Friday, July 24, 2009

UK: London Jewish Museum Must Purchase Lindo Hanukkiah on Display for 70 Years

UK: London Jewish Museum Must Purchase Lindo Hanukkiah on Display for 70 Years
by Samuel D. Gruber (based on news reports)

The London Jewish Museum reports that it is close to raising funds needed to purchase the famous 18th century Lindo hanukkiah (click here for photo) which it has displayed for seventy years - since the museum was founded. The silver hanukkiah was commissioned from artisan John Ruslen in 1709 to honor the marriage of Elias Lindo to Rachel Lopes Ferreira. Descendants of the "donors" to the museum want to sell the renowned object, and the museum must raise £300,000 to avoid the work leaving public view to most likely enter a private collection.

Unless the family is really hard up for money or to pay taxes, it seems disgraceful and extortionary that the family should ask for money for the work generations after it was put on display. Are they taking advantage of the Museum's reopening - knowing that this is a central object of the collection, one that the Museum can not afford to lose? One would think that the work is de facto the property of the museum after all these years.

The Museum has raised £250,000, including £145,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF), £75,000 from the independent Art Fund, and £30,000 from the MLA/V&A Purchase Fund; £50,000 are still needed. This purchase is on top of the £14 million raised for the expansion of the museum’s Camden Town facility (including £4.2 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund), scheduled to reopen in early 2010.

In addition to the importance of the Hanukkiah for its age (London's oldest standing synagogue, Bevis Marks, for example, was built only in 1701) and certain provenance, the work is unusual for its iconography of the Prophet Elijah begin fed by Ravens (I Kings 17:6) a allusion to the patron Elias (Elijah) Lindo. Though the subject is not very common in Jewish art, it was popular during the Baroque period in both Catholic and Protestant lands. For example, there is a late 16th century version by the Flemish painter Paolo Fiammingo (now in San Francisco), and a well known version from 1620 by the Italian artist Guercino (coincidentally, now in London at the National Gallery). A version by Dutch artist
Abraham Bloemaert (1564-1651) was copied in prints of the 17th and 18th centuries. Click here to see an anonymous print of the subject from 1712. Such printed works probably influenced Ruslen's design.

Read the full story as reported from ArtDaily.org (presumably from a press release). The Jerusalem Post ran the story almost verbatim, read it here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tour: Synagogues & Sacred Sites in NYC's Lower East Side

Tour: Synagogues & Sacred Sites in NYC's Lower East Side

I frequently point out to the need to integrate Jewish heritage sites into broader heritage contexts, as there are relatively few places where Jewish sites can be sustained through Jewish visitorship and use alone. One growing movement is to provide walking tours based on themes in which Jewish sites are included because of history, art, music, location, etc.

These can be one-time events to better promote a building, or to strengthen ties with neighboring institutions and community organizations. They can be aimed to expose a non-Jewish audience to an interesting and important Jewish site, or they can be aimed to broaden the horizons, and offer greater programming options, to an already "captured" Jewish audience. This types of integrated programming also works in the development of permanent hertiage routes for hertiage tourism. Synagogues played many roles in Jewish communities and at communities at large. Thus, they can often take their place in tours devoted to historical themes other than strictly Jewish history - ethnic and immigration history, women's movement, labor history, etc. as well as tours devoted to art and architecture.

This Sunday the Museum at Eldridge Street on New York's Lower East Side offers an example of a varied tour of local sacred sites, putting Eldridge in a broader religious context, and focusing on the changing demographics of the Lower East Side as witnessed through synagogues, churches and (Buddhist) temples.

- SDG

Sacred Sites Walking Tour

Sunday, July 26 at 11am

Find sanctuary in the city on the Sacred Sites Walking Tour. On this tour—which begins at the 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue—participants will stroll the streets of the Lower East Side visiting synagogues, churches and temples spanning 200 years of religious life in America. Discover many types of houses of worship, from early structures built by wealthy English landowners to historic houses of worship central to the Jewish, African American, Italian, Chinese and Hispanic immigrant experience.

$15 for Adults; $12 for Students & Seniors

RSVP to: hgriff(at)eldridgestreet.org

Museum at Eldridge Street
12 Eldridge Street
Between Canal & Division Streets


The Museum at Eldridge Street presents the culture, history and traditions of the great wave of Jewish immigrants to the Lower East Side drawing parallels with the diverse cultural communities that have settled in America. The Museum at Eldridge Street is located within the Eldridge Street Synagogue, which opened its doors in 1887.

Germany: New Dedications at Lieberose and Siegburg

Germany: New Dedications at Lieberose and Siegburg

(ISJM) Here are notices of two recent monument dedications in Germany that I missed. The information comes from German press accounts reports in the July Newsletter of the Lo Tishkach Foundation. - SDG

Memorial Stone Unveiled in Siegburg Jewish Cemetery

10 June 2009 - In the presence of Holocaust survivors, the mayor of the German city of Siegburg has unveiled a memorial stone in the local Jewish cemetery. The stone, featuring a plaque with the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is part of a project co-ordinated by the Cologne Archbishopric and local secondary schools. On the same day, a new oak tree was also planted in the cemetery.

Jewish Cemetery to be Consecrated at the Site of a Former Concentration Camp in Eastern Germany

9 June 2009 - On 16 June, Rabbi Menachem Halevi Klein of Frankfurt consecrated the site of a former concentration camp in the Brandenburg town of Lieberose. The area was identified as a mass grave in 1958, when the remains of twelve Holocaust victims were located and exhumed. Additional remains belonging to 577 victims were located and exhumed in 1971; they will be reburied during the consecration next week. Recent excavations aimed at finding an estimated 753 additional remains were unsuccessful, but the Central Council of Jews in Germany is demanding searches be resumed.

Established in 1943 as part of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, the Lieberose camp was dissolved in February 1945 and 1342 individuals were shot to death. Read the original articles here and here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

USA: Tupper Lake's Beth Joseph Synagogue Recalls Jewish Peddler Life in New York's Adirondacks



USA: Tupper Lake's Beth Joseph Synagogue Recalls Jewish Peddler Life in New York's Adirondacks
by Samuel D. Gruber

All photographs by Samuel D. Gruber

Ten days ago my son and I headed up to the Adirondacks for some mountain climbing – and I returned with the sore muscles, blisters and black fly bites to prove I backpacked into wilderness and ascended one of the 46 Adirondack High peaks. I had hoped to do more, the three peaks of the Seward Range, but after getting to the summit of Mount Donaldson it was enough for me.

Why am I writing this on my Jewish monuments blog? Well, because the Seward Range rises between two loci of historic Jewish activity, and it may be surprising for some to find there, in the midst of the great Adirondack State Park (bigger than some states and some countries), representative sites of the two poles of American Jewish life a century ago. A short distance to the northwest is the village of Tupper Lake, once a thriving lumber town, and place where in the late 19th century about 35 Orthodox Jewish peddler families from Eastern Europe settled down, eventually opened stores, and in 1905 built their synagogue – the now restored Beth Joseph.

To the East is Saranac Lake, site of the great summer camps of several of New York's most prominent German-Jewish families – the Seligmans, Kahns, Lewisohns and others. One of the first of these was Fish Rock (later known as Sekon), established by Isaac (Ike) Seligman. You can read more about Sekon here. The camp lifestyle was written about in the August 1904 issue of
New Era Illustrated Magazine that you can read here.

Though the two groups of Jews hardly interacted – the Orthodox Jews did sell supplies to their Reform brethren, and when it came time to build Beth Joseph, many of the New York elite donated to the cause.

I include here a brief description of Beth Joseph and some photos. I will write about the Jewish Camps of the Adirondacks as part of a later blogpost.



Click images for caption and larger view.

Beth Joseph is one of small group of intact rural and small town synagogues built by Eastern European Orthodox congregations at the turn of the 20th century. There were once many more such structures, but besides Beth Joseph, only a few – such as B’nai Abraham in Brenham, Texas and Tifereth Israel Synagogue in Alliance, New Jersey remain dedicated as synagogues, with their original furnishings intact.

Beth Joseph is a two and one-half story, three-bay by five-bay, vernacular style wood frame building, covered with clapboards. Its most distinguishing features are tall square corner tower-like pilasters and a pair of square pilasters flanking the entrance that divide the façade into three bays. The central entrance bay terminates in a pediment, and is marked with a sundial style decoration over the entrance, above which is the Hebrew inscription “This is the gate of the Lord. The righteous shall enter it.” The letters were originally wood, painted gold. Last week these were replaced by metal letters of the same color. Higher up the central bay is a round stained glass window and still further up a small rectangular plaque with the Hebrew date corresponding to 1881, the date when the synagogue founders arrived in Tupper Lake.

[Added to blog 11/25/2011. According a note sent to me by synagogue historian Mark Gordon, "the first two Hebrew characters reading right to left were incorrectly applied during the rehab. - Thanks for the correction, Mark!]

Inside, one passes through a vestibule area with stair to the right leading to a women’s balcony, set above the vestibule. In the vestibule and in the women’s gallery are now exhibitions related to the community’s history. The pine paneled sanctuary has three sections of six Gothic-style wooden pews reputedly originally from a Catholic church. At the far end is a free-standing raised bimah, immediately beyond which is the Ark. To the right are more pews set perpendicular to the other rows, and which face the bimah. The bimah may originally have been place in a more central location. The sanctuary is well lit with large round arched windows. Only a round window above the Ark, and the round window of the façade, is of stained glass.

Like many small town American synagogues, Beth Joseph fell upon hard times, especially following World War II. The doors were closed n the 1950s, and the synagogue sat remembered but hardly used, and then only for non-Jewish purpose. A few members of the founding families still resided in the area, and many more maintained connections to their roots, but there were not enough people for a congregation, and no money to maintain the building. This was the situation when the building was rediscovered by Sharon Berzok in the 1980s. Sharon and her Jewish husband Robert researched the history of the structure, and led a campaign to have the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Then, in 1988 just before their success, Sharon was killed in a car accident in California. Her death traumatized the community, but also galvanized it to continue her work, and over the next few years the Beth Joseph Historical Preservation Society raised funds and restored the building. At first they only conceived of it being a museum of sorts - n could believe that it would serve for religious use, too. But quickly , as the building's restoration became known, Jews appeared. Some had been in the region for years, others were seasonal visitors, but over time a new congregation - now affiliated with the Reform movement - coalesced. Today, Beth Joseph has a rabbi (Rita Leonard) and regular Shabbat and holiday services. There is a small but active group of local congregants who also keep the building open for visitors in the summer, and a more distant Board of Directors, many in New York City, who help with funding.

The rediscovery, restoration and revival of Beth Joseph has not been without setbacks and conflicts over a period of two decades. But overall, the project has done well. As the oldest standing building in Tupper Lake it has great appeal to the entire town, and it has proven an inspiration and a community magnet for local Jews. The projects has mostly followed appropriate historic preservation methods and has gathered the support (and grants) from many local and regional history and preservation organizations. The tenacity of its volunteers in getting the project down, and the variety of the ways they achieved their goals provide lessons to smaller congregation in the Untied States and also worldwide.

Tupper Lake's Beth Joseph is well worth a visit - even if you are not there to climb a mountain.

For more information or to make donations contact Janet Chapman, President, Friends of Beth Joseph Synagogue, P.O. Box 625, Tupper Lake, NY 12986-9703. The synagogue is open to visitors in July and August from Tuesday to Friday, 11 am to 3 pm.

Cemeteries: Non-Jews Often Essential for Cemetery Upkeep

Cemeteries: Non-Jews Often Essential for Cemetery Upkeep
by Samuel D. Gruber

It has long been the custom
for Jewish communities to hire non-Jews as custodians and maintenance workers at Jewish cemeteries. Under Communism, it was not uncommon for Jewish survivors and descendants to hire (often clandestinely) local people - often farmers- to look after Jewish cemeteries in communities where no Jew survived. The cemeteries were kept clean and secure and the custodian earned much needed cash. Over the past decades this type of arrangement has become more regularized, and many Jewish communities hire local people to regularly clean cemeteries - especially to cut weeds and other excess vegetation.

It is well known that when local (non-Jews) are involved in the care of the Jewish cemeteries the risk of vandalism decreases because the caretakers take a proprietary interest in the property, and in small towns they are likely to know anyone who trespasses. In the Czech Republic, in a small number of cases, the Federation of Jewish Communities has refurbished former caretakers' apartments situated at the edge of cemeteries, and these have been rented at reduced rates to part-time caretakers, as part of their compensation.

Another way that non-Jews have been increasingly involved in caring for Jewish cemeteries has been through the organization of occasional excursions to cemeteries by local school groups, civic groups, church groups and others. In the 1990s these cleaning projects were usually ad hoc and nearly spontaneous. More and more, however, they have been organized and the group not only do good work, but they receive instruction in the history of the Jewish community and the significance of the cemetery, and they are also taught best practices for cemetery care. There are now so many such programs - especially in Germany and Poland - that it is hard to keep track of them.

A few recent examples include secondary school students
carrying out in May a second annual clean-up of the local Jewish cemetery in the German city of Lüdinghausen. As part of the project, the children received lessons about the fate of the city’s Jews during the Holocaust. Read the original article (in German).

In Poland, as I have previously reported, students of The Public Middle School No.2 in Dabrowa Tarnowska took the local Jewish cemetery under their care. Within the framework of 'To Bring Memory Back' program they regularly visit the cemetery, gather litter and clean up the matzevot.

Also in Poland, i June, cleaning of the Jewish cemetery in Leczna, was led by the 'Rainbow' Association of Homeless and Unemployed People in Leczna" in cooperation with Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland.

On June19, 2009, the Foundation also signed an agreement
with the Central Board of Prison Service which will allow inmates of 85 correctional facilities to help clean up Jewish cemeteries in Poland. Prison inmates are already used to help clean highways and other locations, as is the case in many countries.

While some might find it uncomfortably ironic that prisoners will be used to clean cemeteries - many of which were originally pillaged by forced laborers during the Nazi occupation, the situations are not analogous. Instead, the agreement demonstrates that Jewish hertiage in Poland is increasingly included in a broad range of planning efforts for the protection and care of all national resources. It also demonstrates that those in the Jewish community in charged with the difficult task of maintaining an enormous portfolio of properties - especially of cemeteries - have to be even more creative in order to get the work done.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Turkey: ASF's Publication and On-line Photos Archive of Nearly 3,000 Photo of Turkish Synagogues


Turkey: ASF's Publication and On-line Photos Archive of Nearly 3,000 Photo of Turkish Synagogues
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) The American Sephardi Federation
has published a book about Turkish Synagogues and posted nearly 3,000 photos on-line.

Over a two month period in 1996, New York-based architect (and ISJM member) Joel Zack and photographer Devon Jarvis; along with Turkish architectural student Ceren Kahraman and Muharrem Zeybek, driver and guide, traveled 6,000 miles documenting fifty Turkish synagogues and former synagogues, producing a rich descriptive, graphic and photographic archive. The project was funded by the Maurice Amado Foundation and the Mitrani Family Foundation. The selection of photographs from the expedition was first exhibited at the 92nd Street Y in New York, and then in a traveling exhibition.

On the occasion of the exhibition of work at the Topkapı Palace Museum in Istanbul last fall the American Sephardi Federation (ASF) published an exhibition catalog by Joel A. Zack, The Historic Synagogues of Turkey / Türkiye’nin Tarihi Sinagoglari (ISBN 978-0-615-23948-4).
More importantly, ASF created as part of the digital archives of the Center for Jewish History, an on-line archive of 2,827 of Devon Jarvis’s Turkish synagogue photographs.

The work of Zack, Jarvis and Kahraman adds significantly to a growing body of documentation about Turkish Jewish monuments. Since 1992 a number of research and documentation projects have been carried out in the country, including the recording of cemetery epitaphs by a team lead by Mina Rozen of Hebrew University; photography and film making with an ethnographic slant by Ayse Gursan-Salzmann and Laurence Salzmann; documentation of Turkish synagogues and Judaica by the Center for Jewish Art; and the photography of Turkish synagogues by Erson Alik. There is also a new 2-volume book on Turkish synagogues by Izzet Keribar and Naim Guleryuz published last year, that I have not yet had a opportunity to see.

All these projects, together with other documentation efforts in Morocco, Egypt and Syria, are greatly altering the Eurocentric view of architectural achievements in synagogue building, and also putting to the test long-established theories of architectural influence. Clearly, now that so many more synagogue are known - or can be known - to scholars, it seems clearer that there has been at the very least, for many centuries, a formal, functional and stylistic give-and-take between Judaism's east and west, and south and north.

Other scholars have been working on other aspects of synagogues of the former Ottoman Empire, and we can expect soon publication on the synagogue Greece by Elias Messinas and of Syria by David Cassuto. ASF has also put on-line digital versions of much photographs taken by Isaiah Wyner as part of a survey of Moroccan synagogues directed by Zack for the World Monuments Fund in 1989 (I will write more about these at another time).

Zack’s book is a useful guide to Turkish synagogues, but is only introductory in nature. He briefly describes the various types of synagogues he found throughout the country, and some of their distinguishing features. Much of the text is in the form of picture captions; some are detailed, but others offer little information...presumably because there is little yet known. Because of the geographic expanse of Turkey, and because of cultural connections of the Ottoman Age, there are many different types of synagogues that served diverse Jewish communities. Turkey was fertile ground for synagogue design. Besides local ancient, Byzantine and Ottoman sources, there was a near-constant Ottoman cultural exchange with Russia, Central Europe, Italy, Egypt, Syria and Iraq. Future research will need to further examine these associations in the context of Jewish art and architecture. Perhaps the most clearly indigenous Ottoman synagogue type is that of the rectangular plan with a central four column feature, usually surrounding a tevah and sometimes surmounted by a dome. This type was common around Izmir and is also known in Northern Greece, and Bulgaria. But it is also known in Morocco, and even earlier in a simpler form from Tomar, Portugal; so the actual origins of the type remain unknown.

Zack’s book, as an exhibition catalog, lacks a strong historical framework, but he leaves the door open for any researcher to provide more information about the history, architecture and context of any individual building.

By making the entire photo archive accessible to all, Zack and Jarvis provide an opportunity heretofore lacking for an in-depth study of Turkish synagogues. They would be the first to admit that their project poses as many questions as it answers. Indeed, one of the most telling parts of the short text is the section "Issues and Lessons." Zack poses the difficult questions about what is to be done – if anything – to preserve this architectural legacy, since most of the synagogue are either not in use, or serve very small congregations. He asks what legacy this is – a Jewish one, a Turkish one, or something else, the reminder of a still-recent past where Jews, Muslims and others all (reasonably) peacefully co-existed in the Middle East.

Zacks writes: “The answers are complex. Through the lens of today’s world and the immediacy of today’s headlines, Jewish communities like those of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey seem perhaps like an anomaly or an anachronism. I would argue that we look through that same lens, but with a more expansive view – a view that encompasses the breadth of the history of these buildings and the significance that they might hold for us and for the future.”

Monday, July 20, 2009

Greece: Third Attack on Ioannina Jewish Cemetery This Year

Ioannina, Greece. Grave desecrated on June 2, 2009. Photo: KIS

Greece: Third Attack of Ioannina Jewish Cemetery This Year
by Samuel D. Gruber (Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulis contributed to this post)


(ISJM) The International Survey of Jewish Monuments has been engaged for several years in the project Before the Flame Goes Out to document the Jewish sites, community and ceremonies of the Ioannina, Greece, and of the Romaniote Jewish community in New York that originated in Ioannina. ISJM is especially concerned about continuing attacks on the historic Jewish cemetery of Ioannina.

The cemetery, which has endured much over the past century, was attacked again by vandals on July 9th, the third time the cemetery has been desecrated this year, and the fourth time in two years. Despite widespread knowledge of the likely perpetrators of the act, local officials continue to take no action to apprehend them, according to members of the local Jewish community.

Two tombstones were vandalized in the most recent attack. While the most recent attack was not as severe as that on June 2nd, nor the one that took place in January of 2009, the fact that there have been four such anti-Semitic desecrations in the last two years has caused alarm in the Jewish Community of Ioannina and in other Jewish communities in Greece, and also among Yanniotes in the United States who have family members buried in the cemetery.

On June 2nd three recent tombstones directly to the right of the Holocaust memorial inside the cemetery were brutally smashed. Other tombstones further in the cemetery have also been specifically targeted. The Holocaust Memorial was also damaged in the attack, and turtle was slaughtered, and its blood deliberately splattered on the memorial.

Local sources have no doubt that the desecrations are acts of anti-Semitism, as there is a local network of neo-Fascists who had publicly demonstrated in the the city. To date there has been little outrage at or condemnation of the most attack in Greece or from abroad. Representatives of local political parties denounced the June 2nd attack but to the knowledge of ISJM, Jewish and human rights organizations that routinely denounce such vandalism in Poland, Ukraine and elsewhere have been silent. ISJM encourages individuals and organizations to contact Greek embassies to alert them of international concern about the continuing vandalism of Jewish sites in Greece.

Though the local police have now increased security at the cemetery since the attack, local Jewish community representative are doubtful this will have more than a temporary effect, especially since protests after the June 2nd attack did nothing to stop the attack just one week later. They have proposed that either the police commit themselves to 24-hour security, as is now provided for synagogues in Athens and Salonika, or they assist in increasing the the height of the cemetery protective wall.

History of the Jewish Cemetery of Ioannina

Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos, Museum Director at Kehila Kedosha Janina (New York) has provided the following account of the cemetery's history.
The Jewish Cemetery of Ioannina is situated in what was once an eight-acre field bought by the community from the Ottoman Turkish Despot, Ali Pasha, in the early 19th century. The history of a burial site for the Jews of the city has been one fraught with ceaseless obstacles. The original cemetery was outside the walls of the fortified city (the Kastro), near the market place. Nothing remains of that cemetery but it is believed that tombstones, many going back to the 13th century, were transferred to subsequent cemeteries. In 1892 a later Jewish cemetery was desecrated by the Ottoman authorities and the main site of Jewish burial was transferred to the outskirts of the city, in an area called Kalkan. This later cemetery was leveled in 1922 to build homes for Greek refugees from Asia Minor. It was then that the tombstones were transferred to the field known as Gem, the site of the present Jewish cemetery. At the entrance to he new cemetery is the inscription (translated from the Hebrew):

"The Almighty Who dwells among us has allowed us to erect a wall around this field so they (the deceased) may repose in the land of the living; for the consecration of the Society of the Righteous (Hevra Hesed) and with the notables of the day."

Ioannina, Greece. Older tombstones in Jewish cemetery.
Photo: Marcia Haddad Ikonomopulis

The present cemetery originally encompassed over 25,000 square meters and, as was the custom, the older burials were towards the rear of the cemetery. Much of the area remained unused and, after the loss of over 90% of the Jewish Community of Ioannina in the Holocaust, the cemetery fell into disrepair. According to Greek law, burials cannot take place within the city limits and the City of Ioannina tried to expropriate the Jewish cemetery land which, although originally outside the city limits, with the growth of the city, now found itself within the city. In the 1990s, as a gesture of good will, the community ceded a plot of unused cemetery land, located on the far right of the cemetery, to the municipality to be used as a park.

The cemetery has been subjected to acts of vandalism and, after years of legal battles, the Jewish community was finally issued a permit to raise the height of the protective wall around the cemetery. Funds were raised by Yanniote Jews in the United States ($15,000) for the erection of the wall and the work was completed in the spring of 2002. The Central Board of Jewish Communities (KIS) also contributed. The municipality had the responsibility of erecting the wall separating the cemetery from the land donated for the park but did not make it high enough to keep out vandals, the results being that the cemetery was vandalized in April of 2002; five tombstones severely damaged. The municipality has taken responsibility for this and was to repair the damage along with increasing the height of the protective wall. The wall is still insufficient to prevent vandals from entering.

According to the oral history of the community, and archival material attesting to the transporting of tombstones from former cemeteries, it is believed that tombstones dating back to the 13th century are buried under overgrowth in the far rear of the left side of the cemetery. If this is the case, the Jewish cemetery of Ioannina might hold some of the oldest Romaniote Jewish tombstones in Greece. Only with complete cleanup and expert assessment will we be able to determine what can be restored. To date, documentation has not been completed.
For more information about the Jewish Community of Ioannina and the Jewish cemetery contact kehila_kedosha_janina@netzero.net

Friday, July 17, 2009

Poland: Ruth Ellen Gruber on "Dark Tourism" & Auschwitz

Dachau, Germany. Crematorium on Display. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber


Poland: Ruth Ellen Gruber on "Dark Tourism" & Auschwitz


I recommend an essay by Ruth Ellen Gruber posted today on her blog. Her topic deal with the term and phenomenon now known as "Dark Tourism," and how visits to Jewish sites deserve this rubric. In this context, she describes her most recent visit to Auschwitz earlier this month.

Poland -- Dark Tourism at Auschwitz


Several years ago I gave a paper entitled "Sites of Shame: How We Remember Places We'd Rather Forget" at a conference called Framing Public Memory. My paper was not specifically about Jewish sites, but certainly they were part of the discussion. I never published that paper, but in reponse to Ruth's post, I will look it again, and think of new ways to address this question.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Romania: Vandalism of Jewish Cemetery of Ploiesti Highlights Difficulties in Romania

Romania: Jewish Cemetery of Ploiesti Vandalized
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) Lucia Apostol of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania (FedRom) writes that last week the Jewish cemetery in Ploiesti, Romania, was vandalized. About five tombstones were entirely destroyed.

According to the survey of Romanian cemeteries sponsored by the US Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, the Ploiesti cemetery is large with as many as 5,000 gravestones, though according to the 2001 site visit, approximately 75% of all stones were broken or toppled. This needs to be checked, and I do not know what repair work at the cemetery has been done in the years since (readers are encouraged to send information and photos).

There are signs that FedRom is taking a stronger stance after years of seemingly half-hearted efforts to confront continuing anti-Semitism in Romania, including the seeming indifference of authorities to the vandalism of Jewish sites.

Dr. Saul Vainer, President of FedRom, said on television that "we cannot accept anymore the explanations that these are irresponsible acts of few disoriented teenagers. The fact is that it repeats itself, and Jewish Cemeteries at very different sites and locations have been vandalized, and we urge the authorities to inquire these as acts of antisemitism."

In the wake of the recent Prague Holocaust-Era Assets conference, it will be interesting to see what Romanian officials do, and whether other governments will pressure Romania to take more action. The small Jewish community of Romania cannot manage their cemeteries alone. With approximately 800 cemeteries throughout the country, most in places where Jews no longer reside, event monitoring the condition of the cemeteries is a daunting task. In discussion I had with FedRom this past March, I learned that efforts are being made to set up a computerized database and a better system of information gathering about sites. Still, this will not solve the problem of shortage of skill and engaged workers and adequate funds for maintenance and repair of cemeteries and synagogues.

This is an issue that is about history, culture, the rule of law, respect for religious and human rights, and also property rights.

Poland: Redication Tomorrow (July 15) of Jewish Cemetery of Zuromin

Zuromin, Poland. Jewish cemetery.
Photo courtesy Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland

Poland: Rededication Tomorrow (July 15) of Jewish Cemetery of Zuromin


The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland has announced a rededication ceremony of the Jewish Cemetery of Zuromin, located on Zeromskiego Street, to be held on July 15, 2009, and 12:30 p.m.

The cemetery was totally leveled by Germans during the Second World War and then was neglected by the Polish communist government. Today it appears as an empty field next to a dirt road. In mid-2008 descendants of Zuromin Jews decided to restore the cemetery and began to raise private funds to have the site cleaned and fenced. The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland took care of the legal, technical and construction aspects of the project and also created the memorial plaque.



Germany: New Vandalism at Jewish Cemeteries

Germany: Vandalism in June at Jewish Cemeteries in Salzgitter, Düsseldorf, and Göttingen

(ISJM) I have reported before that summer always seems to produce an upswing in incidents of vandalism at Jewish (and all) cemeteries. Maybe anti-Semitic thugs are fair-weather vandals, preferring good weather for their destructive acts. Spring and summer certainly bring out the teenage (and other) drinkers and drug-users who are known to frequent cemeteries for their private pleasures - their vandalism is just due to "mischief," not bigotry and hate. And then, summer is the time when visitors most frequent cemeteries - and sometimes old vandalism is discovered.

Whatever the causes, there seems no slowing of vandalism of Jewish cemeteries in Europe today. Hardly a week goes by without at least one verified report. In addition to the reports that I post on this blog, the Lo Tishcach Foundation is now monitoring these events and including them in their Newsletter. The July 2009 edition includes the following reports of vandalism at German cemeteries that I had missed.

Salzgitter Jewish Cemetery Vandalised

9 June 2009 - Six gravestones have been toppled in the Wolfenbüttel Jewish Cemetery in the German city of Salzgitter. According to the local municipality, removing the damages caused by the vandals will cost some 4000 Euros. The police have launched an investigation. Read the original article (in German).

Düsseldorf Jewish Cemetery Vandalised

8 June 2009 - 17 gravestones have been toppled in the Urdenbacher Kämpen Jewish Cemetery in Düsseldorf, four of which have been damaged beyond repair. The police have launched an investigation. Established in 1830, the cemetery was in use until 1920 and is one of about ten Jewish cemeteries in the Düsseldorf area. Read the original article (in German).

Göttingen Jewish Cemetery Vandalised

1 June 2009 - Three gravestones have been vandalised in the Dransfeld Jewish Cemetery in the German city of Göttingen. A swastika was carved into one of the stones. The police have launched an investigation. Read the original article (in German).

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

USA: Haym Salomon (& friends) Monument in Chicago

USA: Haym Salomon (& friends) Monument in Chicago
by Samuel D. Gruber

[updated Jan. 9, 2016]

all photos by Samuel D. Gruber


(ISJM) Continuing the theme of Jewish Revolutionary War heroes and their monuments and markers, mention must be made of the large sculptural group of George Washington and his two financial advisers and go-getters: Robert Morris and Haym Salomon. Historians differ on the exact role and relationship between the English-born Morris and the Polish-born Salomon (born in or near Lezno in 1740). Did Salomon do Morris's bidding, were they equal partners in securing funds for the new United States, or did Morris follow Salomon's lead? Here, in this monumental grouping in downtown Chicago, along Wacker Drive beside the Chicago River between State & Wabash, they are given equal billing next to their Supreme Commander - George Washington.

Polish-born Salomon has been dubbed “the financier of the Revolution,” and especially elevated by American Jews as a emblem of essential Jewish qualities - brains, loyalty and self-sacrifice. This statue was erected in 1941 - and though it was not commissioned by Jews - its installation provided important validation for Jewish Americans on the eve of World War II. The figures are literally presented as larger than life. The dimensions of the bronze figures are approximately 11 x 12 x 4 ft.; base: approx. 6 x 15 x 5 ft. Salomon's virtues were later celebrated in the then-popular (now largely forgotten) historical novel by Howard Fast, Haym Salomon, Son of Liberty, published in 1944, which animates the figures on the statue.

Again, quoting my (highly unoriginal) notes in my report for the US Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad on foreign born heroes of the American Revolution, "After [Salomon's] escape from a British prison in New York he worked tirelessly to raise money for the army and the Congress. Salomon negotiated many loans for the Colonies from France and Holland, but never took a commission for himself. The Revolutionary leaders' diaries testify "that when money was needed for the Revolutionary War, you went to Haym Salomon." Salomon died in 1785, probably as a result of illness contracted during his imprisonment and the subsequent strain of his work.

Salomon was honored by a U.S. Commemorative stamp in 1975 in the “Contributors to the Cause" series. The stamp is inscribed “Haym Salomon, financial hero.” On the back of the stamp is printed “Financial Hero - Businessman and broker Haym Salomon was responsible for raising most of the money needed to finance the American Revolution and later to save the new nation from collapse.”


According to the Inventory of American Art (where one can read more about he statue), "Chicago lawyer Barnet Hodes commissioned the sculpture in the 1930s to pay tribute to these patriots. He formed The Patriotic Foundation and raised the necessary 50,000 dollars. When Taft died in 1936 after completing only a small study model, his associates at the Midway Studios were given a new contract, and three of them, Nellie Walker, Mary Webster, and Leonard Crunelle, each enlarged one of the figures."

The inscription on the statue reads:
Symbol of American Tolerance and Unity and of the Cooperation of People of All Races and Creeds in the Upbuilding of the United States. / This monument designed by Lorado Taft and completed / by Leonard Crunelle was presented to the city of / Chicago by the Patriotic Foundation of Chicago (followed by list of names) Dedicated on the 150th Anniversary of the Ratification of the American Bill of Rights / December 15, 1941. On plaque on middle step of base in inscribed: Rededicated by American Mason Heritage Council October 6th 1962.  On the front of the base: Robert Morris . George Washington . Haym Salomon / The government of the United States / which gives to bigotry no sanction to the persecution / no assistance requires only that they who live under/its protection should demean themselves as good citizens / in giving it on all occasions their effectual support / President George Washington 1790.
The use of Washington's phrase "gives to bigotry no sanction," ties this monument in with the contemporary efforts to make the Touro Synagogue in Newport a National Shrine to religious tolerance, a project of the Roosevelt administration, and one that takes on new life this summer (2009) with the pending opening of the new visitor's center at Touro that is explicitly devoted to presenting this theme (see my earlier post).

To my knowledge there is no monument or marker to Haym Solomon in Poland. Now that democracy and liberty have taken hold there, perhaps this is the time to remember Solomon's contribution to liberty on his home soil. I think Polish and American national hero General Kosciuszko would agree. It would also foster in Poland the idea of "to bigotry no sanction."

To read more about the contested history of Haym Saloman, especially among American Jews themselves, see chapter 5 of Beth S. Wenger's History Lessons: The Creation of American Jewish Heritage (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2010), "Sculpting an American Jewish Hero: The Myths and Monuments of Haym Salomon,", pp 179-209.

Monday, July 6, 2009

USA: Monuments to Francis Salvador, (Jewish) Hero of the American Revolution

USA: Monuments to Francis Salvador, (Jewish) Hero of the American Revolution
by Samuel D. Gruber



(ISJM) One of the thoughts that crossed my mind last Friday night as I listened to my rabbi speak about the meaning of July 4th, was the "Jewish contribution," or better, "the contribution of Jews" to the struggle. This allowed me to pull from memory some work I did when I was Research Director of the US Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad.

Seven years ago, on July 4 (2002), the Commission published a report I wrote, Preliminary Survey of Sites Associated with the Lives and Deeds of Foreign-born Heroes of the American Revolution. At the time the Commission was deep in the organization of countrywide surveys of Jewish and other minority cultural sites in Central and Eastern Europe, doing a lot of very important work on a tiny budget. But someone on Capitol Hill saw the name of the Commission and thought that The Revolutionary War was an essential part of American heritage abroad, too (even if it wasn't what the legislative creators of the Commission had in mind), and asked that a list overseas sites associated with Foreign-born Heroes of the American Revolution be compiled. Though unexpected, this turned out to be an interesting task.

No such list existed, but since there was no extra funding and not much time for the work, it was very-much desk chair research - there was certainly no time or money to visit sites. We had to define some essential terms (such as "hero"), and after compiling some longs lists, we settled on a selection of individuals who contributed to the Revolution, and also collectively represented something of the diverse nation America became.

One of the people on the list was Francis Salvador (born in England, 1747), of whom at the time I had never heard. Unlike Lafayette and Kosciusko, who were heroes in their own countries as well in America, we found no markers or monuments to Salvador in the country of birth, and few in the country he adopted - except two in his home state of South Carolina. In belated celebration of July 4th (2009), I post these here (since 2002, I've made it a point when traveling to visit all the sites I can that honor the foreign-born heroes of '76).

Salvador came from a prominent Sephardi Jewish family in England. He was already a fourth generation English-Jew. His great-grandfather Joseph was the first Jewish Director of the East India Company. Francis Salvador came to America as a young man to improve his fortunes, but he became caught up in the revolutionary fervor of the time, becoming the only Jew in the colonies to serve in a revolutionary congress, and then having the dubious (but now "heroic") status of being the first Jew to be killed in the War of Independence.

As I wrote in the Commission report "Francis Salvador was an early casualty of the Revolution – slain in August 1776 in an Indian attack fomented by the British. Born in London in 1747, he moved to South Carolina where he was actively involved in the independence movement. Within a year of his arrival, at the age of 27, Salvador was elected to the General Assembly of South Carolina. In 1774, Salvador was elected as a delegate to South Carolina's revolutionary Provincial Congress, which assembled in Charleston in January 1775 to frame a bill of rights that set forth grievances against the British government. Salvador played important roles in both the first and second Provincial Congress, gaining appointments on several select commissions. One such commission was established to preserve the peace in the interior parts of South Carolina, where the English Superintendent of Indian Affairs was busily negotiating treaties with the Cherokees to induce the tribe to attack the colonists."

There is one historical marker commemorating Salvador set in Washington Park in Charleston. One has to make an effort to find it, where it is set among many memorials of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

Charleston, South Carolina. Francis Salvador Commemorative marker.
Photos: Samuel D. Gruber 2003.


The inscription on the plaque reads:

Commemorating
Francis Salvador
1747 – 1776
First Jew in South Carolina to hold public office
And
To Die for American Independence
-->
He came to Charles Town from his native London in 1773 to develop extensive family landholdings in the frontier district of ninety six. As a deputy to the provincial congresses of South Carolina, 1775 and 1776, he served with distinction in the creation of this state and nation, participating as a volunteer in an expedition against Indians and Tories, he was killed from ambush near the Keowee river, August 1, 1776.

Born an aristocrat, he became a democrat, an Englishman, he cast his lot with America.
True to his ancient faith, he gave his life for new hopes of human liberty and understanding.

Erected at the time of the Bicentennial celebration of the Jewish community of Charleston.

Approved by the historical commission of Charleston SC

A second marker commemorating Salvador was erected in 1960 in Greenwood, South Carolina, by members of the Jewish Community. That roadside marker can be seen here.

The inscription reads:
Francis Salvador, 1747-1776.

This young English Jew settled near Coronaca in 1774, representing Ninety Six District in the provincial congresses of 1775-1776, and died in defense of his adopted home on Aug. 1, 1776. He was the first South Carolinian of his faith to hold an elective public office and the first to die for American independence.

The marker is at the intersection of Christian Road (Old South Carolina Route 72) and Laurens Highway (U.S. 221), on the right when traveling south on Christian Road. For a map and more detail see the Waymarking website.
-->

Saturday, July 4, 2009

USA: Chicago's Spertus Institute Shuts it New Museum Doors (Mostly)

USA: Chicago's Spertus Institute Shuts its New Musuem Doors (Mostly)and Scales Back Other Activities
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) The Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, housed in a shiny new building on Michigan Avenue (you can read my review of the building here) has long had an identity problem. Now, it has a serious financial problem, too. This situation - no doubt exacerbated by a series of curatorial and public relations missteps by the Spertus Museum since its opening - has led the Institute's new leader to the drastic move of virtually closing down the building in order to save it.

The situation, which mirrors similar crises at other Jewish and Arts institutions throughout the country, is one of the most extreme measures yet taken by any American Jewish cultural institution. I have previously written about problems at the Touro Synagogue Foundation and at Hebrew Union College.

An article in the business section of the ChicagoReader.com details the situations, which involve serious staff cutbacks and other cost saving measures. I have been following the situation at the Spertus for several years. It was clear before the creation of the new facility that the Spertus was struggling to asset itself as the leading Jewish cultural force in Chicago, and the leading Jewish cultural institution in the Midwest. But the institution has been conflicted, for as it desperately needs conventional Jewish community financial support and participation, it has on many occasions risked the support by distancing and even antagonizing its base constituency. It is hard to be traditional and contemporary at the same time. Somehow that Spertus has wanted to be THE Jewish institution but it has sent ambivalent message about its "Jewishness." In New York, the Jewish Museum learned long ago that for every "Too Jewish" exhibition, there needs to be one about "Chagall and the Jewish Theater." To my mind, the new Spertus tried to challenge its base too soon, and instead drove many of them away.

I still believe that the Spertus has the potential to be to Chicago a combination of New York's Jewish Museum, the Jewish History Center and the 92nd Street Y. But as the institution has learned in the two years since its new building has opened, that one can't be all those things at once and overnight. While much blame can be laid on the national economic crises and drop in endowment values and charitable giving to all cultural institutions, The Spertus was already on shaky ground long before the financial quake, since many of its most effective programs are not lucrative ones. The Spertus pioneered distance learning in Jewish education, but distance learning is exactly NOT the kind of activity to fill, support and fund an expensive new building. Nor is the Asher Library, one of the great research resources housed at the Spertus, a money maker.

I admire Howard Sulkin, who helped build the Spertus and lay its course. Howard is a visionary and an idealist. But it looks like Hal Lewis, who has taken over the helm at the Spertus, is going to have to be much more of a pragmatist. He has a long career of moving from one Jewish organization to another. Will he be able to move the Spertus along in the right direction - or any direction in order to survive?

Pending better financial times, the Spertus cuts its hours to two and a half days a month.

A Museum in Sleep Mode

By Deanna Isaacs

July 2, 2009

The Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies issued some stunning news last week: in response to financial difficulties blamed on the economic downturn, the Spertus—which consists of a college, a museum, and a library—is making operational cuts so drastic they’ll practically shut down portions of the glossy, Krueck & Sexton-designed building that opened less than two years ago. As of July 1 the Joyce and Avrum Gray & Family Children’s Center will be open only two Sundays per month. And by mid-August the Spertus Museum, which is located on the top two floors of the ten-story building, houses an extensive collection of Judaica, and offers ambitious gallery programming, will have its hours reduced to the same two short Sundays plus a single monthly Thursday evening.

Read the entire article here.



More stories about the Spertus can be read here:

CHICAGO
. The battle for Spertus.

CHICAGO
. The Spertus Museum has laid off half its employees, Dr. Hal M. Lewis, the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies' new president and CEO, confirms


Friday, July 3, 2009

Restitution: JTA's Dinah Spritzer Provides Followup to Prague Conference

Restitution: JTA's Dinah Spritzer Provides Followup to Prague Conference

I am posting the following text and article links provided by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. for more about the conference and to reference the final statements see my previous post.


On the heels of what insiders say will be the last major Holocaust restitution conference, JTA Europe correspondent Dinah Spritzer reports from Prague about a new pledge by 46 countries to ease the restitution process for Jewish property taken during the Nazi era.

In this JTA Special Report, Spritzer examines whether the new restitution measures will yield results in time for Holocaust survivors, analyzes which are the least cooperative countries when it comes to compensating Jews for looted property and art, and talks with Stuart Eizenstat about Israel's shortcomings when it comes to fighting for restitution.

JTA Special Report: Pressing for Restitution

Last Chance for Holocaust restitution?

Stalling tactics, lack of political will and resentment of Jews have frustrated efforts by Jewish owners, heirs and advocates to recover property stolen by the Nazis. A new measure may ease the restitution process, but will it come in time for Holocaust survivors? Read more »

Q&A with Eizenstat on Holocaust-era restitution

Stuart Eizenstat, who is credited with getting Jewish property restitution started in the former Eastern bloc, criticizes the European Union for failing to follow through on restitution and takes Israel to task for not doing enough over the years for Holocaust survivors and their heirs.

Last Chance for Holocaust restitution?

The list of 10 European Union countries where claimants of looted art, communal property or private property face serious obstacles.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

USA: New Exhibition Planned for DC's Lillian & Albert Small Museum

USA: New Exhibition Planned for DC's Lillian & Albert Small Museum

Jonathan Sarna and Pamela Nadell will discuss the future look for the 1876 former Adas Israel Synagogue


(ISJM) Scholars of American Jewish history, award-winning museum designers Gallagher & Associates, and Society staff will discuss plans for a new exhibition in the first synagogue building in the nation's capital.
on Tuesday, July 7, 2009, from Noon to 1:00 p.m.

To read about the synagogue building and its history click here.

The lunchtime discussion features:

* Prof. Jonathan Sarna,
Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History
Brandeis University

* Prof. Pamela Nadell,
Inaugural Patrick Clendenen Professor of History
Director of the Jewish Studies Program
American University

Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum
701 Fourth Street, NW (at G St.)
Washington, D.C.
Metro: Judiciary Square

Enjoy this unique opportunity to learn stories of the men and women who built the 1876 synagogue and see historic images and objects from the building's history.

Bring your own lunch or order a box lunch for $15. Drinks provided.

This free program is made possible by a grant from the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C., an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Historic Preservation Office of the D.C. government's Office of Planning.

Several years ago I had the privilege of working on the historic structures report for this small but important building. I am pleased to see that the Jewish Historical Society of Great Washington Continues to work to make visiting the the site a significant experience.