Tuesday, October 21, 2008

USA: Film & Exhibition Tell Story of North Carolina Jews

USA: Film & Exhibition Tell Story of North Carolina Jews

The Jewish Heritage Foundation of North Carolina (JHFNC) premiered its new documentary film Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina with showing in Greensboro, NC on October 11th and October 19th. The film will next be screened in Charlotte on February 22, 2009. You can read about it here: Greensboro News & Record Article.

The Down Home Documentary film is the first component of larger project to document the Jewish history of North Carolina.

JHFNC was established in 1996 and is North Carolina’s only statewide Jewish historical organization. The Foundation seeks to promote understanding of the Jewish people by educating both Jews and the general public about the history, culture, and religion of the Jewish people and by encouraging appreciation of the beauty of Jewish ritual and practice. The JHFNC collects and preserves artifacts and records the history of Jewish settlement in North Carolina, as well as conducting programs that examine and portray the Jewish experience in North Carolina. The JHFNC also seeks to strengthen Jewish communal bonds among North Carolina’s diverse Jewish and non-Jewish communities by maintaining networks that connect collections and educational resources across the state and by creating bridges between the older established communities and our many newly arriving residents.

In September the Foundation announced the design team for the final design and installation of the Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina museum exhibit. The exhibit will chronicle the 400-year story of Jewish life in the state. In 2010 the exhibit will travel to North Carolina’s major history museums including those in Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Wilmington and Asheville. The exhibit is a major component of the Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina multi-media project which also includes a TV-quality documentary film, educational DVDs and teaching curricula for the state’s public schools, and a richly illustrated book to be published by UNC Press.

North Carolina is also the home of many historic and well preserved synagogues. The Foundation is looking at ways to promote the history and architecture of the synagogues and to ensure their continued use and preservation.

Prof. Steven Fine to Lecture at USC about Polychromy in Ancient Synagogues

Prof. Steven Fine to Lecture at USC about Polychromy in Ancient Synagogues

(ISJM) Prof. Steven Fine of Yeshiva University will lecture about polychromy (color) in ancient synagogues as the Jerome Nemer Lecturer at the University of Southern California (USC) on November 10, 2008.

The title of the lecture is "The Color of Jewish Life: Imagining Polychromy in the Art of the Ancient Synagogue."

Fine, who has authored numerous important studies on ancient synagogue liturgy, art and architecture, studies polychromy's implications for interpreting the experience of liturgy in multicolored late antique synagogues. His lecture will also will also address the significance of this re-imagined synagogue art for the study of late antique religion. We now know that polychromy was the norm for much ancient scyultpure and architecture. We already know from surviving examples that synagogue floors and walls were foten covered with richly colored decoration. In this Nemer lecture, Prof. Fine will present literary and archaeological evidence for polychromy in ancient synagogue art and suggest possible reconstructions of ancient coloration of synagogue artifacts.

Commentary will follow by Bruce Zuckerman, Myron and Marian Casden Director of the USC Casden Institute and USC professor of Religion.

Monday, November 10, 2008 : 4:45pm to 6:45pm

University Park Campus
Davidson Conference Center
Embassy Room

Parking is $8.

RSVP [mail to: casden@college.usc.edu]

Monday, October 20, 2008

USA: Hoboken (New Jersey) Star of Israel Synagogue Begins Restoration

USA: Hoboken (New Jersey) Star of Israel Synagogue Begins Restoration
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) The United Synagogue of Hoboken used the High Holy Days to begin the restoration of its synagogue, built in 1915, and known as the Star of Israel. A program of renewal for the congregation began during its centennial in 2005 and since then, the synagogue has been placed on the New Jersey and the National Registers of Historic Places and the synagogue recently received a $280,000 matching grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust to aid in the restoration.

USH has also received a grant from the Legacy Heritage Fund for a program to recreate Jewish neighborhood vitality in Hoboken. State and local political officials and leaders of the Jewish community attended the Restoration Kickoff Celebration at the historic sanctuary.

Though now serving a Conservative congregation, the synagogue is one of a fairly small group of intact and in use (originally) Orthodox synagogues of a type that once filled American cities. The design essentially follows the Orthodox East European model favored by first and second generation East European Jewish immigrants. Outside, the flat facade still maintains vestigial corner towers, each surmounted by an onion dome. Inside, a women's balcony fills three sides of the sanctuary, which culminates at the Ark wall with a tall two-story Aron-ha-Kodesh that mixes classical and East European motifs. A large carved eagle is set in the middle of the Ark, which is surmounted by seated lions flanking a Decalogue.

According to the congregation, the restoration will take place in phases in order minimize disruption of synagogue life, and to stay within our budget.

Phase one, upgrading infrastructure, includes: installing new wiring throughout the building; examining the strength of the roof structure and adding a new roof; placing steel beams on the roof to support air conditioning units; replacing masonry on the parapets; and refurbishing the onion domes. Much of the roof work is eligible for fifty percent reimbursement from the New Jersey Historic Trust grant. The estimated timing is as follows:

Phase two (still in planning stage, dependent on available funding): continue work on the roof and install the air conditioning; or continue work in the sanctuary and install the replacement period light fixtures.

For more information and photos see:

United Synagogue of Hoboken added to National Register of Historic Places by Carly Baldwin

The following information has been adapted from congregation’s website:

The Star of Israel community was formed by recent immigrants from Eastern Europe, on October 10, 1905, just after Yom Kippur. After ten years of fund raising and planning, the synagogue was dedicated on May 16, 1915. The Star of Israel remain shuttered, during an extended period following World War II, when the local piers became obsolete, factories closed, and young families migrated to the suburbs. Except for the High Holy Days, when services would be held at the Star of Israel, the diminished community met at another Hoboken location.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Hoboken was a major immigration port, and the Port of Embarkation for the Allied Forces in World War 1. Many local commercial and retail businesses were owned by Jewish residents of Hoboken, who probably numbered over 3,000 men, women and children. Jewish life in Hoboken was at its peak just after World War I, when there were six synagogues.

The United Synagogue of Hoboken was organized in 1947 through the union of the Hoboken Jewish Center -- founded in the 1920's as a Conservative congregation -- and the Congregation Star of Israel -- organized in 1910 as an Orthodox congregation.

The Hoboken Jewish Center was established by former members of the Star of Israel seeking a more liberal environment in the then-emerging Conservative movement. They purchased, occupied, and renovated a circa-1890 brown stone residence at 830 Hudson Street, adding a 120-seat sanctuary, gymnasium, and offices; and upstairs residences, occupied by the rabbi and the rabbi's family, a Learning Center teacher, and, at times, a caretaker.

Revitalization began slowly, during the 1970s, when Jews were among the new generation of residents arriving in Hudson County. In 1989, the Star of Israel was reopened to accommodate a small but growing congregation and a learning center. In 1997, the community sold its other Hoboken property and used the proceeds to help fund construction of a building next to the Star of Israel, consolidating the community at the location where it started. The community dedicated the new building, in 2002, as a venue for administration and education. Growth has exceeded expectations.

Further information about the restoration and other aspects of United Synagogue of Hoboken is available at www.hobokensynagogue.org.

Ukraine: Attack on Kirovograd Synagogue Thwarted

Ukraine: Attack on Kirovograd Synagogue Thwarted

(ISJM) The Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union reports (in BIGOTRY MONITOR, Volume 8, Number 41, October 17, 2008) an attack on the historic Great Choral Synagogue of Kirovograd in Ukraine was foiled by the local SBU, a successor to the KGB. A group of far-right extremists allegedly planned to blow up the century-old synagogue, according to an October 7 report by Interfax. The SBU uncovered the group early this year but only just announced the fact.

The Kirovograd synagogue, located at Dzherzhinsky St., 90/40, was returned to the Jewish community in 1991. It also houses a small Jewish history museum on the upper floor, has been the site of previous anti-Semitic attacks.

In January 2006, Kirovograd inaugurated new square near the synagogue dedicated to victims of the Holocaust. A Holocaust memorial has stood on the spot for many years, but the site was contested by a local developer. Long-term city residents recall that the site of the square was the spot where Nazi soldiers gathered Jews from the city and region on Yom Kippur of 1941 prior to murder.

Russia: Holocaust Memorial Vandalized In Kaliningrad

Holocaust Memorial Vandalized In Kaliningrad

(ISJM) The Regnum News Agency reported on October 10th that an unknown person painted anti-Semitic death threats and a swastika on a memorial commemorating victims of the Holocaust in Kaliningrad, Russia. The monument is in a restored old Jewish cemetery that has been previously vandalized twice in recent years.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Exhibition: Arbit Blatas in New York

Exhibition: Centennial Exhibit in NYC of Arbit Blatas, Paris School Painter Known for Venice Holocaust Monument

An exhibition in New York at the Brookdale Center of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC – JIR) celebrates the Centennial of the birth of Lithuania-born Jewish artist Arbit Blatas (1908-1999), once a prominent member of the pre-World War II “Paris School” of painters, and in later life known for his series of bronze bas-reliefs that comprise the Holocaust memorial in Campo del Ghetto Nuovo in Venice, Italy (1980, 1993). The reliefs commemorate the night of Dec. 5, 1943, when the first 200 of the city's Jews were rounded up and deported to their deaths, but also retell in a more inclusive history of Holocaust suffering.

Blatas also prepared the black and white drawings used to introduce segments of the 1978 television series 'Holocaust,'' which changed the way the Holocaust was discussed in Europe, and also made Blatas’s work known to millions.

The HUC – JIR exhibition includes one of four castings of the The Monument to the Holocaust, which has been donated by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to the permanent collection of HUC - JIR. With these, are also exhibited a series of large vividly colored and dramatically staged oil paintings mostly contemporary with the bronzes that represent similar scenes of oppression and destruction. An earlier painting from 1944, an immensely powerful painting titled “Babi Yar,” was done in a strongly expressionistic style and dramatically depicts the orgy of violence with a force equal to some of the medieval depictions of the Massacre of the Innocents (see photo).Besides being the strongest painting in the exhibition, it is a rare depiction of the horrors of the Holocaust made so close in time to the actual events. Most artists of the period (as has been described by Matthew Baigell and others) confronted the reported horrors with symbolic, mythological or historical language.

A Blatas, worked in Paris from 1919 until he was forced to flee Europe to America in 1941. In the last decades of his life he has a studio in Venice, a city where the light and architecture encouraged his rich glowing palette. A second part of the exhibition focuses on Blatas’s more exuberant work of happier themes – Venice and the Opera. Blatas was married to Regina Resnick, an opera singer and stage director. Together, in the 1970s and 1980s, they created sets and costumes for many of the world’s major opera houses. Paintings based on these designs are included, as well as cityscapes of Venice and elsewhere that are pictorial essays in saturated color.

Blatas’s Venice monument originated with the artist himself. As a Jew who lost his mother and many friends and relatives in the Holocaust he felt a special need to commemorate the events of suffering. As a lover of Venice, he conceived of the monument as a gift to the city. The monument is unlike most Holocaust monuments made up to that time. It is neither heroic nor symbolic. It has none of the heroic grandeur of the work of Nathan Rappoport (Warsaw Ghetto Uprisng Monument), or of the East German sculptors at Buchenwald. Instead, Blatos followed an the old tradition of a sequence of narrative reliefs – a tradition rooted in the triumphal arches of ancient Rome, and in bronzes doors of medieval (S. Zeno, Verona) and Renaissance (Baptistery, Florence). One sees echoes of battles scenes from the column of Trajan and the poignant heroism of Ghiberti’s Sacrifice of Isaac (Akedah). The finish is rough and battered, giving these panels a painful immediacy that links the viewer to the timeless scenes. In 1980, seven panels were placed next to the wall of the Casa di Riposo Israelitica (Jewish Old Age Home), near the spot where the Jews of Venice were collected before their deportation. A separate panel, the Last Train, was placed alone and was unveiled in the presence of the president of Italy in 1993.

Blatas made four sets of these bronze reliefs. He also provided one set for the Shrine of the Unknown Jewish Martyr in the Marais, Paris (1981). Another was made for the former site of the Anti-Defamation League in New York at Dag Hammerskjold Plaza (1982). These are in the exhibition. A fourth set was installed at the Ninth Fort, outside his native Kaunas, Lithuania, after his death in 2003.

For more views of the Venice monuments click here.

Poland: Sukkah from Szydłowiec Discovered and Restored

Poland: Sukkah from Szydłowiec Discovered and Restored

(ISJM) Just in time for this year’s celebration of the Sukkot holiday, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews – still in the planning and construction phase – has announced in its Newsletter that a sukkah dating from around 1920 discovered last year in the town of Szydłowiec on the porch of the house at 3 Garbarska Street has been dismantled, removed and is in restoration by conservators from the Radom Regional Museum.

The Sukkah was disassembled into its 240 original wooden parts for conservation and restoration. Monika and Norbert Bekiel, who own the house to which the sukkah was attached (remodeled into a porch) donated the structure to the Museum. Until the Museum of the History of Polish Jews is constructed, the sukkah will be kept at the Radom Area Countryside Museum.

Before World War II, the house where the sukkah was found belonged to Nuta Ajzenberg, who owned a local tannery. He was one of very few rich Jews in Szydłowiec. Next to his house Ajzenberg built a small synagogue used by his family and employees.

The donor, Monika Lukomska-Bekiel is reported as saying: “I am a teacher and I consider it my duty to teach the history and culture of Polish Jews. I know that the memory of the cultural and spiritual heritage shapes our national identity. After all, the cultural heritage of Polish Jews is also our heritage, their history is also our history”.

See photos of the dismantling of the sukkah here.

Read the story of the discovery and rescue of the sukkah

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Czech Republic: Celebration Planned at Restored Hermanuv Mestec Synagogue

Czech Republic: Celebration Planned at Restored Synagogue

Simchat Torah in Hermanuv Mestec, CZ

Ruth Ellen Gruber reports about Hermanuv Mestec (Czech Republci), where Simhat Torah will be celebrated on October 22nd in the restored neo-Romanesque synagogue (designed by architect Frantisek Schmoranz and built in 1870).

The event will be a joint celebration by Prague's liberal Bejt Simcha congregation and the Progressive Temple Sinai congregation from Wellington, New Zealand. Temple Sinai has a Torah scroll that comes from Hermanuv Mestec, which it received through the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust, of which I have written before.

Go to Ruth's blog for more information and photos of the synagogue.

Click here for more photos.

Belarus: Press Release about Commemoration Events in Minsk

Belarus: Plans for Commemoration of Annihilation of Minsk Ghetto on 65th Anniversary

Following is a press release sent to me from the Embassy (which?) of Belarus. I have not worked on any projects in Belarus for many years, so am not current with developments about Jewish sites and Holocaust memorials. This report mentions the inauguration of some new commemorative plaques and stones as well as host of other activities. I welcome information, comments, reports and photos from readers about this and other news from Belarus.

Main commemorative events dedicated to the victims of the Minsk Ghetto are to be held in Minsk on the state level


On October 20 – 23, 2008 the main events dedicated to the 65th Anniversary of Minsk Ghetto annihilation will be held on the state level in the capital of Belarus – Minsk – with the participation of citizens of Israel - survivors of ghetto and veterans.

The dates of the events are coordinated by the Belarusian Government with the leaders of the Jewish community of the country. The events include:

– mourning meeting in honour of the 65th Anniversary of Minsk Ghetto annihilation at the memorial “Yama”;
– funeral procession within the territory of the Ghetto in memory of the Holocaust in Belarus;
– public gathering dedicated to the 65th Anniversary of Minsk Ghetto annihilation and policy of genocide on the territory of the Republic of Belarus.
– inauguration of the memorial plate at a place of annihilation of the 5000 prisoners of Ghetto;
– inauguration of the memorial stone at a place in memory of deported and annihilated Jews from Keln;
– book exhibition about Holocaust on the territory of Belarus in the National Library.
– inauguration of the exhibitions dedicated to the Minsk Ghetto;

Starting from October 15 in Minsk (Museum of the Great Patriotic War) the exhibition dedicated to the Minsk Ghetto will take place;

For the October 17 in Minsk-city Palace of young people and children is planned the awards ceremony of the schoolchildren-winners of the contest “Holocaust. History and present”

Israeli survivors of ghetto and veterans will be represented by Association of Immigrants from Belarus; Association of Concentration Camps and Ghetto Survivors; Union of Partisans, Underground Fighters and Ghetto Rebels; Union of Veterans of the Second World War – Fighters Against Nazism; Association of Disabled Veterans and Partisans of Fight Against Nazism.

The planned events are named “main” due to the fact that they conclude the series of steps commemorating the Feat and the Catastrophe. These steps Belarus undertakes during the whole year under the auspices of the Government of Belarus.

The Government of Belarus established the Organizing Committee in charge of holding the commemorative events dedicated to the 65th Anniversary of Minsk Ghetto Annihilation. It unites the representatives of more than 20 state and public bodies.

In Israel commemorating event dedicated to the 65th Anniversary of Minsk Ghetto annihilation was held on June 22, 2008 according to the initiative of the Embassy of Belarus in Israel and Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority. Among the participants of the event were Minister of Pensioners Affairs, Members of Knesset, natives of Belarus.

In the second largest ghetto on the territory of the former USSR organized by Nazis – in Minsk 65 years ago were killed about 100 000 people.

About 10 000 Jews escaped from Ghetto mainly with the assistance of Belarusians and joined partisans movement.

The Nazis did not succeed in sowing the seeds of anti-Semitism on the occupied territory of Belarus. There are 680 Belarusian Righteous Among the Nations now. If only the thorough search of the citizens of my country who saved the lives of their neighbors-Jews, had continued in 1967 not in 1990 (the period of absence of the diplomatic relations between USSR and Israel) Belarus would have been the leader in the number of Righteous Among the Nations.

Mutual aid of Belarusians and Jews during the Second World War is an integral part of the unique friendly neighborhood of two peoples which counts six centuries.

During past six centuries Jewish people felt more secure in Belarus in comparison with the countries of the region. There were almost no pogroms (massacres). Belarusians had never initiated pogroms. This position is confirmed by museum of Jewish history and culture, created by Jewish community of Belarus.

The World War II is common sorrow and common ordeal both for Belarusians and for Jewish. It is terrible but even these horrible figures we have in common: during the WW II was killed every third Belarusian and every third Jew.

Press Service
Embassy of Belarus

USA: More on Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Rabbi Magnin and Hugo Ballin

USA: More on Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Rabbi Magnin and Hugo Ballin

I'm happy that my blog entries and ISJM E-Report are beginning to draw responses - mostly positive and often informative. As readership expands, I hope that this will continue.

Historian George M. Goodwin (of the Rhode Island Jewish Historical Society and author of many significant articles on synagogues and other topics) contacted me about my piece on the upcoming restoration of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles and its murals by Hugo Ballin. I am posting most photos of the synagogue, some are mine, and some are by Paul Rocheleau, who has given permission for their use. Paul photographed the synagogue for our book
American Synagogues: A Century of Architecture and Jewish Community (Rizzoli, 2003).

George Goodwin writes "...I grew up at WBT. Rabbi Magnin was my great-uncle (my mother's uncle). My siblings and I were very close to him. He and his wife Evelyn were almost a third set of grandparents. No doubt about it: he was a giant among congregational rabbis for much of the 20th century. I tend to think that his connections to Hollywood have been somewhat overemphasized, however. While the moguls provided some key gifts, they did not actively participate. Indeed, most WBT members had nothing to do with the world of entertainment. One of Rabbi Magnin's most important themes was the patriotism of American Jews. Unfortunately, in this regard, he was somewhat of a reactionary who supported a number of successful politicians, especially Nixon but also Reagan. Rabbi Magnin was a great orator, who also had a radio show and a newspaper column. Indeed, he was a celebrity among rabbis and other clergy. Part of Rabbi Magnin's success was due to his talented and loyal colleagues, many of whom remained at WBT their entire careers. The most obvious examples are his two rabbinic colleagues, but there were many others, including educators and camp directors.

Unfortunately, much of the recent publicity about the Temple has neglected Rabbi Magnin's immediate successor, Harvey Fields, who presided for about 20 years and only recently retired. He was responsible for the idea and construction of the new "campus" in west Los Angeles, which most significantly includes a day school. He was also the mentor of Rabbi Leder [the current rabbi].

As you know, the Wilshire Blvd. facility was never abandoned. Indeed, the western campus was built four or five decades after Jews had departed for the far suburbs. There was an unsuccessful attempt to merge with a Beverly Hills congregation. The first satellite was the summer and weekend camp in Malibu. Eventually a second camp was built nearby. I am not aware of comparable congregational facilities in this country.

It would seem that WBT has been thoroughly successful. Nobody knows how many younger generations have remained Jews, however. And of course Reform is no longer Classical. Indeed, there would be much about today's WBT that Rabbi Magnin would not accept. Indeed, my brother was not allowed to wear a kippah at his own wedding!

I have always loved Hugo Ballin's murals. Indeed, they always meant more to me than liturgy. I recently visited the Griffith Park Observatory and believe that his murals there are relatively insignificant. For the murals alone, WBT must be preserved."

To read more about Rabbi Magnin, see the series of articles by Reva Clar and William M. Kramer in
Western States Jewish History vols 17 (1984) and 19 (1986).

"Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin in Stockton (1914-1915: Rehearsal for Los Angeles; Northern California)" (17/2)

"Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin and the Modernization of Los Angeles Jewry; Part 1" (19/3)

"Rabbi Edgar Magnin and the Modernizing of Los Angeles Jewry; Part 2; Los Angeles" (19/4)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Poland: Jewish Culture Programs in Former Leczna Synagogue (now museum)

Photo: Sam Gruber lecturing in the Leczna synagogue in the 1993.

Poland: Jewish Culture Programs in Former Leczna Synagogue (now museum)

by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) On October 22, the 1937 Yiddish language film version of An-Sky’s play “The Dybbuk" will be shown in former synagogue of Leczna, now the seat of the Regional Museum in Leczna (Lubelskie province). The synagogue is one of the best preserved synagogues of the “bimah-support” type. Built in 1648, it was damaged by fire in 1846, and again by the Germans during the Second World War, when it was used for storage. Perhaps because of its massive walls, the building survived as a ruin until it was rebuilt from1953-1964 as the Museum of the Lublin Coal Region. It now houses a Regional Judaica Museum, housing a collection of liturgical objects, clothing and everyday items.

The film showing is organized by the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland and the Regional Museum in Leczna within the frames of the 'Leczna - Common Past, Two Cultures' project, supported by the Town Office and the 'Research on the Attitude Towards Jews and Their Heritage. Cooperation with Local Partners in Selected 15 Towns. Education for Tolerance' program, supported by the Batory Foundation. The film showing is intended to maintain a Jewish cultural identity within the former synagogue, but also to bring attention to Jewish cultural contribution to pre-War Poland, where the film was made. Throughout October, a series of five intercultural dialogue workshops for students will also be held in Leczna, organized by the experts of the Holocaust Research Center of the Institute of the Jagiellonian University.

The Renaissance-style synagogue is a simple rectangle in plan, fifteen meters long, with massive walls reaching a thickness in places of as much as 2.4 meters. Round-headed windows are deeply set in recessed arcades. Sloping buttresses brace the building's corners. There was once a vestibule on the west side, but this was destroyed some time in the past. Inside, the massive two-level bimah is the most notable feature. Its four thick columns once supported a dome under which would have been a raised platform with table for reading the Torah. When I first visited the synagogue when it was being prepared as the museum, the interior was entirely whitewashed. Now, some of the original polychrome decoration has been restored, including rich color on the bimah.

Click here for more history of the site and pictures of how it looks now.

Today, on the south wall, there is a plaque commemorating the 1,046 local Jews killed by the Germans.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

UK: Board of Deputies Audits Jewish Cemeteries

UK: Board of Deputies Audits Jewish Cemeteries

Ruth Ellen Gruber provides a link an article by Leon Symons in the Jewish Chronicle (UK). Ruth wrties: "abandoned, disused and neglected Jewish cemeteries are not just a problem in post-communist countries and elsewhere in Europe where most Jews were murdered in the Shoah. But concern over what to do, how to do it, who should do it, and how whatever is done should be financed is a serious issue in other countries, too."

The British Board is acting rather late in the day to address this problem. Reports of neglected and abandoned cemeteries in the UK have been a regular news feature in the Jewish chronicle and elsewhere for years. There are several good precedents for the management of abandoned cemeteries. The state of Massachusetts (USA) has one of the best programs.

See this story from the London Jewish Chronicle on the situation in England:

From The Jewish Chronicle
Leon Symons
October 3, 2008

The Board of Deputies has begun an audit of all the cemeteries it looks after in Britain to find out who owns them and who is responsible for their upkeep. It has also launched an appeal to raise the funds needed to maintain the cemeteries, hoping to generate around £50,000.

Solicitor David Marcus, the deputy for Muswell Hill, has begun researching Land Registry and other records to try to find out who owns the cemeteries, some of which are centuries old.

"The Board has accepted responsibility for cemeteries around the country, virtually all of which are now out of use," Mr Marcus explained. Some have title deeds in the name of Board honorary officers who have died, while others are in the name of the local community, or with the local authority.

"We want to start a new company and place in it all the cemeteries and any others that become its responsibility, so they are outside the Board. For example, a number are mentioned on the Jewish Heritage website, some of which are at risk, that we know nothing about and are not part of the Board's group. The problem is: Who will look after them?"

Read Full Story

Friday, October 10, 2008

USA: Savannah (Georgia) Historic B’nai Brith Synagogue designed by Jewish Architect Hyman Witcover Recognized for Adaptive Reuse

photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2006

USA: Savannah (Georgia) Historic B’nai Brith Synagogue Designed by Jewish Architect Hyman Witcover Recognized for Adaptive Reuse

by Samuel D. Gruber

The Historic Savannah Foundation (HSF)
will present its 2007 preservation award on October 30th to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) for its restoration and adaptive reuse of the former Congregation B’nai Brith Jacob synagogue. The 2008 HSF Annual Meeting and Preservation Awards to be held at the restored building, which has been adapted for use as the SCAD Student Center. I visited the building when it was still under construction, and have not seen the project finished, but here is some history about the structure, the congregation and the architect.

The former synagogue at 120 Montgomery Street, was built in 1909 and served the Orthodox Congregation until it moved to its new building in 1962. It was later home to Saint Andrew’s Independent Episcopal Church, from 1970 to 2002. SCAD acquired the building in 2003 and began work on a new student center designed by Jairo Delgado Associates and constructed by the Carson Construction Company. The Center was opened in 2006 after a process of renovation and restoration.

While HSF states that the “the Moorish Mediterranean style revival architecture was based on the 1870 Central Synagogue in New York City,” this is only true in the most general sense. The Moorish style became popular in America after the Civil War and large urban (and frequently illustrated) synagogues including the Isaac Wise Synagogue (Plum Street) in Cincinnati (1866), Temple Emanu-El in New York (1868), and Central Synagogue in New York (1872) all helped to popularize the style. In America, the style was embraced by Jews as being up-to-date, progressive and appropriately Jewish. Orthodox congregations, however, were slower to adopt the style and it only became common in Orthodox circles, mostly of post-1880 East European arrivals, one and even two generations after its introduction. The Eldridge Street Synagogue (1887) and Zichron Ephraim/Park East Synagogue (1889-90) in New York were among the first. In Georgia, the Orthodox Congregation Ahavath Achim (Atlanta) built an exotic, if not quite Moorish, synagogue in 1901, with west towers and domes similar - but more dramatic - to B’nai Brith Jacob in Savannah. By that time, most American Reform congregations had moved on to other styles (especially the Classical and Renaissance styles after 1896).

[for more on synagogue architecture in Georgia, although little about B'nai Brith in Savannah, see Steven H. Moffson, “Identity and Assimilation in Synagogue Architecture in Georgia, 1870-1920,” in Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, Vol. 9, Constructing Image, Identity, and Place (2003), pp. 151-165]

all photos by Samuel D. Gruber, April 2006

The 28,834-square-foot, four-story, boxy-looking synagogue was designed by South Carolina born Architect Hyman Witcover (1871- 1936), who in his lifetime was one of Savannah’s most successful and prolific architects. He was also one of the first American-born Jewish architects practicing in the United States. Witcover purportedly had an Orthodox Jewish background, was a member of the Young Men’s Hebrew Association in Savannah during the 1890s, and 1904 he joined Congregation Mickve Israel, Savannah's Reform congregation, and in the 1920s served on its Board of Adjunta.

Witcover (sometimes listed as Whitcover) is probably best known for his design of Savannah’s City Hall, a project championed by popular (Jewish) mayor Herman Myers [when Myers died, the city witnessed, “one of the largest processionals of the type ever seen … with a military escort by the detachment of the Savannah Guards and the entire command of the German volunteers.”]

Among Witcover’s other Savannah buildings are the Public Library, the Chatham Armory at the corner of Bull Street and Park Avenue, the Knights of Pythias Castle Hall on Telfair Square (demolished), Hick’s Hotel on Johnson Square (demolished), the Jewish Educational Alliance on Barnard Street, and the Lewis-Kayton House on Drayton Street. He was also an active Mason and designed the Scottish Rite Temple at the corner of Bull and Charlton streets. He designed and consulted on the designs of Masonic temples throughout the United States including temples in Charleston, South Carolina (where he was born); Montgomery, Alabama; and Jacksonville, Florida. A closer look at Witcover's work might point to stylistic and symbolic relationships between American synagogue and masonic temples.

Prominent exterior features of the B'nai Brith Synagogue include two towering domes on the west façade corners, each adorned with the Star of David, and original stained glass windows. According to HSF, “Countless historic elements were painstakingly restored; including ornamental woodwork and wood flooring, plaster castings to repair damaged ornamental columns, and the complete rebuilding of original stained glass windows...The rehabilitation took approximately two years. The center's overall design combines a strong structural foundation with modern amenities and a harmonious aesthetic.”

Most of the Jewish liturgical furnishings and fittings were removed from the building when B’nai Brith Jacob moved to its new home, a modern building at 5444 Abercorn Street. The Ark, bimah and eternal light are all installed in the chapel of the new synagogue. Benches and the old chandeliers are in the social hall. The new building is best known for the east wall of its sanctuary decorated with two 30-foot murals depicting the symbols of the 12 tribes, historic events from the Bible, symbolic images for each Jewish holiday, and images of Jewish ritual objects (At the time of this writing I do not know the name of the architect and artist of the 1962 building).

Congregation B'nai Brith Jacob
was organized in 1861 under the leadership of Rabbi Jacob Rosenfeld, establishing a place of worship in Amory Hall. In 1866, the congregation built a wood frame building on the northeast corner of State and Montgomery Streets. Plans for a new and larger synagogue at the same site were made in 1907 and the building was dedicated in 1909 at a cost of $45,000. Since that time the congregation has remained one of the largest, most vibrant and active Orthodox communities in the American South.

The mission of Historic Savannah Foundation is to preserve and protect Savannah's heritage through advocacy, education and community involvement.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Norway: Jewish Museum Opens in Oslo

Norway: Jewish Museum Opens in Oslo

On September 9, 2008, a new Jewish Museum in Oslo, Norway, officially opened in a the historic former Calmeyer's Gate synagogue, which was mostly destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. Its remains have been used as a frame for the new building in an area where many of the first Jewish immigrants to Oslo settled in the late 19th century. Sidsel Levin is the director of the new museum.

The Jewish Museum in Oslo (JMO) was established in March 2004 in collaboration with the OsloCity Museum, but its origin is in an exhibition organized in 1992 at the Oslo City Museum, celebrating the centenary of Det Mosaiske Trossamfund (The Mosaic Community of Norway).

The museum seeks to collect and preserve objects and memories of Jewish history and culture in Norway, emphasizing immigration and integration from 1851 to the present.

There is also a Jewish Museum in Trondheim.

The opening of the museum was attended by Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon, the defense and culture ministers, and the Israeli ambassador to Norway. The museum's opening exhibition presents the story of how Norwegian Jews have influenced cultural life in Norway and opposition to the German occupation during World War II.

Click here for more about Jewish heritage sites in Norway from Jewish-Heritage-Europe.eu

Restitution: Jewish Museum of Prague to Return Art Collection

Restitution: Jewish Museum of Prague to Return Art Collection

The Associated Press has reported that the Jewish Museum of Prague is ready to return to relatives an art collection of 32 paintings that belonged to Emil Freund, a Jewish lawyer from Prague he died in the Lodz Ghetto in 1942. The contested collection includes works by Signac, Derain and Utrillo. How the collection will be returned and when and where items can be sold remains unclear. Czech law requires that at least some of the most notable works remain in the Czech Republic. The claimants would like the right to sell works abroad.

Read the article in the International Herald Tribune here.