Thursday, January 28, 2010

Belarus: Remaining Wooden Synagogue at Luban to be Designated Protected Site

Luban, Belarus. Surviving synagogue building.
Photo courtesy: Jewish Heritage Research Group in Belarus

Belarus: Remaining Wooden Synagogue at Luban to be Designated Protected Sites, ISJM Seeks Funds to Speed Up Belarus Synagogue Documentation
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) Last April and May, I reported on the unnecessary destruction of the wooden former synagogue in Luban (Lyubin), Belarus. At that time, there was also a second wooden building - now a music school - identified as a former synagogue. The destruction of one synagogue prompted research and appeals on behalf of the other, and now Yuri Dorn, Coordinator of Jewish Heritage Research Group in Belarus, reports that the surviving wooden synagogue in Luban will be included by the government preservation commission of historical and cultural heritage of Belarus on the list of objects under government protection.

At present, because of its use as music school, the building is not endangered. Many other synagogues in Belarus are, however, at risk. Some have been documented and even returned to the Jewish Community, but there are no funds for their restoration as Jewish synagogues or centers or their adaptive reuse. Many other former synagogue are hardly documented, and this is needed to preserve their history for the future, but also to better protect the buildings in the present. Archival documentations is needed, as well as the preparation of architectural plans and drawings. With proper documentation many of these buildings could be listed a protected sites and some might be developed as restoration and reuse projects.

ISJM in partnership with the Jewish Heritage Research Group in Belarus will support such documentation projects - provided funding. Contributions can be sent to ISJM - mark "Belarus" on the memo line. Our first funding goal the modest amount of $10,000 - but this will be sufficient to prepare substantial documentation on several sites.

For more information, contact me directly at

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Exhibition: Architecture of Murder: The Auschwitz-Birkenau Blueprints

Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev studies one of the plans in the exhibition together with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Photo: Courtesy of Yad Vashem

Exhibition: Architecture of Murder: The Auschwitz-Birkenau Blueprints at Yad Vashem

January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day - a Commemoration recently established by the United Nations to be celebrated on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In fact, when the Red Army arrived there was little to liberate. The German had moved west forcing a deadly evacuation of Jewish prisoners by forced march. Only the very sick and the dead remained to greet the advancing Russians (see the final entries in Primo Levi's famed memoir Se Questo e un Uomo (Survival in Auschwitz).

On Monday, January 25th, as part of a symposium for the diplomatic corps in Israel, a new exhibition, Architecture of Murder: The Auschwitz-Birkenau Blueprints will open at Yad Vashem. On display will be original architectural blueprints of Auschwitz-Birkenau, given to Yad Vashem for safekeeping last summer by the German newspaper Bild, For more on today's event click here.

For a video presentation about the architectural and engineering plans and drawings click here

According to the website of Yad Vashem:

“The original plans detailing the construction of Auschwitz, constitute graphic illustration of the Germans’ systematic effort to carry out the ‘Final Solution.’,” said Avner Shalev, Chairman of Yad Vashem. “We have chosen to display them to the public to illustrate how seemingly conventional activities of ordinary people brought about the construction of the largest murder site of European Jewry.”

Marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, the opening will take place as part of a special symposium in the presence of dozens of members of the diplomatic corps - representing some 80 countries - and Auschwitz survivors, and with the participation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Prime Minister, Minister of Education Gideon Saar, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Holocaust survivor Ruth Bondy, Prof. Shlomo Avineri, Prof. Moshe Halbertal, Bild Editor Kai Diekmann, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Director Dr. Piotr Cywinski, Historical Advisor to the exhibition Dr. Daniel Uziel, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council Rabbi Israel Meir Lau and Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev will address the participants.

The exhibition was curated by Director the Museums Division Yehudit Inbar. Along with the blueprints, the photo album of the construction of Auschwitz will be exhibited for the first time. In addition, an aerial photo of Auschwitz from the RAF, the Vrba-Wetzler Report (written by two Jewish escapees from Auschwitz in 1944), and quotes from SS men and Jewish prisoners describing the site and its murderous purposes. A copy of the poem “Death Fugue” by Paul Celan will also be displayed.

The exhibition is funded thanks to the generous support of the Greg Rosshandler and Harry Perelberg families, Australia.

A traveling version of the exhibition will open at the United Nations in New York in advance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The exhibition will open in the presence of Minister of Diaspora Affairs and Public Diplomacy Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev, Chairman of the American Society for Yad Vashem Eli Zbrowoski, and curator of the exhibition and Director of the Yad Vashem Museums Division Yehudit Inbar.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Poland: Wroclaw's White Stork Synagogue Restoration Complete, Re-Dedication Set for May

Photo: Gazeta Wroclawska newspaper. Click HERE

Poland: Wroclaw's White Stork Synagogue Restoration Complete, Re-Dedication Set for May

(ISJM) The long-awaited restoration of the interior of the historic White Stork Synagogue in Wroclaw has been completed. Gazeta Wroclawska newspaper reports that the synagogue is to be rededicated in May, with the interior furnishings will be installed in April. It's taken about 20 years to complete this project.

See pictures new here. See Ruth E. Gruber's pre- and post- restoration pictures here.

The facade restoration was completed in summer 2008. Read my past posts about the synagogue here:

Vandalism at Wroclaw Synagogue
Jun 19, 2009

In Wroclaw, swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans were painted on the buildings of the White Stork Synagogue, the facade of which has been recently been restored, and Jewish Information Center in Wroclaw. The case is being investigated by ...

Wroclaw's White Stork Synagogue Facade Restoration Complete

Jul 03, 2008

The on-gain, off-again restoration of the White Stork Synagogue in Wrocław , Poland (formely Breslau , Germany ) is nearing completion. The historic is the center of the local Jewish community. It was returned to the Jewish community in ...

Greece: Arrests Made in Hania Synagogue Arson

Greece: Arrests Made in Hania Synagogue Arson

The BBC reports that a Greek and two Britons have been arrested in connection with the two arson attacks on the Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Hania, Crete. The arrested men are waiters in local restaurants. Two Americans are also sought.

Read full story HERE

Greece: International Outrage Expressed About Hania Synagogue Arson

Greece: International Outrage Expressed About Hania Synagogue Arson

(ISJM) As word has spread following the second attack on the Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Hania, Crete (Greece) a number of organizations and governments are expressing concern and outrage over the attack and solidarity with the small Hania Community and the family of supporters of the Etz Hayyim Synagogue and its cultural center.

Here are few such statements. In the USA, ISJM continues to collect contributions for the repairs and resotration of the syangogue, its office and library. One hundred percent of all fund recevied will be transferred to Hania. Checks can be sent to:


118 Julian Place, Box 210

Syracuse, NY 13210

(write Hania in the memo line)

Statement from the United States Department of State

Mark C. Toner
Acting Deputy Department Spokesman
Washington, DC

January 20, 2010

We strongly condemn the January 5 and January 16 arson attacks on the Etz-Hayyim Synagogue in the city of Chania on the island of Crete. The Synagogue dates back to the Middle Ages and is one of the last Jewish monuments on the island. An attack on the Etz-Hayyim Synagogue is an attack on Greece's history and heritage. The second attack caused severe damage to the Synagogue, destroying nearly 2,000 books and severely damaging the building's wooden roof.

This attack was clearly intended to intimidate and terrorize Greece's Jewish community and is only the latest of several incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism throughout Greece over the past few years. We applaud the Greek government for condemning these attacks and taking a strong stand against anti-Semitism and racism.

Our Embassy in Athens is in contact with the Synagogue. Embassy officials will be meeting with their Greek counterparts to underscore U.S. concern over this incident.

Statement of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA)

WASHINGTON – Nicholas A. Karacostas, supreme president of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), a leading association for the nation’s three million American citizens of Greek heritage, and countless Philhellenes, issued the following statement regarding the continued anti-Semitic attacks upon the historic Etz-Hayyim Synagogue located in Hania, Crete:

“We strongly condemn the anti-Semitic attacks that have been carried out on the Etz-Hayyim Synagogue in Hania. This is the second arson attack in two weeks that has left the synagogue’s infrastructure devastated and approximately 2,500 rare books and other archival items destroyed by fire.

“These anti-Semitic attacks upon the Jewish community in Greece are simply unacceptable. We appeal to the people of Hania, and all Greek citizens, to come together to defy these acts of hatred, intolerance, and bigotry; and to help the healing process begin.

“We call for the swift apprehension of the perpetrators of these heinous attacks so that they may be brought to justice.”

AHEPA is the largest Greek-American association in the world with chapters in the United States, Canada, Greece, Cyprus, and sister chapters in Australia and New Zealand. It was established in 1922 by visionary Greek Americans to protect Hellenes from prejudice originating from the KKK, and in its history, AHEPA joined with the NAACP and B’nai B’rith International to fight discrimination.

The mission of the AHEPA family is to promote the ancient Greek ideals of education, philanthropy, civic responsibility and family and individual excellence through community service and volunteerism.

Statement from the American Jewish Committee

January 17, 2009 -- New York -- AJC is outraged by this morning’s arson attack that severely damaged Etz Hayim, the only synagogue on the Greek island of Crete. It was the second arson attack on the historic building in ten days.

“Our hearts go out to the Greek Jewish community,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “To target such a house of worship not once, but twice, within days of each other requires a swift public response from all in Greece who believe in the principles of religious freedom and mutual respect.”

Today’s blaze severely damaged or destroyed Jewish ritual objects and religious books, as well as the synagogue’s roof. The earlier arson attack, on January 5, destroyed the synagogue’s library.

Nearly 90 percent of Greek Jewry was murdered by the Nazis in World War II. Greece’s Jewish population today is only 5,000. After the Nazis destroyed the Crete Jewish community in 1944, Etz Hayyim stood empty and neglected for decades. A restoration project commenced in 1996, and the synagogue was rededicated in 1999.

“We count on Greek Prime Minister Papandreou and his government to do everything possible to apprehend the arsonists and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law,” said Harris. “The protection of all Jewish institutions in Greece must become a still higher priority in light of recent events. That attackers could strike the same target twice in ten days reveals the shortcomings of the security in place.”

AJC and the Greek Jewish community have had an association agreement for many years.

Egypt: Restoration Continues at Cairo's Rambam Synagogue

Egypt: Restoration Continues at Cairo's Rambam Synagogue

(ISJM) The Blog Point of No Return posts information about the restoration of the Maimonides (Rambam) Synagogue in Cairo, begun in summer of 2008, with completion planned for March 2010. The complex is one of nine synagogues in Egypt listed as historical heritage sites protected by the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities. The current extensive restoration program is a joint project of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and the Jewish Community of Cairo. This is the first major restoration of Jewish site in Egypt since the much-heralded restoration Cairo's Ben Ezra Synagogue in the 1980s and early 1990s, a project put in motion during the euphoria following the Camp David Accords.

Judging from the video of the project posted last summer on YouTube, a March completion date may still be overly ambitious - or it may mean cutting corners in order to make it happen. In case, there is progress. The Synagogue is actually a 19th century construction that replaces older buildings, but is adjacent to . an historic and venerated yeshiva associated with Maimonides. - which itself has had a recent history of disasters - recurring flooding from underground water and 1992 earthquake damage. The Yeshiva rooms have niches where, until recently, sick Jews, Muslim and Christians would spend the night praying for their recovery, or for women especially, fertility.

The ongoing restoration is intended to return the yeshiva and synagogue compound to its original (whatever that means) splendor .

I've had no inside information about this project, nor have I ever worked in Egypt, so I cannot comment about the scope or quality of the work, but I encourage those in the know to forward information.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Exhibition: Chagall Illustrations for Gogol's Dead Souls at Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Marc Chagall, Illustrations for Gogol's Dead Souls. Photos: Courtesy of Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Exhibition: Chagall Illustrations for Gogol's Dead Souls at Tel Aviv Museum of Art (ISJM) Art Knowledge News reports on a current exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art of etchings by Marc Chagall illustrating Gogol's Dead Souls. The collections was given by Chagall to the Museum when he visited Tel Aviv during his visit to Tel Aviv in the 1931, where he had been invited by Mayor Meir Dizengoff, who had met Chagall in Paris the previous year. Chagall had joined the Paris Committee to promote the new art museum in Tel Aviv which opened the following year. At the time Tel Aviv was a quickly growing city establishing itself through art and architecture as a world capital of modern art and design.

Marc Chagall's Illustrations for Gogol's "Dead Souls" at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art

At the center of Gogol's "Human Comedy" Dead Souls is the character of Chichikov, a charming, shrewd scoundrel, who buys from landowners dead serfs whose names have not yet been taken off the official census, that is, the "dead souls" that must be disposed of in order to avoid paying serf tax for them. Chichikov intends to present these souls as living persons, "deposit" them as collateral against a bank loan, settle in a far province and establish himself as a respectable country gentleman. Through Chichikov's journey the reader is exposed to Russia's people and social classes: the lazy, greedy landowners; the power-hungry, honor-craving bureaucrats; the destitute serfs who are nothing but their masters' chattel – in life as well as after death. They are all described by Gogol – and illustrated by Chagall – with exaggeration, as a larger-than-life yet compassionate grotesquerie.

Gogol wrote Dead Souls, a penetrating yet affectionate novel, in 1842 while far from Russia, in Rome, and that Chagall, too, made his witty prints when he was far from Russia, in Paris. The satirical prints are characterized by an acerbity that at times verges on cruelty, and are reminiscent of the work of expressionist artist Georg Grosz, whom Chagall had known in Berlin. Distorted, diagonal scenes and a top angle view evoke a sense of movement and instability. This arrangement of form and space, so typical of Chagall, appears in this series for the first time.

From 18 January 2010 Grotesque, exaggerated figures that are more than slightly critical of 19th century Russian society, with its characteristic corruption and bureaucracy.

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel's main art museum, first opened to the public in 1932 in the home of Tel Aviv's first mayor, Meir Dizengoff. The Museum quickly became the cultural center of the Tel Aviv, presenting local and foreign artists.
Visit :

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Greece: Arson Again in Hania Causes Further Destruction at Historic Synagogue!

Greece: Arson Again in Hania Causes Further Destruction at Historic Synagogue!
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) They have struck again! On Friday night, just a few hours after the conclusion of Shabbat services, and ten days after arsonists burned part of the historic Etz Hayyim synagogue in Hania, Crete, they again succeeded in setting fire to the (mostly stone) building, and causing more - and serious - damage to the sanctuary, to the archives and the Director's office.
Dr. Nikos Stavroulakis has written about the new fire on the synagogue blog, and photos of the damage have been posted here.

The new destruction comes as a blow to the Hania congregation and its many friends in Greece and throughout the world. In Hania, there had been progress in cleaning up the mess of the January 5th fire, and assessing damages and costs for repairs and replacement. In the last few day ISJM had received over $5,000 in contributions from thirty contributors. now the work is even greater - but so is the resolve to succeed.

A few cowardly neo-Nazi bullies and thugs cannot have their way. They cannot destroy a beautiful project, building and community that it has taken twenty years to rebuild.

I encourage all my readers to keep contributing. Donations for repairs can be sent to:

International Survey of Jewish Monuments (ISJM)
118 Julian Place, Box 210

Syracuse, NY 13210

(write Hania in the memo line)

ISJM is 501 (c) 3 charitable organization and contributions are tax-deductible according to law.

I also urge you to write to your country's embassies in Greece urging them to pressure authorities to fully investigate and prosecute this crime, and to write to the Greek embassies in your own countries about the same. I will shortly post contacts and addresses to make this easier.

Here is Nikos' report of Friday night's fire:

On the night of Friday, January 15, after more than a week of work on the sanctuary – newly scraped, primed and re-painted; the wood-work oiled with lavender and the marble floor polished – we met for Erev Shabbat prayers and Kiddush. Later we locked the synagogue and returned to our homes feeling that we had set our steps forward. Saturday morning at 3:30 AM however the Synagogue’s director was wakened by the alarm that had been set off in the Synagogue and rushed there accompanied by two helpers to find the entire main office ablaze. They began putting out the fire with the garden hose as the firemen had not yet succeeded in getting their hoses connected. When the mains were finally connected the firemen set to work – by 4:45 the fire was only smoldering and all that remained of the upper and lower office was completely gutted. Also about a third of the wooden ceiling of the Synagogue itself was burnt, the benches covered in soot and broken wood, the floor a mess – but the EHAL was not touched!

Everything in the main office – e.g. two computers, complete Talmud, Midraschim, 2 sets of Rashi lexicons (Aramaic, Greek and Hebrew) plus many reference books and the entire archive of the Synagogue have all been destroyed.
By noon the Siphrei Torah along with all of the silver ornaments (rimonim, tassim, yads etc.) and a precious early 17th century illuminated Qur’an were removed to a secure location. It was a sad moment to see them being taken away from the Kal as it was a joyous moment when they had been installed in 1999. But we are determined that they will come back!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Exhibition: Newly Acquired Chagall Apocalypse Painting on View in London

Marc Chagall, Apocalypse in Lilac: Capriccio (1945)

Exhibition: Newly Acquired Chagall Apocalypse Painting on View in London
by Samuel D. Gruber
Many of you have probably already read that the Ben Uri Gallery: London Jewish Museum of Art has acquired an important work by Marc Chagall – one of a series of depictions of Crucified Jewish Jesus – an image he favored in the late 1930s and early 1940s as he watched German Nazis and German, Lithuanian, Latvian, Polish, Bylorussian and Ukrainian Christians participate – actively or as passive bystanders – in the murder of millions of Jews. The painting was acquired through the sharp and adroit acquisition policy of my friend David Glasser, Chairman of the Museum, which was founded in 2001 and has since then built an impressive collection and staged important exhibitions – though the institution is still looking for a permanent home.  

The painting is on view until January 31st at Osborne Samuel, 23 Bruton Street, London W1 (Opening hours: Monday – Friday, 10am-6pm, Saturday 10am-2pm, Sunday, 12-4pm). The new acquisition is a gouache (a heavy dense watercolor) made by Chagall in 1945, who kept it his private collection. It was first sold in 1985, two years after the painter’s death. It is titled in pencil in Russian, “Apocalypse in Lilac, Capriccio." You can read more about the acquisition in an article from the New York Times. 

Despite the title’s use of the term Capriccio, the work is remarkable for its depiction of anger – much more pronounced here than in Chagall’s earlier crucifixion works which are more infused with helpless pathos than any other emotion. Here Jesus is identified as Jewish not only because he wears a tallit (prayer shawl) but also, as in Yellow Crucifixion of 1943, with tefillin (phylacteries). In the Yellow Crucifixion, which is linked to the sinking of the Struma, this Jewish Jesus is paired with an image of the Torah scroll.

In the “Apocalypse in Lilac, Capriccio” Jesus’s facial expression is similar to that of the Jewish Jesus in the large painting Resurrection, which Chagall began in 1937, but continued to work on through 1947. In 1944, the year before the gouache, Chagall painted The Crucified, but in that work there is no Jesus, only village Jews who have been nailed to crosses placed along a shtetl street. This is a variation on Chagall’s 1941 painting The Martyr, set in a very similar scene. Here, however, in the foreground is a Jesus-like figure, not crucified, but bound to an upright post. He is a young man, wearing a tallit-like covering, with tefillin-like strips on his arms, and the cap of Jewish worker. At his feet is a grieving woman, presumably a conflation of a Jewish mother of the shtetl, the traditional grieving Mary at the cross, and a more general allegorical representation of grief. The 1944 painting is a reaction to the news, known at this time, of the “liquidation” of the Ghettos, the suppression of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and the destruction of Jewish Vitebsk – Chagall's home town, which he had depicted so lovingly in previous decade.

The theme of Jewish Jesus in Chagall’s art and in the work of other artists since the 19th century has been explored by several art and cultural historians. The best and most thorough treatments are by Ziva Amishai-Maisels in her classic work Depiction and Interpretation: The Influence of the Holocaust on the Visual Arts, especially Part II, chapter 3, “ The Crucified Jew,” pp 178 197. The topic is further explored in Amishai-Maisels article “The Jewish Jesus” in Journal of Jewish Art 9 (1982): 84–104. Prof. Amishai-Maisels has advised the Ben-Uri on the current exhibition.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sniatyn, Ukraine. (top) Garbage piled in front of Jewish cemetery prior to cleaning and (bottom) cemetery after cleaning: Photo: courtesy Sofia Dyak (July, 2009)

Sniatyn, Ukraine. Local courtyard paved with Jewish matzevot. Photo: courtesy Sofia Dyak (2009)

Ukraine: Sniatyn Jewish Cemetery Cleaned and Subject of Local Exhibition
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) Last summer the Center for Urban History in East Central Europe in Lviv organized a student project called "Sniatyn- Archeology of Memory: Discovering and Reviving the Historical Heritage of Galician Town." The project was created within the framework of the program "Memoria", initiated by the foundation "Memory, Responsibility and Future" together with the Stefan Batory Foundation. The southern Galician town of Sniatyn was chosen for the project as an example of a border city. It is located near Bukovina (now Ukraine, Moldova and Romania), an area of rich multi-cultural history, where Ottoman, Austiran and Polish-Ukrainian cultures intermingled. According to researchers from the Center, “statistics from the first half of the 20th century suggest that close to two fifths of the population was formed by Ukrainians (Ruthenians), more than a third were Jews, and one fifth was made up of Poles. Other than these three main groups, there was also a small number of Germans, Armenians and Czechs.” Bukovina was also home to an especially fine tradition of Jewish cemetery art, which can still be seen at many extant sites, but is also remembered in photographs of now-lost carved matzevot (gravestones).

Thanks to project coordinator Sofia Dyak, I am posting photographs from the camp – which was organized as a two-week as a history and conservation seminar, illustrating some of the work done. (It I now snowing out my window, so I savor these summer photos – and hope that the organizers will sponsor similar events and opportunities in 2010).

Sniatyn, Ukraine. Jewish cemetery, cleaned matzevah, presumably - because of the pitcher - of a Levite.
Photo: courtesy of Sofia Dyak (2009)

According to Dyak, “the goal of the project was to return the attention of the inhabitants of Sniatyn to the multi-national and multi-religious heritage of their city with the help of the two week program of a volunteer camp made up of youth from Ukraine, Poland and Germany” Most of the 19 participants were students from the Institute of Architecture in Lviv. The group studied and worked on conservation projects on the adjacent Jewish and Christian cemeteries and learned more about the heritage of the region, but also the contemporary life of Sniatyn. The Christian cemetery is still in use, but since the destruction of the local Jewish community in the Holocaust, the Jewish cemetery was abandoned and neglected; many gravestones had been robbed, and those still in situ were endangered by spreading tree root and excess vegetation.

Students cleaned the cemeteries and also discovered Jewish gravestones paving a courtyard. During and after the Second World War Jewish gravestones were frequently used for paving (see for examples, the polychrome matzevot recently discovered in Radom, Poland. Other examples are known from Kazimierz Dolny, where they were retrieved and erected into a monument, and from Kremenets, Ukraine).

Sniatyn, Ukraine. Conservation of matzevah at Jewish cemetery. Photo: courtesy Sofia Dyak (2009)

The project also arranged for translation of about 80 inscriptions from the Jewish cemetery. This inscriptions, as well as study of symbolic imagery used on the stones was of great interest to the students, and was also used as tool to engage wider local interest in the history and care of the site.

Sniatyn, Ukraine. Exhibition on main square, culminating project. Photo: courtesy Sofia Dyak (2009)

The two-session culminated in the presentation of an outdoor exhibition on the main city square displaying the results of volunteers’ work to engage and inform the local inhabitants. Dr. Khrystyna Boyko (National University "Lviv Polytechnic") was the academic leader of the project.

For more information click here.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Caribbean: Upcoming Conference "The Jewish Diaspora in the Caribbean"

Two view of the Old Jewish Cemetery at Sosua, Dominican Republic
(photos: Stuart Klipper (1990), ISJM files)

The Caribbean: Upcoming Conference "The Jewish Diaspora in the Caribbean" Points Out Need for More Documentation and Study, as Well as Preservation Planning, for Area Jewish Sites
by Samuel D. Gruber

Next week is the international conference The Jewish Diaspora of the Caribbean, to be held at Kingston’s Pegasus Hotel January 12-14 2010 to explore the history, culture, and identity of Caribbean Jewry. The conference is co-chaired by Jane S. Gerber (Professor of Jewish History, The Graduate Center, CUNY) and Ainsley Henriques (Director, the United Congregation of Israelites, Kingston). Please contact either the conference coordinator, Stan Mirvis, or Ainsley Henriques, for further information. The full schedule is posted at

ISJM is a co-sponsor of the conference, and ISJM Vice-President architect Rachel Frankel, will speak on “Remnant Stones: The Significance of New World Portuguese Jewish Diaspora Cemeteries.” Rachel is co-author with Aviva Ben-Ur of the recently published book Remnant Stones, a result of a multi-year documentation project in Suriname of which ISJM has been a sponsor.

There has been a Jewish presence in the Caribbean region for more than 500 years, since the first voyages of discovery by European explorers. Despite long oppression by the Spanish government and Catholic Church, there have been Jewish communities established in territories colonized by the Dutch and English since Dutch Jews settled in Brazil in the 1620s and following (until their expulsion by the Portuguese in 1654). Jewish colonization on Dutch and then English islands took place in the 1620s through the 1650s, and these communities have continued for the most part until today. Formal Jewish communities have existed in many independent former Spanish dominions since the 19th century.

Throughout the region, including settlement on islands and the South American littoral, there have been or are now scores of Jewish heritage sites, including communal and religious properties and urban areas of settlements and private plantations. Sites include cemeteries, synagogues, mikvot, schools, and commercial and domestic structures. The synagogue and adjacent mikveh on the island of Sint Eustatius has been excavated, and recent investigations have revealed a possible synagogue on the island of Nevis, and there may have been one on St. Martin was well.

Despite my initial hopes for the conference, however, there are too few presentations about historic sites or material culture. This unfortunately reflects a continuing dearth of good information about the architectural and urban contribution of Jews in the Caribbean region, and also about the location and condition of existing remains of synagogue and former Jewish Settlements, plantations, neighborhoods; former synagogues and mikva'ot; commercial enterprises; and cemeteries. Some major synagogue and cemeteries a - like those of Curacao - are studied and well known. But many others remain the subject or little more than the occasional tourist promotion description, and repetition of legendary history. For the most part, and compared to other parts of the world, Caribbean Jewish heritage has been overlooked by architectural and art historians.

Willemstad, Curacao. Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue. Photos: Samuel Gruber,(2007)

This is a great loss, since the Caribbean Jewish culture was dynamic and prosperous, and not - as is often implied - merely derivative of ideas and customs of Jewish centers in Amsterdam and London and few other places. The lack of documentation of specific places, too, puts many of these sites at continued risk - of encroaching development, vandalism, and deterioration due to natural and man made environmental problems (almost total deterioration of the marble gravestones at Curacao due to the acidic pollution of the nearby oil refinery is well documented).

Willemstad, Curacao. Beth Haim Jewish cemetery, with refinery in background)
Photo:Samuel D. Gruber (2007)

ISJM has prepared a proposal to organize a comprehensive survey of Jewish sites in the Caribbean. The project would combine volunteer community-building efforts with professional organization, oversight, description and analysis. Rachel and I would direct the survey. I have extensive experience with this kind of countrywide survey, and she has many years of experience visting and documenting Jewish sites in Suriname and Jamaica. We have compiled an impressive list of local experts - many of them already colleagues- to be engaged for specific part of the project.
Here is a summary of the project phases. ISJM will begin to seek funding support in the weeks following the conference.

PHASE I: Inventory, Survey, Documentation

In the first phase of the project ISJM will partner with local religious, historic and preservation organizations to compile a complete list of all sites in the region in the following categories:
  • Sites founded by Jews or for Jews specifically for Jewish religious and ritual activity, including synagogues, mikvot (ritual baths), and cemeteries;
  • Sites founded by Jews or for Jews for Jewish cultural or communal activity, including schools, community centers, hospitals, oldage homes, etc;
  • Sites of considerable significance to the Jewish history of the region, including areas of primary and predominant Jewish settlement, and selected specific residential and commercial founded, owned and used by Jews and particularly noted for some significant activity of Jews.

All sites will be identified as to location (by map and GPS), current ownership and use, and general condition. Using available historic research the historical, architectural or other significance of each site will be briefly described. Whenever possible, new documentary photography will be carried out on site.

PHASE II: Planning

In the second phase of the project, all sites will be reviewed and evaluated a diverse committee of experts to evaluate the collective significance of sites and the significance of individual sites. From this process will develop a regional feasibility study for future development of region-based historic preservation, heritage tourism and Jewish and secular educational programs.

PHASE III: Conservation, Education, Presentation

The third phase is a long term effort to implement a range of protective and conservation measures, and to develop integrated education, commemorative and tourism programs and policies.

To support or participate in this survey please contact me directly. More information will be available later in 2010.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Greece: Arson at Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Hania Destroys Library and More

Greece: Arson at Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Hania Destroys Library and More: ISJM will Receive Contributions in USA

With shock and sadness I forward this report received from my friend Nikos Stavroulakis of a destructive fire two nights ago at the restored and much-loved Etz Hayyim synagogue in Hania, Crete. The fire severely damaged the recently restored ezrat nashim (former women's section) of the historic synagogue, and entirely destroyed the library and computer stations. Additional damage from soot and water to the rest of the structure and furnishing can be repaired, but at a considerable cost.

Here is Dr. Stavroulakis's report in full (also posted on the Etz Hayyim blog with more photos):

At approximately 12:20-1:00 AM on the night of the 5th January, a serious attack was made on the fabric of the Synagogue. One or two or even more individuals made their way into the south garden of the synagogue by climbing over the iron gate. Subsequent to this they set about making an improvised incendiary device by tearing open a large Ottoman cushion in the mikveh and then with the contents stuffed a canister that was filled with some flammable liquid which was then set afire under the wooden stair of the ezrat nashim. (The upper floor of the women’s section (ezrat nashim) serves as the office of the director as well as a library and reading room and contains valuable books in various languages on Ottoman, Byzantine and Jewish art and architecture as well as resource books on European and Near Eastern History from pre-historic times as well as a large section on Cretan history. A computer and CD player with over 150 CDs of Sephardic liturgical and secular music were also kept in the office.)

Within probably minutes the assailants had taken off and the fire produced smoke that poured into the synagogue proper and then out into the street through the oculus in the facade of the synagogue.

Yannis Pietra, an Albanian emigrant living not far from the Synagogue, smelled the smoke and looking into the street saw it belching out of the facade and called the police, fire-station and then set off to find the director who arrived not long after along with Besnik Seitas the handyman of the Synagogue. At roughly the same time a young Moroccan, Nasr Alassoud, also traced the smoke that was coming down the street to the harbor. He proved to be a much needed hand by the director. By 1:45 AM the fire brigade had extinguished the fire and the police had begun their work. But the residual damage was only going to be apparent the next day.

Anja Zuckmantel-Papadakis, our librarian and her husband arrived not long after the fire was extinguished. What was quite notable was the lack of ‘locals’ despite the quite incredible noise of the synagogue alarm system and sirens from the two fire engines screeching through the neighborhood. What was even more disturbing and an obvious sign of a lack of civic responsibility was the apparent lack of sensitivity to the fact that had the synagogue been engulfed in flames at least half of the old city of Hania would have gone up in flames as the narrow streets and inaccessible quarters would have prevented access by the fire brigades. By 7:00 AM a deposition was made by the director with the police and the somewhatience of assessing the damage done was carried out. Members or the Synagogue fraternity: Paola Nikotera, Konstantine Fischer, Sam Cohen and David Webber were on hand to examine what had taken place – to books, structure as well as to assist the police in establishing evidence part of which was a bar of soap that had been thrown against the outer wall. (A common anti-semitic quip in Greek runs…’I'll make you into a bar of soap!’) As the mains of the Synagogue had been disconnected in the course of extinguishing the fire, we were informed that it would perhaps take up to a week to have them reconnected. The prospect was met when Mr Giorgos Archontakis, an engineer, offered to help us with this. As we were dealing with this, Angeliki Psaraki our photographer arrived to take pictures of the damage and later with Mr Archontakis. These two were successful in submitting the necessary papers to the Electric Company and by 5:00 PM we had electricity again which considerably raised morale though the damage by now was even more apparent.

The Siphrei Torah were fortunately well protected in their Ehal but the walls of the interior of the sanctuary as the wooden ceiling have been streaked and covered by water laden soot as well. Much of the naked stone on the interior has been badly stained and by early evening we set in motion plans for the cleaning of the walls and even ordered the scaffolding. By late evening our carpenter, Mr Manthos Kakavelakis had taken measurement for the new stair as the old one was completely gutted in the fire and we had discussed the creation of a solid stone wall to protect the new library entrance. This structure will be articulated so as to include the entrance to the mikveh. All of the carpets of the synagogue (some 30 odd and most of them antique Turkish) had been covered with soot and messed about by the fire-fighters and police. These have been packed up in readiness for cleaning.

On the 6th January, a day after the fire we assembled together to recite Shaharith prayers at 9:00 as is our custom.

The atmosphere was understandably sombre but the director – Mr Stavroulakis – tried to divert some of the understandable anger by looking over what had happened over the past 24 hours or so. We must be angry over what has happened to our synagogue. If we were not it would be an indication that we were either indifferent or morally numb. But exactly against what is our anger directed? The urban context in which Etz Hayyim figures at this moment must be considered carefully and any indifference on the part of the citizens to the material fabric of this city and its collective ‘psyche’ is tantamount to abetting to a degree the desecration of monuments, of homes and sites of common meeting. What we must be angry about is the ignorance that determines racism, discrimination or badly examined lives.

We have tried at Etz Hayyim to be a small presence in the midst of what is at times almost aggressive ignorance. We have done this to such a degree that our doors are open from early in the morning until late in the day so that the Synagogue assumes its role as a place of prayer, recollection and reconciliation. In many ways we have been successful through this quiet presence – perhaps our ‘silent presence’ wears not too well on some and is even a source of annoyance to others. Often I have pointed out that we are perhaps the only synagogue of significance in Greece, possibly Europe, where there is little if any overt sign of protective security. Hand-bags are not checked, ID cards and passports are not examined, and one is not obliged to sign in. This character of the Synagogue must not change and the doors must remain open – or we have given in to the ignorance that has perpetrated this desecration. Our awareness of what ignorance can do to us will certainly determine how certain repairs are to be made – but at the same time we must be cautious about allowing ignorance to affect or determine the nature of our presence. We will have a heavy burden of funding the necessary renovations and we hope that you as either old friends or new ones will assist us.

Any donations will be deeply appreciated and, of course, welcome.


Account name: Friends of Etz Hayyim

Account # 776-002101-087154

IBAN: GR74 0140 6600 7760 0210 1087 154

Nicholas Hannan-Stavroulakis / Director Etz Hayyim Synagogue/ Hania

In the USA, tax-deductible charitable contribution will also be received by the International Survey of Jewish Monuments (ISJM). Checks can be sent to ISJM, P.O. Box 210, 118 Julian Place, Syracuse, NY 13210. Write "Hania" on the memo line. 100% of all funds will be transferred for use by Etz Hayyim

Poland: Still Urgency in Preservation of Jewish Sites

Poland: Still Urgency in Preservation of Jewish Sites

by Samuel D. Gruber

A recent article in the Jerusalem Post emphasizes the continuing need for resources (money!) and action to protect and preserve the Jewish heritage sites of Poland. Much has been done in the past 20 years...but the task has always been enormous and the support slow and small.

I've written frequently about the work of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (FODZ) and its important role of stewardship of abandoned and neglected Jewish historic properties- especially cemeteries and former synagogues - throughout Poland. These are the place the no active Jewish communities - or anyone else - choose to use or care for. The costs in money, labor, materials and education to protect, maintain, preserve and properly present this sites is tremendous, and the real cash resources of the Foundation are extremely limited. General funds are needed for the upkeep of hundreds of cemeteries, and targeted donations can also be used for specific repair, restoration and education projects underway or in the planning stage.

The need for this work is not new. I recently came across this passage from 1947 from artist Louis Lozowick:

"A short time ago I heard a traveller, recently returned from Poland, tell the now familiar tale of Nazi depredation, violence and inhumanity. One thing caught my ear especially. 'From time to time,' he said, 'climbing over the rubble piled high where a house of worship used to be, you discover a piece of wood carving, from the Aron perhaps, a twisted metal candlestick, a painted slab. I read of so many millions and tens of millions of dollars spent on charity here and abroad - couldn't some pennies be spared to salvage the few remaining relics of a rich cultural heritage , while there is still time?"

[Louis Lozowick, "Synagogue Art: Review of Jewish Art in European Synagogues by George Loukomski' Menorah Journal (Autumn 1948), pp. 380-384. cited in Mark Godfrey, Abstraction and the Holocaust (New Haven, Yale Univ. Press, 2007), p 94].

Many of appeals I wrote in the early 1990s while Director of the Jewish Heritage Council of the World Monuments Fund have similar urgency.

Even before the Holocaust many historic Jewish sites were rundown. Forgotten by many is the fact that some Jewish sites received government support for repairs since they were recognized as national historic monuments. But after the general destruction of war and the targeted destruction as part of the genocide of the Holocaust, came decades of neglect under Communism. As I have written elsewhere, only in the 1980s did this begin to change - for a very few sites (such as the former synagogue in Tykocin, Staary Synagogue in Krakow, and the Nosyk Synagogue in Warsaw). Gradually through the 1990s the pace of care for Jewish sites accelerated due to private and public initiatives. Still, the amount of work to do is immense, and the total resources applied are minuscule compared to other national and international initiatives for cultural projects (and I won't even try to compare the costs against the price of single tomahawk or cruise missile, or a fighter plane or an unmanned drone).

In recent years with the slow, often erratic but continuing process of communal property restitution - responsibility for a great many sites has shifted to the Jewish Communities in Poland and to the FODZ, but financial support remains elusive. Some have pointed out restitution of many properties has allowed Polish authorities to unburden themselves of near-useless properties - and the responsibility (mostly avoided) - for their care. Some Jewish administrators while recognizing a moral need to protect these sites have hesitated to receive them, knowing the resources for their care are lacking- which can (and has) allowed in some cases a shift of blame for neglect from Poles to Jews. In truth, care for these properties is a collective problem and a collective responsibility of Poles and Jews, and of the international community.

Last month it was announced that Germany has contributed €60 million to the Perpetual Fund of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation - about half the amount said to be needed to implement the entire master conservation plan for the extensive concentration and death camp site. No total of funds spent to conserve and restore other Jewish sites in Poland exists, but I would estimate that the total spent in 20 years on care for some 1500 cemeteries and former synagogues probably does not exceed half the amount of the recent Auschwitz contribution, and perhaps much less. This includes the major restoration projects of the synagogues of Wroclaw, Warsaw, Lodz and Krakow, as well as ongoing work at Zamosc, Lancut and elsewhere. Most modest Polish cemetery interventions still run between 10,000 and 50,000 euro. Building complete walls around cemeteries can cost much more - and therefore is rarely done. No similar fund for Jewish cemeteries has even been created - despite many efforts over the years. The current work of FODZ is the closest that has been achieved.

I do support continued international support for the preservation of Auschwitz and other death camp and Holocaust-related sites – and I praise the conservation initiative – one begun twenty years ago. I continue to believe, however, that similar efforts must be made to protect and find new and appropriate use for the remaining physical traces of the Jewish cultural and religious life and achievement that was destroyed. Auschwitz, Majdanek, Treblinka, Belzec and other camps are cemeteries and memorials. Their protection honors the dead, and continues to remind us of their suffering as victims of Nazi culture of intolerance, cruelty, destruction and death. But the care and preservation of older cemeteries, synagogues and other Jewish sites remembers the culture of Jews – not Nazism. Preservation (and explanation) honors the dead, but also recognizes generations of Jewish culture and community of faith, leaning, creativity and community.

For more information about how to help fund Jewish heritage projects in Poland, please contact me directly at

Monday, January 4, 2010

Ruth Ellen Gruber Looks at Contemporary Jewish Cafe Culture in Krakow and Budapest

Ruth Ellen Gruber Looks at Contemporary Jewish Cafe Culture in Krakow and Budapest

by Samuel D. Gruber

In my line of work I hear many of the same remarks over and over. Two common ones are "Jewish culture (or Yiddishkeit) isn't just about synagogues and cemeteries," and "Why care about old monuments where there is no Jewish life." There are many variants on these remarks - and depending on the place, time and my mood (optimistic or frustrated) my replies vary a lot.

My sister and colleague Ruth Ellen Gruber spends much more time in Central and Eastern Europe than I do (she lives part-time in Budapest), so she gets asked these questions more frequently. In several of her articles in recent months she's given some sense of what she sees in non-synagogue/cemetery contemporary Jewish life in two of the liveliest of the region's Jewish cultural centers. These articles are view from the cafes (which for many European Jews are still considered quintessential Jewish institutions) of Krakow and Budapest.

Though the articles are not about the presence, protection or preservation of Jewish monuments per se, it is clear that the presence of the tangible pieces of past Jewish culture - religious and secular - are essential components for defining contemporary Jewish identity and ensuring new developments and creativity in contemporary Jewish life by Jews - and appreciation for Jewish culture by people of other religions and faiths and of non-believers. The physical remains create something recognizable as a Jewish space, and the lives led there are free to develop (or not) some version, new or nostalgic) or Jewish culture.

One cannot predict the cultural results of any effort to save of piece of the past. But one can - with some certainty - predict that some things will not develop - if no effort to remember and preserve the past - including its physical remnants - are made. The preservationists active in the 1990s in Krakow's Kazimierz and Budapest's Seventh District created hte canvas upon which new Jewish activities and interactions now take place.

Ruth's most recently article is from Krakow in Moment Magazine (Jan/Feb 2010):

Scenes from a Krakow Cafe

"It's a sunny morning in early July, and I'm having breakfast at an outdoor cafe table in Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter of Krakow. I have been sitting at cafes in and around Szeroka Street, the main square of Kazimierz, for nearly 20 years, watching the paradoxical Jewish components of post-communist Poland unfold, and Kazimierz itself evolve from a deserted district of decrepit buildings—some with grooves on their doorposts from missing mezuzahs—into one of Europe's premier Jewish tourist attractions, a fashionable boom town of Jewish-style cafes, trendy pubs, kitschy souvenirs and nostalgic shtetl chic...."

click here to read full story

In December, Ruth had stories in the International Herald Tribune and online New York Times and in Hadassah Magaziune about celebrating Hanukah in Budapest's historic Jewish Seventh District.

A Nod to Budapest’s Future in a Grass-Roots Celebration of Its Past

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Published: December 8, 2009

Night and Day in Jewish Time

by Ruth Ellen Gruber

Hadassah Magazine (December 2009/January 2010 Vol. 91 No. 3)

"With a new wave of cultural hot spots, dance clubs and restaurants catering to them—not to mention the growing numbers of spiritual and religious venues created to assist with questions of faith and identity—for young Jews in Budapest these may be the best days of their lives."