by Samuel D. Gruber
(ISJM) Last week I had the privilege of co-chairing an international seminar in Bratislava devoted to the care, conservation and maintenance of Jewish heritage properties – particularly those which belong to Jewish communities in Central and Eastern Europe. The conference was sponsored by the World Monuments Fund, the Rothschild Foundation (Europe), the Cahnman Foundation and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). The organization of the event fell mostly to Maros Borsky of the Slovak Jewish Heritage Center, Herbert Block of the JDC, and to me, representing the International Survey of Jewish Monuments (ISJM). I can’t thank my colleagues enough for all the hard work they did to bring about this successful and important event. Unlike the larger Future of Jewish Heritage in Europe Conference held in Prague in 2004, and sponsored by many of the same foundations, this event was unique in bringing Jewish community representatives responsible for property management of planning and decisions together for the first time. It was not a gathering historians and architects, but of community leaders.
To my knowledge it was the first such event for communities devoted solely to Jewish heritage issues. Fittingly, it was held at the Jewish Community Center in Bratislava, hosted by the Bratislava Jewish Community, the members of which were extraordinarily welcoming and helpful to our group. We were thrilled to inaugurate the new meeting hall at the Center (painting was just finished before our arrival), which perfectly suited our needs. The Bratislava Community provided the kosher meals for the entire seminar group and guests (and the Center's chef is great. the food was delicious). Thanks to Bratislava Rabbi Baruch Myers for overseeing kashrut, and also for begin such a welcoming host.
I will be writing more about the seminar in the coming weeks, which gathered representatives of Jewish communities in 15 countries, from the Baltic countries to the Balkans, and also included representation from Belarus and Ukraine. An important statement of principals was drafted at the final session of the seminar, and this will be released shortly when a few final changes are made. While to many readers of this blog the statement might seem to reiterate the obvious, as we all know what is obvious in the world of Jewish heritage protection, preservation and presentation is not always what is real.
You can read a news brief from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency here.
The gathering gave me and the other “experts” and opportunity to exchange information with community representatives, but also to learn the latest in problems and progress regarding Jewish heritage sites in a wide range of political, cultural, religious and economic situations. I will be sharing some of the information on this blog. I also had the occasion to visit before and during the seminar several important preservation projects in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, about which I will report.