Thursday, October 1, 2009

Jewish Symbols: Candle Sticks (Romania)

My sister Ruth Ellen Gruber at the tomb of our great-great grandmother Chaya Dvoira Herer Halpern, in the Radauti Jewish cemetery. She died Feb. 22, 1905 at the age of 69.

Jewish Symbols: Candle Sticks

Author (and my sister) Ruth Ellen Gruber has contributed a piece to Tablet Magazine about her recent work documentation and contemplating the representation of women on Jewish gravestones in northeastern Romania. While there, Ruth has also indulged in some family history, which she has reported on her travel blog Jewish-Heritage-Travel.

You can read the Tablet piece, illustrated with a luscious gallery of photos, here: Sticks and Stones: Representations of women in Romania’s Jewish cemeteries

The images available to symbolize Jewish women are more limited than those for men, but still an examination of funerary art demonstrates an array of symbols, and many variations on the most common - candle sticks and birds. Ruth has been exploring the variety of Sabbath candle sticks on gravestones in Bucovina and other parts of Romania. Some of the depictions are fairly literal, but many have evolved in to complex and highly decorate designs reflecting not just local folk art motifs but also more "studied" designs especially reflective of trends in Central European Art Nouveau or Jugenstil art. This mix of influences from local traditions and major art centers can also be seen in the synagogue art of the period.

Ruth first made this trip in the company of her little brother (me) back in 1977, when we accompanied Chief Rabbi Moses Rosen on his annual "Hanukah pilgrimage" around the Jewish communities of Romania. I had just come up from working on a dig in the Israeli desert, and confronted a bitter cold Romania winter. Here is a picture of me at my Great-grandmother's gravestone in the Radauti's Jewish cemetery, looking very "old world" in my improvised winter gear. I had previously been to Radauti (and much of Romania) on a trip with my parents in 1973. Though only 22 at the time, the 1978-79 trip was already my third extended trip to then Communist "Eastern Europe." As I continue to report on this blog, many things have changed ...but some things, especially when it comes to Jewish cemeteries, have not.

Sam Gruber at the grave of his great-grandmother Ettel Gruber in the Jewish cemetery in Radauti, Romania (photo Ruth E. Gruber, 1978). A rare photo of Ettel as a younger woman is below.

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