known here as "working through the past."
For more youthful musicians and fans, however, the baggage of guilt is mostly absent. For some, the klezmer sound simply forms part of the eclectic exoticism of world music. For others, its rich cultural contexts provide stimulus for their own creative interpretation.
The group I saw this time was The Painted Bird, a Berlin-based band pointedly named for the Holocaust novel by Jerzy Kosinski. Known for making music with a sharp political edge, the band describes itself on its MySpace page as "Punk Cabaret + Radical Yiddish Song + Gothic American Folk + Klezmer Danse Macabre."
Its leader is Daniel Kahn, a 30-year-old Detroit native who forms part of the current wave of American Jewish musical transplants to the German capital.Read Full Article
Monday, February 23, 2009
Most of the important Jewish sites, including the South African Jewish Museum, the Gardens Shul, Cape Town Holocaust Center and Gitlin Library, are located in the same complex on an outdoor square in the heart of downtown Cape Town, just four blocks from the South African Parliament.
A focus was the Jewish Museum, which, the article says, attracts 15,000 visitors a year and features a "reconstructed shtetl from Riteve, Lithuania in the 1880s" with "a scale model of a school, shop and modest house. Inside the home, the table is set for Shabbat dinner."
The entrance to the museum is through the exterior of the first synagogue built in South Africa, which was consecrated in 1863. Inside are the original wooden ark and mosaic floor and other artifacts from the synagogue. [...] every window in the museum has a view of Table Mountain, which is what the Jewish immigrants first saw when arriving in Cape Town by ship.Read Full Article
The museum depicts what life was like for those immigrants and does so with high-tech and interactive exhibits, including a bank of touch-screen computers where visitors can research their family roots.
The museum also showcases the role played by Jews in the struggle against apartheid, including Isie Maisels, who was Nelson Mandela's defense lawyer during the 1963 trial that led to Mandela's incarceration for treason, and Helen Suzman, who for many years was the sole anti-apartheid voice in the South African Parliament.
You can also read the article and see pictures on Dan Fellner's web site. Click HERE.
The Jewish catacombs in Rabat were at the centre of controversy in recent days after Heritage Malta called in police when a Jewish religious delegation allegedly entered the site without authorisation.
The Jewish community in Malta is demanding that the human bones found inside the catacombs are given a proper burial according to Jewish rites.
A Jewish delegation made up of at least 10 experts, Rabbis and archaeologists from Israel and the US was brought over to Malta by the Jewish community to carry out the burial.
Heritage Malta CEO Luciano Mulè Stagno confirmed that a Jewish delegation last week entered the site without authorisation, a claim denied by a representative of the Jewish community in Malta.
"We lodged a police report and for some time a policeman was also placed on guard outside the entrance," Dr Mulè Stagno said.
Lawrence Attard Bezzina, a representative for the Jewish community, denied that the delegation entered the site unlawfully..
[ . . . .]
"We are seeking an agreement that respects their requests but is also in line with Maltese legislation. The Jewish community are looking at the site purely in religious terms as a burial site. We concur with the idea but for us it is more than just that because it is an important archaeological site of unique value," Dr Mulè Stagno said.
The site, which is across the road from the entrance to St Paul's catacombs, has never been open to the public and is currently being restored by Heritage Malta with EU funds.
The Jewish catacombs form part of the larger St Paul's catacombs complex in Rabat and were discovered at the end of the 19th century. They date back to the late Roman period some 1,500 years ago and are unique since they are Jewish catacombs within a Christian complex.
Read full article -- and make sure to take a look at the comments
Back in 2001, Yad Vashem’s secret removal from Ukraine of Holocaust-era wall paintings by the Polish-Jewish artist Bruno Schulz touched off an international controversy. You can find links to a number of articles on the affair, including a New York Times op-ed by Sam Gruber, on the Ukraine page of the www.isjm.org web site -- click HERE then scroll down.
Yad Vashem officials physically removed parts of the murals, which have fairy tale themes, from the walls of a villa in the town of Drohobych and smuggled them out of the country to Jerusalem.
In a statement, Yad Vashem said it had the “moral right” to the paintings.
"The correct and most suitable place to commemorate the memory of the Jewish artist, Bruno Schulz -- killed by an SS officer purely because he was a Jew -- and the place to house the drawings he sketched during the Holocaust is Yad Vashem," it said.
But the move triggered outrage in Poland and Ukraine, where Schulz's works are revered as national treasures -- and where removal of art from the wartime period is strictly regulated by national law. It also drew sharp reaction from international experts involved in the protection and preservation of Jewish heritage.
Now, with the dispute settled and the mural fragments restored and conserved, Yad Vashem is finally putting them on display -- it presented them publicly last week.
The exhibition "Bruno Schulz: Wall Painting Under Coercion," includes fragments of three murals depicting dwarfs, princesses, horses and carriages, along with images evoking Schulz's struggles during the Holocaust. ...
The dispute was settled last year; Israel recognized the Schulz works as the property and cultural wealth of Ukraine, and the Drohobychyna Museum in Ukraine agreed to give them to Yad Vashem on long-term loan.
Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism Vladislav Kornienko took part in Friday's inauguration of the new display at Yad Vashem.
"The paintings have artistic, cultural, national and historic significance both to the Jewish people and the Ukrainian people," he said. "For almost 60 years these paintings were considered legend. Today, they are revealed to this generation and to generations to come."
Read Full Article
Friday, February 20, 2009
Menachem directed the wonderful documentaries "Hiding and Seeking" and "A World Apart".
He was involved with the conference of Poles who preserve Jewish heritage, held last year -- see my blog post on it.
A very useful illustrated Jewish travel guide to Warsaw is available from the Warsaw tourism office. You can get the illustrated brochure at tourist offices there or download a PDF of it by clicking HERE. (The link takes you to the English/Polish edition -- there is also an edition in Spanish and Italian.)
The brochure, which features a picture of the Nozyk synagogue on its cover, was edited by Jan Jagielski of the Jewish Historical Institute -- one of most knowledgeable experts on Warsaw's Jewish history and heritage sites. Jan's an old friend. He was a pioneer in the documentation of Jewish heritage in Poland, and back 1990 he co-wrote a more detailed guide to Jewish Warsaw that I used extensively in my own work and travels.
The new brochure, published last summer, includes photographs and descriptions of 28 sites around the city and also includes links for Jewish organizations and information on Jewish cultural events.
Brightly colored, it is one of a series of new brochures on various aspects of Warsaw, all using the same general format.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
People often ask me to recommend Jewish sites for them to see in various cities or recommend a Jewish guide to take them around.
Here's a link to a web site to a Jewish travel guide and service for Rome -- JewishRoma.
It is run by Micaela Pavoncello, a native of the Eternal City, whose Jewish community dates back more than 2,000 years and is the oldest one in Europe. Micaela introduces herself this way:
I was born in Rome from a Jewish Roman father (proud to be here since Cesar’s time!) and a Libyan Jewish Sephardic mother. I have lived in Rome my entire life (not including the year I spent in Argentina and another year in Israel). Traveling has given me the opportunity to meet other Jews, share my story with them, and compare my community with theirs and other communities. Throughout my time as a guide, while meeting people along my journey, I have come to realize how miraculous the existence of the Jewish Community of Rome really is.Rome's main Jewish sites include the historic ghetto area, with the imposing synagogue complex and Jewish museum, plus ancient Roman-era sites such as Jewish catacombs and the ruins of an ancient synagogue at Ostia Antica.
There is an active Jewish life in the city, with several synagogues, kosher restaurants and cafes, and various educational and cultural institutions. There are also frequent Jewish-themed exhibitions, concerts, theatrical performances and other events.
Friday, February 13, 2009
On his latest blog post, Bob Cohen delves (almost literally) into contemporary culinary heaven in today's Moldova - with pictures. Wending through the Ashkenazi heartland, to the heart, through the stomach (by way, perhaps, of clogged arteries). Hidden gardens of knish, he calls it.
Great reading, and I envy the eating!
PS Bob, as I've noted earlier, was in Moldova on The Other Europeans project... he includes some great video of Adam Stinga, Kalman Balogh and others jamming between meals.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Is bibliophilia a religious impulse? You can’t walk into Sotheby’s exhibition space in Manhattan right now and not sense the devotion or be swept up in its passions and particularities. The 2,400-square-foot opening gallery is lined with shelves — 10 high — reaching to the ceiling, not packed tight, but with occasional books open to view. Each shelf is labeled, not with a subject, but with a city or town of origin: Amsterdam, Paris, Leiden, Izmir, Bombay, Cochin, Cremona, Jerusalem, Ferrara, Calcutta, Mantua, Shanghai, Alexandria, Baghdad and on and on.
You can’t read these books or pluck them from the shelves. But you feel their presence as you explore, particularly in adjoining rooms where volumes are open inside cases for closer scrutiny.These 13,000 books and manuscripts were primarily collected by one man, Jack V. Lunzer, who was born in Antwerp in 1924, lives in London and made his fortune as a merchant of industrial diamonds. The collection’s geographical scale is matched by its temporal breadth, which extends over a millennium. But this endeavor is not just an exercise in bibliophilia. These are all books written in Hebrew or using Hebrew script, many of them rare or even unique. Most come from the earliest centuries of Hebrew printing in their places of origins and thus map out a history of the flourishing of Jewish communities around the world.
Read Full Article
In the 1930s, Shanghai was the only place in the world to offer visa-free sanctuary to Jews fleeing Nazism — 20,000 ended up in Shanghai. In 1943, the Japanese restricted them to a one-square-mile area, which became known as Little Vienna.
A pianist and a violinist used to play popular music for customers at the White Horse Inn, or Das Weisse Rossl. The waitresses wore dirndls — traditional Bavarian outfits — and the menu featured Wiener schnitzel.
But the White Horse wasn't in Austria or Germany, it was in wartime Shanghai. And for the city's wealthier Jewish refugees, it offered a memory of homes that no longer existed.
- - - -
The White Horse Inn is among a number of buildings inside the Jewish district to be knocked down to make way for a widened road.
As they start work, the demolition crews are uncovering layers of the past, like unwitting architectural archaeologists. By knocking down shop facades, old shop signs beneath are revealed, like one for Wuerstel Tenor, a sandwich shop, which had been covered for decades.
They will pull down other fading shop fronts at the heart of Little Vienna, as well — those of Cafe Atlantic and Horn's Imbiss-stube (Horn's Snack Bar).
Coincidentally, the award-winning mystery novelist SJ Rozan has just come out with a new book that is partly set in the Jewish refugee milieu of wartime Shanghai. It's called The Shanghai Moon and concerns a (fictional) legendary jewel from that era, believed lost and/or stolen....
Rozan is an old friend of mine, and this marks the first time she has used a Jewish theme in her mysteries -- most of which (like The Shanghai Moon) are a series featuring a Chinese-America detective, Lydia Chin, and her Anglo partner, Bill Smith.
You can read an excerpt from The Shanghai Moon by clicking HERE.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
The Jewish Museum in Berlin is preparing an exhibition on Food and Religion, and I've been asked to write an essay on Jewish-style restaurants in East-Central Europe for the catalogue (mainly the kitschy ones, but I'll have to add a couple of the real thing, I think). Coincidentally, I just received an email announcement of conference on "Culinary Judaism" to be held in England this summer:
Call for Papers: BRITISH ASSOCIATION FOR JEWISH STUDIES Conference
12-14 July 2009, Durham, UK:
THEME AND VENUE
The 2009 annual conference will take place at St Aidan's College,
Windmill Hill, Durham, 12-14 July 2009. The theme of the conference
will be `Culinary Judaism'. Speakers are invited to present papers
concerning all issues related to food and the use of food in Jewish
texts and cultures, addressing such issues as commensality, cooking,
creation of boundaries, identity, symbolism, sacrifice and material
cultural objects related to or symbolic of eating, etc. The term
`culinary' is interpreted broadly and as suggested extends to
sacrifice and other symbolic uses of food or food related objects. It
is hoped that this broad interpretation of the theme will encourage
members of BAJS from a wide range of research fields to participate.
Bob Cohen takes a far far less academic approach in the blog entry from his Moldavia trip he has just posted, describing in lush (luscious) detail the market foods he found there, many if not most of which form the gustatory core of Ashkenazi eating. You know, pickles, prunes, smoked fish....
Fish was everywhere - interesting given that Moldova is landlocked, but Odessa is only an hour away and as former CCCP appetites know, if you want to drink you need some zakuska to eat with your vodka, and that means some smoked fish. In many ways, if you are used to New York jewish foods, you won't be dissappointed in fressing in Moldova. Jewish culinary traditions have been deeply absorbed into Moldovan cuisine - supermarkets are packed at the arrival of hot, fresh baked challah on friday afternoons.
Monday, February 9, 2009
Read Full Article
by Eric HerschthalThere was plenty to talk about at this year’s Conference of American Jewish Museums. Days before the event began here Sunday, Brandeis’ trustees announced that they were selling off the jewels in its Rose Art Museum — works by Warhol, de Kooning and Hoffman — to cover the university’s deficits. No one at the conference had any clue how much the Madoff scandal would affect future fundraisers. And, of course, it was anyone’s guess how long or deep this recession might be.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
JTA reports that one of the buildings in Kiev where the great Yiddish writer Sholom Aleichem lived has been torn down by a real estate developer to make way for a hotel.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of Shalom Aleichem's birth (in the small town of Pereslayev), and in December, JTA reported that Ukraine had kicked off national celebrations marking the occasion with an exhibition in Kiev on the author, who evoked the shtetl in his writings and created characters such as the iconic Tevye the Milkman. As part of the celebrations, a Sholom Aleichem museum is due to be opened in Kiev, dedicated to his life and work and to Yiddish culture, architecture and folklore in general. Sholom Aleichem lived in Kiev from 1897 to 1905. A monument to him -- a statue of the author tipping his hat -- stands in central Kiev near the Brody synagogue.
A building in Kiev where the famed Yiddish writer, born Solomon Rabinovich on Feb. 18, 1859, lived in 1905 was destroyed over the weekend by the private company KievZhytloInvestManagement, despite instructions by city authorities to the company to suspend the demolition in order to clarify the case.
The site is being prepared for a new hotel for the Euro-2012 soccer tournament, according to reports.
“This is a disgraceful act to destroy that building,” said Ilya Levitas, a president of the Jewish Council of Ukraine, who addressed a petition to the deputy prime minister of Ukraine and Kiev authorities on Jan. 21, requesting that the city order a stop or suspension of the demolition.
“Activities of KievZhytloInvestManagement Company, that is an owner of the building, shocked the public this past weekend," Irina Zalyuzhenkova, an inspector for the Association for the Protection of Monuments of History and Culture, told JTA. "In spite of city authority instructions and a visit to the site, the company destroyed the building. They could find no other site.
. . . .
Mikhail Kalnitzky, a historian of Kiev, said Sholom Aleichem lived at 35 Bolshaya Vasylkivska St., apartment 1 in Kiev.
"The local authorities’ fault is that they didn’t put the building on the register list of state or municipal monuments of architecture," he said. "That is why the private company is destroying the building.”
Evgeny Chervonenko, a first deputy of the Kiev mayor and a prominent Jewish leader, told JTA that the Kiev authority will establish a committee to clarify the case properly.
Read Full Article
I included information on the Sholom Aleichem trail in the Kiev section of National Geographic Jewish Heritage Travel. I noted the address of this apartment as Bolshaya Vasylkivska st 5, not 35 -- and I said there was a plaque marking it. The sources I consulted said he lived there from 1897-1903. Sholom Aleichem also lived in Kiev at Saksagansky 27, where I also recall there being a plaque. He was at this address from 1903-1905.
Click HERE for an interesting blog post by Larry Kaufman I came across recently describing his experiences on Jewish and non-Jewish organized travel in Kiev.