Saturday, April 30, 2011

Remembering My Mother, Artist Shirley Moskowitz

Refugees (1942) by Shirley Moskowitz. Marble. Collection of the National Museum of Jewish History

Remembering My Mother, Shirley Moskowitz
by Samuel Gruber

It is hard for me to accept that it has been four years this weekend since my mother, artist Shirley Moskowitz, died in Santa Monica, California at the age of 86.

I've written about some of her art on this blog before, and though Jewish themes were not a major preoccupation in her work, I thought I would remember her on this Jewish Art and Monuments Blog by posting a few of her explicitly Jewish works, many of which will be unknown to her friends and even family members. Several of Shirley's earliest works - or at least those that survive - are of Jewish subjects, reflecting a strong Jewish presence in her life, especially through the Susnitskys, her mother's extended Texan-Jewish family. Her first published drawing is of her Hebrew teacher, submitted to the Jewish youth magazine Young Israel when she was fifteen.

"Undecided about what to draw, I thought of my first Hebrew teacher who has since passed away,"
First published drawing by Shirley Moskowitz, Young Israel (1935).

One of her first large works of sculpture is a marble carving (above) from 1942 of two tired seated figures called "Refugees." If there was any doubt as to the subject of this work, it was made clear when she donated it to the Museum of American Jewish History (now the National Museum of American Jewish History).

Later, in the early 1960s she carved a series of Jewish figures that are essentially nostalgic, and these look back to her childhood memories of attending religious services at her grandfather's synagogue in Brenham, Texas and perhaps again to her Hebrew teacher. Three works - Der Chazin, The Rabbi and Olenu were carved during a period when she most involved with a Jewish community, but in a thoroughly modern way. My family moved into its second suburban home in 1959, a new split-level house in a new housing development outside of Philadelphia. We three children were soon all attending afternoon Hebrew school twice a week and "Junior Congregation" on Saturdays at the Norristown Jewish Community Center, in nearby Norristown, Pa.

Der Chazin (1961) by Shirley Moskowitz. Cherry wood carving. Private Collection.

The Rabbi (1962) by Shirley Moskowitz. Cherry wood carving. Private Collection.

Olenu (1963) by Shirley Moskowitz. Walnut wood carving.

These three sculptures were carved during her Wednesday night carving group that met at the studio of Hans Huneke in Norristown, and they reflect Shirley's then acute awareness of Jewish tradition, but seen through a nostalgic lens. Though I never heard her talk about it, these works might also be as much about a lost Jewish Europe as about a lost Jewish Texas. All her carving companions at Hans's studio were acutely aware of what had happened in Europe. Artist Steffi Greenbaum was a refugee from Berlin. Hans was a non-Jewish anti-Nazi Socialist from Germany and his wife Dini was Jewish. Bernard and Ruth Petlock were also sometime part of the group, and Bernie was born in Bialystok. Another good friend of this group was local artist and Holocaust scholar Mary Costanza.

After 1963, however, Shirley moved away from these themes and subsequently most of her carving centered on groups of figures, usually with children, representing families. This theme more clearly reflected the suburban world around her, where streets, sidewalks and backyards always seemed full of us babyboom kids.

Bar Mitzvah (ca. 1960). Lino-block or woodcut print by Shirley Moskowitz.

About the same time Shirley was making her "Jewish" carving she also tried made a few collages and several lino-block prints based on Jewish holidays and celebrations. I think the prints were primarily made to have a ready source of gifts for the seemingly-never ending births, weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs of the 1960s.

Most of Shirley's work during these years was based on her travels, especially long family trips to Europe in 1959, 1962, 1966 and then a three-year stay in Italy from 1970-1973. She tended to sketch and paint landscape and city scenes outside but often work these into collages and, especially after 1970, prints. Though we often visited Jewish sites on our travels, she only sketched a few. One of her favorite pen and ink works is a beautiful view of the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague done when we spent the summer in Czechoslovakia in 1966. She later made fine print from this. She also turned a little sketch of the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem made on a visit to Israel with her mother and aunt in 1971 into a lino-block print, shown here. Later, when two of her three children were involved in the world of Jewish monuments and travel, she made a few more works as I have previously shown.

Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague (1966). Sepia and ink drawing by Shirley Moskowitz.

Western Wall '71 (1971). Lino-cut print by Shirley Moskowitz (artist's proof).

In sum, my mother was more an "Artist who was Jewish" than a "Jewish Artist." She would not reject the title but would insist - correctly - that while her Jewish work was important to her, it is not representative in quantity or quality of her artistic output as whole. She was, however, as Rabbi Laura Geller stated in her eulogy four years ago, a woman of valor in the Jewish tradition.

For more about Shirley Moskowitz click here

Friday, April 29, 2011

Publication: Ars Judaica Volume Seven Has Arrived

The synagogues of Algiers (top) and Oran (bottom) are discussed in an article by Dominique Jarrassé.

Publication: Ars Judaica Volume Seven Has Arrived

The seventh volume of the excellent art journal Arts Judaica has been published by Bar-Ilan University. Editors Bracha Yaniv, Mirjam Rajner and Ilia Rodov have done it again, producing a rich selection of well-research articles beautifully illustrated and presented. Older readers will remember that from the 1970s through the 1990s there was only one reliable forum dedicated to scholarly works about Jewish art, and that was the
Journal of Jewish Art (later just Jewish Art)published by the Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University. That journal is no more - though the Center continues to publish important monographs and other volume - now in partnership arrangements with other institutions.

Ars Judaica and the journal Images published by Brill, have developed to take its place. Significantly, the journals are complementary in editorial approach. Ars Judaica mostly focuses on painting, especially the "heroic" period of Jewish history painting and nascent modernism form the late 19th century until the Holocaust. There is usually a strong representation of new research on art and artists from Central and Eastern Europe, and of course utilizing sources in Israel.

In this new issue there are articles on Samuel Hirszenberg (by Richard I. Cohen and Mirjam Rajner) as well as articles about photographic imagery of the shtetl (by Rose-Carol Washton Long) and on the arts scene in interwar Warsaw (by Renata Piatkowska). I myself have contributed a memorial to the late Polish architect and synagogue historian Kazimierz Piechotka. Where the
Journal of Jewish Art tended to emphasis iconography and traditional Jewish themes, Ars Judaica's editor encourage a broader approach, and many of the articles include more placement of Jewish art in a wider artistic context, and also to some degree in a social and political one, too. This, of course, reflect a continuing maturation of the modern study of Jewish art which, after post-Holocaust rebuilding, first struggled for legitimacy but now is more confident in an much less mono-stylistic (Modernism) and mono-national (euro-centric and especially French) world of art art history.

There is overlap with the journal
Images, edited by Americans, but Images leans toward more contemporary art themes, and includes more American work, and strives for a more distanced and theoretical approach. Together, the two journals mix the best Israeli and American "Jewish" art history - or history of Judaism in art and provide an essential intellectual and aesthetic platform for scholars and intelligent readers.

If your university library does yet subscribe to these important journals - make sure it does for your sake, but also to ensure these journals survive.

Most issues of Ars Judaica contain at least one important article about synagogue art or architecture. In this issue I especially recommend in this issue of
Ars Judaica Dominique Jarrassé's article "Orientalism, Colonialism, and Jewish Identity in the Synagogues of North Africa under French Domination." This piece is an excellent architectural and social history study, but it is especially timely as the world focuses on the political and social changes in North Africa today where issues of cultural identity and colonialism are still strongly evident. The article accompanies Jarrassé's recent book (with Colette Bismuth-Jarrassé,Synagogues de Tunisie: Monuments d'une histoire et d'une identité. (Editions esthetiques du Divers, 20100, about which I will have more to say in an upcoming review. Prof. Jarrassé, after mastering the history and architecture of French synagogues in several important books has now turned his attention to the former French colonies of North Africa. This work is an important contribution to recent articles on the Jewish Orientalism and the development of the so-called Moorish style in Europe by Ivan Kalmar and Rudolf Klein. Given Jarrassé's deep knowledge of French historicism and the 18th and 19th-century debates over French cultural identity and nationalism, his perspective and his first-hand knowledge of so-many buildings is welcome and important. Unfortunately, many of the buildings discussed in this article are destroyed, though finely illustrated through postcard photos from the collection of Gérard Silvain.

Traidtional jewish art is not neglected either. The issue opens with an article by Sara Offenberg on "Illuminations of Kol Nidrei in Two Ashkenazi Mahzorim."

You can find more information about Ars Judaica on its Facebook Page.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Holland: Project to Commemorate Former Jewish Residents

Amsterdam, Holland. Monument to Jewish Resistance in WWII. Photo: Samuel Gruber

Amsterdam homeowners asked to commemorate former Jewish owners

In a new effort to remember the everyday lives of Jews killed in the Holocaust, in the spirit the highly successful German Stolpersteine
project ("Stones of the Vanished" or "Stumbling Stones") of which I have previously written, a new effort to mark the houses of former Jewish residents of Holland has been announced. This project is in its infancy and it remains to see what interest and action it will inspire.

In addition to the internationally known Anne Frank House, hone of the most visited tourist sites in Amsterdam; and the Jewish Historical Museum, one of the best Jewish historical and cultural venues in Europe; Amsterdam also already has numerous monuments and plaques marking Jewish heritage and Holocaust sites and and commemorating Holocaust victims. The best on-line guide to the Jewish history of Amsterdam on the museum's website.

The following article is from Associated Press was published in
More than 70 percent of Holland's wartime Jewish population were killed by the Nazis; The dutch will mark the end of the war on May 4 with solemn ceremonies of remembrance.

By The Associated Press

A commemoration committee is asking thousands of Amsterdam homeowners to mark their houses if a former Jewish resident was arrested or deported to Nazi death camps during World War II.

The May 4-5 Committee, named for the date of the Netherlands' liberation from German occupation in 1945, made posters available Friday for display in windows of the former Jewish homes.

The poster reads: "1 of the 21,662 houses where Jews lived who were murdered in World War II."

Residents can look on the committee's website to see if their house had been occupied by a Jewish family during the war and the names of the people who had lived there.

More than 70 percent of Holland's wartime Jewish population were killed by the Nazis. The Dutch mark the end of the war on May 4 with solemn ceremonies of remembrance, followed the next day by parties and music to mark Liberation Day.

The poster was the initiative of Frits Rijksbaron, a marketing executive who discovered the title deed to his new home showed that it had once belonged to a Jewish family.

He told Dutch broadcaster NOS that he hoped to remind Amsterdam's citizens of the horrors of the Nazis' sweep of their city, during which some 61,700 Jews were arrested and killed.

He wanted "to show how big a trauma it was for the Jews and for Amsterdam, and how Jewish Amsterdam was."

Poland: Synagogue Restorations Garner Awards

Ostrow Wielkopolski, Poland. Former synagogue restored as a performance hall. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.

Poland: Synagogue Restorations Garner Awards

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that awards have been given for the recent restorations of two historic synagogues.

According too JTA: "The mainly European Union-funded restoration of the twin-towered synagogue in Ostrow Wielkopolski in south-central Poland was awarded the top prize in the fourth edition of the Facade of the Year contest."

The former "new" synagogue of Ostrow Wielkopolski, was built in the late 1850s, designed by the German-Jewish architect Moritz Lande and will be used as a cultural venue. I don't know much about Lande (1829-1888) but as one of the first generation of German-Jewish architects, he is certainly worthy of further study.

Earlier this month, The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland won the 2011 Conservation Laurel for the recently completed restoration of the Renaissance synagogue in the town of Zamosc, of which I have previously written.

Read the entire article here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Conference: German-Jewish Immigration and Presence in New York City

Woodmere, NY. Congregation sons of Israel. Fritz Nathan and Eugene Schoen, archs. Photos: Samuel D. Gruber (2011).
Nathan was a refugee architect important in redefining the American synagogue after World War II (I am presently writing a chapter about him and fellow German refugee artist and architects for a forthcoming edited volume on German-Jewish trans-nationalism).

Conference: German-Jewish Immigration and Presence in New York City

(ISJM) The Jewish Studies Center at Baruch College, together with the Leo Baeck Institute, is sponsoring a day-long conference on German-Jewish immigration and presence in New York City on May 5, 2011.

Three panels and roundtables will be held at the Leo Baeck Institute: "The German-Speaking Jewish Presence in New York" (10-11:45); "German-Jewish Troubles with Immigration in the 1930s: A Lesson for Today's Immigration Debates?" (1:30-3) and "Roundtable Discussion: Memorializing and Representing German-Speaking Jews in New York City Museums and Institutions" (3:15-4:45). There will be a reception with light refreshments at Baruch College, in the Performing Arts Center, from 6-7 PM. This will be followed by a screening of the film "We were so beloved: The German Jews of Washington Heights" and a discussion with director Manfred Kirchheimer.

More information is available at:

Conference: Chevra Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference (June 12-14)

Conference: Chevra Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference (June 12-14)Link
For blog readers intimately involved in burial and cemetery issues - or those hwo owuld liek to be -, you should be aware of this upcoming conference. The following is adapted from information provided by the Jewish Cemetery Association of North America.
Chaverim:The Chevra Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference is two days (June 12-14) of intense learning focused on the end of life continuum. From bikkur cholim, to tahara and shmira, funeral and burial and mourning, this conference allows every participant to immerse in the knowledge, resources, texts, and discussions vital to working in their own community. If you are new to end of life work, this gathering will provide you education and inspiration, concrete resources and a network of experts.

And did we mention networking?If you are experienced, the conference gives you a wealth of options to learn in-depth, or branch out to new areas. If you need emotional re-charging, get your batteries ready because you will be re-inspired, re-enthused, and re-energized by the amazing teachers and folks who attend this conference.

Don't miss the "live" tahara demo, halacha of intermarried burials, active listening, marketing traditional funerals and burials, infection control, history of the Jewish Sacred Society, autopsy and medical examiners, non-profit funeral homes, transgender issues, cemetery consecration, Maavor Yabbok text study, healing, cemetery finances, bereavement photography, genealogy, cemetery regulators and much more. Plus lots of networking, discussing, strategizing, sharing and supporting. We encourage every synagogue, Jewish cemetery, and Chevra Kadisha to send a team to the conference. There's a lot to learn and to bring home. Logistics? All Kosher meals are provided. Chicago is a major airport hub. Hotel rates are very reasonable.

To registration click here or go to

For a limited time, JCANA is offering Jewish cemeteries the opportunity to join JCANA (initial year only) for the remainder of the calendar year at no charge. Cemetery representatives should include their intent to take advantage of this offer in the conference registration. We look forward to seeing you in Chicago.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Azerbaijan: New Synagogue in Baku

Azerbaijan: New Synagogue in Baku
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) The community of "Mountain Jews" in Baku, Azerbaijan opened an impressive new synagogue on April 5th. The building was designed by architect Alexander Garber. The construction of the building was sponsored by the government. This follows a the large 3-story synagogue building that opened in the city in 2003. In all there five synagogues in Azerbaijan, with three in Baku. I don't know a lot about azerbaijan synagogues, so I'll try to collect some more information and present it at another time.

Here is the article about the opening provided by the Federation of Jewish Communities in the CIS:
New Synagogue for Mountain Jews of Baku (Thursday, April 7 2011)
BAKU, Azerbaijan — The opening of the new synagogue building for Mountain Jews of Azerbaijan, built with government funding in less than six months, took place on April 5. The crowd of attendees was so large at the opening ceremony in central Baku that the police had to block traffic.
Before the ceremony, the chairman of the Mountain Jews community in Azerbaijan, Semyon Ikhiilov, welcomed the distinguished guests. He gave a brief tour of the building, which was built in the historic Jewish district of Baku. Everyone was awed by the sanctuary, with its high ceilings and windows, an ornate ceiling, a luminous chandelier, comfortable seating, and an impressive Aron Kodesh (Torah ark). The other wing of the new synagogue holds a dining room and kitchen on the ground floor, a conference hall, chairman’s office and reception area on the second floor, and the library on the third floor.
“We Jews of Azerbaijan would like to express our sincere appreciation to our distinguished President Ilham Aliyev, who personally undertook that this house of worship be built! This is a unique case: in no other country in the world, not even in Israel, does the state build a synagogue at its own expense. This happens only in Azerbaijan,” emphasized Mr. Ikhiilov.

Read the entire article here

Baku used to have many synagogues which are now destroyed. Below you can see some images of these vanished buildings from old postcards published by V. Likhodedov in Synagogues. One of these was among the most impressive classical style synagogues of its time - built very much in the style of contemproary opera houses and concert halls.

Holocaust Memorials: More on Stumbling Blocks (Stolpersteine)

Holocaust Memorials: More on Stumbling Blocks (Stolpersteine)
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) I have written in the past about the Stolpersteine project ("Stones of the Vanished" or "Stumbling Stones") which began in Germany, and has now spread to many countries. The project, originated in 1994 in Cologne by artist Gunter Demnig, embeds small stones resembling cobbles, in the pavements near houses where Jews lived before their deportation out of Germany, or to their deaths.

There have been many stories in the press about the project - which to my mind is one of the most effective acts of Holocaust remembrance created. It is at the same time obvious and brilliant. It brings the act of memory into everyday life, and it reminds us that unexpected events - including the banal and horrific - can occur, or at least appear to us, at almost any time. We should seek to remember something or someone, from the past, every day.

Here is a link to recent story by Winston Pickett about the Stolpersteine project from the Jewish Chronicle.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Romania: Iasi Holocaust Victims Reburied

Romania: Iasi Holocaust Victims Reburied

AFP reported on April 4, 2011 the following story of the reburial in the Jewish cemetery of Iasi, Romania, of the remains of about 40 Jewish Holocaust victims. The reburial is significant for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that the victims were the first found in a mass grave in Romania since 1945 - despite the widespread belief that many such graves exist. Romania's long-standing official reluctance about pursuing Holocaust history is well known.

Elsewhere in Europe more concerted efforts are in progress to identify such graves - but these efforts, too, are often hampered by mixed local sensibilities about confronting the past and priorities about the future.

The second issue involves how to treat such graves when found. Many observant Jews prefer, and many insist, that graves be undisturbed, but marked and in some way consecrated and protected; in essence making every mass grave a Jewish cemetery. This follows Jewish law and tradition, and does not "disturb the dead."

On the other hand there are many who insist and require - for legal and historical reasons - that such graves when found be investigated, which usually mean the exhumation of the dead in order to try to describe the crime and identify the victims. Sometimes this is required to ascertain the fact that the victims were in fact Jews - or all Jews - something that in many cases, however, can never be fully known. A new field of forensic anthropology has developed in recent years specializing in such work - the result of horrific crimes in countries around the world. Following this scenario, Jewish communities usually prefer to see the exhumed remains reburied in Jewish cemeteries with other Jews in already consecrated ground, though for some Orthodox Jews the fear of interring a non-Jew in a Jewish cemetery is also a concern. Historical markers recounting the circumstances of their murders can still be placed at the mass grave site. The speed with which investigation and reburial is carried out can also become a contentious issue.

In Jewish history there are many precedents for the removal and reburial of human remains in order to protect them from destruction or to reunite them. Usually such removals and reburials follow prescribed procedures under rabbinic supervision, but truthfully, most of these are of fairly recent invention. How bodies were dealt with in the past in times of oppression and duress, and in times of communal recovery, is not fully known.

One thing that all sides agree on - is that graves of the dead need to marked in some way. Historians and archaeologists want the events of the past to be remembered. Observant Jews want to respect the dead, and also provided a warning to those (such as Cohanim) who cannot come in contact with the dead.

Dozens of Holocaust victims laid to rest in Romania

by: Isabelle Wesselingh

Rabbis from Britain and the United States bury on April 4, 2011 in the town of Iasi, 410 kms north of Bucharest, some 40 Jews killed during the Holocaust and found in November 2010 in a mass grave in the northeastern Romanian village of Popricani.

The remains of about 40 Jews killed during the Holocaust and found in a mass grave were laid to rest Monday in an emotion-filled ceremony in northeastern Romania. Five rabbis from Britain and the United States performed the funeral service under a grey and cloudy sky. Dressed in black, they carried the remains, unidentified and contained in paper bags and cardboard boxes, and put them into a single grave in the Jewish cemetery of Iasi, overlooking the city. "We have come here to help these people rest in peace. We believe it is God's will", British rabbi Meir Twersky, whose grand-parents are buried in Iasi cemetery, told AFP. "We are gathered here today to remember these men, women and children who were brutally murdered in a forest in 1941 (...) only because they were Jews", Israel's ambassador to Romania, Dan Ben-Eliezer, said during the official ceremony.

According to the Elie Wiesel National Institute, the victims were killed in the summer of 1941 at Popricani, close to Iasi, by the Romanian army, an ally of the Nazis during World War II. They were among more than 15,000 Jews killed in Iasi during pogroms in 1941. A Romanian historian, Adrian Cioflanca, found the site thanks to the testimonies of Romanians who had witnessed the killings. "We will continue the historical research in order to try to determine where the victims came from, whether it was from Iasi or the surrounding villages", the director of the Elie Wiesel Institute, Alexandru Florian, told AFP.

The exact number of victims, including women and children, has not been determined, but Cioflanca told AFP, "We found the skulls of at least 35 people but there were other body parts so we can talk about at least 40 people." The victims were buried just a few metres (yards) away from thousands more Jews killed during the pogroms. "I ask the forgiveness of the deceased for the suffering that has been brought to their holy bones", rabbi Meir Schlesinger said, referring to the belief that the remains should have been left where they were originally found. But Abraham Ghiltman, the president of the Iasi Jewish community, said it was a "relief" to see "those whose memory was forgotten" to be lying next to their fellow citizens in the Jewish cemetery. "We hope that the events we witnessed during the Holocaust will never happen again, neither in Romania nor in the rest of the world", he added.

According to an international commission of historians led by Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel, himself a Romanian-born Jew, between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews were killed in territories run by the pro-Nazi Romanian regime during 1940-1944. The Popricani mass grave is the first to be discovered since 1945, when 311 corpses were exhumed from three locations in Stanca Roznovanu, close to Iasi, according to the Wiesel Institute.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Rebels claim 'ancient synagogue destroyed' in Libya

The blog Point of No Return (PONR) reports that a former synagogue in the Libyan-Berber town of Yefren is said to have been destroyed in the fighting now raging between President Gaddafi's forces and Nato-supported rebels.

According to PONR:
This BBC report yesterday quotes a rebel fighter named Aydress. Aydress claims that Colonel Gaddafi's forces used rockets, missiles and anti-tank weapons to bombard the town of Yefren. They destroyed a mosque and a 'Jewish place of worship', 2,000 years old, he says.

Yefren is a Berber town in the West of Libya famous for its troglodyte caves.

According to the Lonely Planet guide to Libya, the synagogue served the Jewish community up to 1948. (Many of the town's Jews went to Moshav Usha near Haifa). The ramshackle interior contains six arches and six windows (the number represents the six points of the Star of David) surrounding a raised platform. The ceilings are adorned with Hebrew inscriptions and Hamza hands.
You can see a video of the small space with its wall inscriptions here. Many of the Hebrew inscriptions are in raised relief and also decorated with abundant hands (hamza). The space itself recalls similar small synagogues (now ruined) in the former Jewish quarters of Berber towns in Morocco.

Macedonia: Holocaust Memorial Museum Opened

Skopje, Macedonia. scenes from the inauguration of the new Holocaust Museum. Photos from web.

LinkBlagoj Gjorcev, 92, looks at portraits of Macedonian Jews killed during the opening ceremony of the Holocaust memorial center for the Jews of Macedonia in Skopje Photograph by: OGNEN TEOFILOVSKI REUTERS, AFP.

Macedonia: Holocaust Memorial Museum Opened

In a recent post I mentioned the new Holocaust museums in Skokie and Los Angeles. I should also have mentioned the new center in Skopje, Macedonia. There, the actual and remembered history and landscape are quite different than in U.S. cities - where they have been more survivors living, but where many remade lives far from the site of community destruction. In Macedonia, a small country with few Jews, a large new center has risen on the site of the Jewish ghetto.

Last month a Holocaust museum and educational center was dedicated in the former Jewish quarter of Skopje, Republic of Macedonia. The project had been announced with great hoopla in Link2005 in a public ceremony involving the Macedonian President and Prime Minister among others, with an anticipated completion date of 2006 or 2007. as with many such projects that have to negotiate a complex financial, political, aesthetic and historical path; things took longer.

'The Memorial Holocaust Centre, in a symbolic way, will bring the victims of Treblinka home to Macedonia', said Prime Minister Buckovski, after laying the center's cornerstone.

According to Katherine Clarke writing in The Forward:
Co-curator Yitzchak Mais, who was previously director of Yad Vashem and founding curator of New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage, terms the special exhibit accompanying the opening a “cultural insight into a dynamic Jewish world that was destroyed.” He stated that the exhibit, which features hours of interviews with Macedonian Jews, “focuses on Macedonian Jewry before the Holocaust, on forgotten history, and on tremendous stories of Jewish vitality and vibrancy wiped out by external causes."

The official celebrations marked only the first phase of the center. A special children’s museum will open in the complex in March 2012, to be followed by the permanent exhibition, in March 2013. The completion of all phases of the project coincides with “Skopje 2014,” a $273 million initiative to transform the city into a competitive European capital and rebuild its infrastructure after a 1963 earthquake that destroyed about 80% of the city’s architecture.
Not everyone is pleased with the memorial.

An article in Macedonia Daily addresses some of the very real concerns of people in Macedonia - including some Jews - about the cost and scope of the project at a time when other infrastructure in thew country needs costly attention.
The Holocaust Center also illustrates a recent trend in Macedonia to more strongly assert the country’s identity as an independent nation. The project dovetails conveniently, for example, with Skopje 2014, the government’s controversial, $273 million plan to transform the city from a provincial seat into a full-fledged European capital.

The center and Skopje 2014 are technically unrelated. But if the center is completed next year, as expected, and Skopje 2014 remains on schedule, the new center will eventually stand in a radically redesigned downtown, near a new Macedonian history museum, new national theater, a massive triumphal arch and other proposed monuments.

Taxpayers are footing the bill for Skopje 2014, making it a subject for public debate. The center’s costs, alternatively, are covered by a special fund created in 2000 from the assets of Macedonian Jewish families who perished in the Holocaust and left no heirs. But critics within the Jewish community nonetheless link the two, arguing the center’s backers are overreaching in the same way the government is trying to do too much with Skopje 2014.

“It’s become big, maybe too big,” said Samuel Sadikario, a former president of the Holocaust Fund, a quasi-public organization that administers the center’s budget. “Maybe such a project should be done in Poland.”

Located on a 30,000-square-foot parcel near the River Vardar, in Skopje’s former Jewish quarter, the Holocaust Memorial Center will commemorate the 7,200 souls sent to the Treblinka death camp in 1943, when Nazi-ally Bulgaria occupied Macedonia, then part of Yugoslavia. The $23-million center is slated to contain a museum, arts center and hotel.

About 220 Jews remain in Macedonia, too few to merit a grand center, said Sadikario. He thought the millions invested in the project might be better spent on Macedonia’s crumbling universities. He also noted that construction was supposed to finish two years ago, but has been repeatedly delayed by the Jewish leaders struggling to manage the project.

“There is no capacity,” Sadikario said. “Judaism is actually dying out in Macedonia. It’s not too much to say its dead."
Others, however, consider this a "world-class" museum and look forward to it becoming a destination - helping to put Skopje on the travel map.

Here is the report posted by the World Jewish Congress:

Macedonia praised for honoring its Jews at opening of Holocaust memorial museum

11 March 2011

A museum dedicated to the memory of the Jews of Macedonia who perished in the Shoah has been inaugurated in the former Yugoslav republic, in the presence of the country’s president and representatives of international Jewish organizations, including the World Jewish Congress (WJC). In his speech, the WJC’s Research Director Laurence Weinbaum pointed out that no Jewish community in Europe had suffered a greater degree of destruction than the Macedonian one. Referring to Macedonia's principled stand on the restitution issue and to its unwavering friendship with Jews and Israel, he said: "In much of contemporary Europe, dead Jews are respected, but live ones are defamed. You honor the dead and the living, and in so doing you have set an example to which other nations should aspire. There are nations that are larger, richer, better known and more powerful than Macedonia, but none more decent, gracious, good-hearted and noble.”

In a video message to the event, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that "this museum and memorial will document the long and rich history of Jewish life in the Balkans and honor the memories of those who perished in the Holocaust. Schoolchildren and visitors from throughout the region will be able to see their faces, hear their stories, and learn about their lives. The government of Macedonia has shown real leadership by enacting legislation resolving compensation claims for Jewish property stolen during the Holocaust and supporting the establishment of this memorial and museum. And today your entire nation can be proud of this effort." The modern, multi-million dollar edifice stands in the heart of what was once the city's Jewish Quarter, in the center of the Macedonian capital Skopje. It was built by the Jewish community of Macedonia, which today numbers some 100 members. Macedonian Jewry benefited from a 2002 law providing for the return of heirless Jewish property, a law that is widely recognized as one of the best in Europe.

"The only surviving member of the 81-strong Misrahi family was my father," Viktor Misrahi (pictured on the left), one of the few Macedonian survivors still alive, told the news agency AFP. "Today, the ashes of our people were brought back here from Treblinka and they will remain here, at their home," he added. At the ceremony, Macedonia was hailed for enabling the Jews to regain the assets they had lost in the Shoah. The cornerstone for the museum was laid in 2005. Ljiljana Mizrahi, president of the local Holocaust Fund that had initiated the project, opened the ceremony by reading the names of some of the victims and explained that the museum would "preserve the memory of the Jews of Macedonia, not only commemorate their deaths, but also their lives and the civilization that perished with them."

In his address, Macedonian President Gjorje Ivanov recalled the long history of co-habitation between Jews and Macedonians of other faiths and said that with the loss Linkof the Jews "a part of Macedonia had been torn out and that on the Jewish streets of Skopje, Bitola and Stip, after the war there was silence." He went on to note Macedonia's support for Israel, which he said would continue.

In April 1941, Macedonia - then a part of Yugoslavia - was occupied by Bulgarian troops. In contrast to its policy back home, Sofia instituted a regime of terror and plunder against Macedonian Jews. That policy culminated in the deportation in March 1943 of some 7,200 Jews to the German death camp at Treblinka, from which not a single one returned. Some 98 percent of the Jews were killed. The only survivors were those who had managed to evade deportation, many of whom fought with the partisans.

Also, Read the AFP story here.

For more on Jewish sites in Macedonia click here.

jewish-heritage-travel: Stones and Stone-carver images from a century ago

Stones and Stone-carver images from a century ago
(cross posted from

Ruth Ellen Gruber keeps posting interesting material on the history of Jewish gravestone carving.

See: jewish-heritage-travel: Stones and Stone-carver images from a century ago

In this post she shows images by Jewish artist Solomon Yudovin (1892-1954). a talented artist born near Vitebsk (where Marc Chagall was born). Yudovin was one of the artists who participated with An-Sky in the Jewish ethnographic expeditions through Volynia and Podolia (Ukraine). Yudovin photographed and copied the many of the Judaica objects and artworks discovered and collected and he later used many of these same themes in his won work - adapting by continuing Jewish traditional art motifs, themes and iconography.

One of my favorite Yudivin works is "Shabbat." Ruth should like this for all the candlestick imagery. I often show this image when I speak of the architecture and imagination of the shtetl.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Rothstein, Wecker (& Gruber) on Holocaust Museums

Los Angeles, Ca. Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. Photos: Samuel Gruber (2011)

Rothstein, Wecker (& Gruber) on Holocaust Museums
by Samuel D. Gruber

The New York Times recently ran a thoughtful and thorough review of the new Holocaust Museum in Los Angeles. Unlike several previous articles in other publications that deal mostly with the architecture – or architecture as landscape – Edward Rothstein mostly discusses the exhibitions, presentation and tries to find underlining themes and messages beyond the specifics of Holocaust chronology and the generalities that such an event should happen “Never Again.” In an on-line post-script to the times articles Menachem Wecker has posted related piece in the Houston Chronicle. Both articles ask the question are there too many Holocaust Museums? (and perhaps by extension, too much Holocaust?), and more delicately, what is the role of a Holocaust Museum so many years after the main event, and especially now as the last generation of survivors ages and dies.

Both authors see the continued need for Holocaust education, and the role museums can play. And yet as Rothstein says, despite all the new museums “at the same time exaggerated and wrong-headed Holocaust and Nazi analogies have proliferated at an even greater rate than the museums themselves. It is as if familiarity is breeding analogy, and analogy is unaffected by how many institutions.”

Of course it is foolish to think museums are going to stop intolerance. At best they can provide the information and narrative needs for individuals and groups to defend against ludicrous denials, and to take the offensive to teach a new generation. Even the best museums – as places one chooses to go to – are essentially passive and reactive. Museums need the response of the individual mind and heart to “turn on” what they offer. Museums can be repositories of memory, but they are not memory themselves any more than a hard drive full of stored data represents real intelligence and knowledge. But the need for such repositories is essential; they are the well to which thinking people must continually return to confront horrible truths.

Should Holocaust Museums be changing? The first were opened decades ago in a pre-digital age. Museums must, of course, keep up with the times in order to maintain and expand their audience. But unlike many museums, Holocaust museums were founded on a moral truth, with a moral center. They must not deviate from this, they must not dilute their story, they must not pander for audience and commercialize their content. Holocaust museums occupy a borderland on the edge of sacred space but dangerously close to entertainment centers. It is a line that is crossed at great peril. Our recent and ongoing wars have already been turned into video games. What next? Curators beware.

MUSEUM REVIEW; Bearing Witness Beyond the Witnesses

By EDWARD ROTHSTEIN (March 24, 2011), The New York Times

LOS ANGELES -- Is the Holocaust too much with us? Or if not the Holocaust, then Holocaust museums?

It can sometimes seem so. The Association of Holocaust Organizations has 293 institutional members around the world, each at least partly devoted to commemoration. The association counts 16 major Holocaust museums in the United States, in Richmond, Houston, New York, Washington and other cities to which Jewish survivors immigrated after World War II. And they are still being built. Two years ago the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center opened near Chicago. And last fall the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust opened here in a new $15.5 million building. It is actually the city's second such museum; the other, the Museum of Tolerance, examines the Holocaust's connection to its main theme and welcomes 350,000 visitors a year.

But the answer to these questions is not easy for it seems that while almost all of these institutions have developed out of the desires of survivors to offer testimony, command remembrance, educate the young and ensure that nothing similar occurs, at the same time exaggerated and wrong-headed Holocaust and Nazi analogies have proliferated at an even greater rate than the museums themselves. It is as if familiarity is breeding analogy, and analogy is unaffected by how many institutions meticulously survey the horrors of calculated, systematic murder on a mass scale. The new museum here, in Pan Pacific Park, not far from the traditionally Jewish district of Fairfax Avenue, should not, of course, bear the brunt of these broodings. It does, however, in its successes and failures, indicate some of the challenges that will face Holocaust museums when there are no longer any remaining survivors and they commemorate a receding historical trauma.

The Holocaust museum here is a strange hybrid, for not only is it the country's newest, it is also, its literature asserts, the oldest, tracing its origins to 1961, when a group of survivors studying English as a Second Language at Hollywood High School decided it would be important to display some of the objects that had survived with them and that might, in a museum setting, bear witness.

Read the Whole Story Here

Skokie, Illinois. Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. Photos: Samuel Gruber (2010)

Experts: Don't say 'never again' to Holocaust museums

By Menachem Wecker (March 31, 2011) Houston Chronicle

Must Holocaust museums evolve as they approach an age without any living survivors? As the Nazis recede further into the past, is there a danger of museums devoted to Holocaust memory becoming static?A recent New York Times article by Edward Rothstein raised these provocative questions and has some experts worried about the view that Holocaust museums need to become more than one-trick ponies.

"When you say that a Holocaust museum must not be static you're implying, very strongly, that being static is bad," says Walter Reich, former director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Stagnancy could mean bankruptcy for clothing designers, but what's true of fashion isn't true about the "catastrophic vulnerabilities of human nature," says Reich, now a professor at George Washington University.

"That history and those vulnerabilities are fundamentally static," he says. "It should be portrayed in a way that depicts exactly what happened. It should not become a vessel for current trends, concerns or fashions and should not stop being a museum about a discrete historical event."

Ira Perry, director of marketing and public relations at the Holocaust Museum Houston, agreed.

"Holocaust museums do not necessarily need to evolve into something else," he said. "They serve a distinct role in honoring the victims' histories and the survivors' legacies."

Read the whole story here.

Also Gavriel Rosenfeld's October 2010 review of the Los Angeles Museum's architecture, publishing the The Forward, before the official opening.

Stealth Museum

The New Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust Gives New Meaning to Green Architecture

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Symposium: Jewish Life in Morocco: An Epic Journey

Symposium: Jewish Life in Morocco: An Epic Journey

The American Sephardi Federation (ASF) will host a 2-day symposium Jewish Life in Morocco: An Epic Journey on Sunday,May 15 and Monday, May 16, 2011 at its home at the Center for Jewish History in New York City.

The symposium will feature international scholars from Morocco, France, Canada, Israel and the U.S., who will present the history, contributions and contemporary story of Jewish Morocco. Specific topics will include, among others: Evolution of Jewish Life, Moroccan Jews and the Arts, Moroccan Rabbis and Jewish Thought, Relationships Between Jews and Muslims, Moroccan Jewish Diaspora and the Jews of Morocco Today.

The symposium, open to the public, is part of the year-long series: ‘2,000 Years of Jewish Life in Morocco: An Epic Journey,’ which is being held under the High Patronage of His Majesty Mohammed VI, King of Morocco.

Moroccan Synagogue. Photos; Isaiah Wyner/World Monuments Fund

For those interested in the architecture of Moroccan synagogue, ASF holds the photo archive of the Morocco synagogue survey carried out for the World Monuments Fund in the early 1990s by architect Joel Zack and photographer Isaiah Wyner.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Germany: Sensational Finds at Cologne Medieval Synagogue Excavation

Cologne, Germany. Fragment of slate tablet with Hebrew script for German-based text found in synagogue excavation.
Photo: courtesy Sven Scheutte/Archaologische Zone

Cologne, Germany. Stone fragment of Hebrew inscription found in synagogue excavation.
Photo: courtesy Sven Scheutte/Archaologische Zone

Germany: Sensational Finds at Cologne Medieval Synagogue Excavation
by Samuel D. Gruber

Cologne city archaeologist Sven Schuette has announced what is surely the most remarkable find of the continually remarkable excavation of the medieval synagogue and Jewish quarter of that ancient city - scores of fragments of inscribed slate tablets, some of which appear to have been used as writing tablets - perhaps by scholars and students - and some of which were possibly visible literary or historic texts important to the community. So far the finds have only been reported in local media.

Archaeologists have recently been recovering these and other extensive remains of the synagogue destroyed in 1349, during what is known as as the "Plague Pogrom" on Saint Bartholomew's Night, when the synagogue was burned and many Jews died within.

We now know that a synagogue had stood on the site since at least the 8th century, and there is strong evidence for an earliest Jewish presence on the site. Jews were present in the Rhineland in the Late Roman Period and I believe they maintained a continuous presence in Cologne, which was the major administrative center of the region until Charlemagne began to move his court to Aachen after his coronation as King of Franks in 768 (Schuette has been attacked for pushing for an early synagogue date, but the circumstantial evidence seems to support him).

At the time of the First Crusade in 1096 the synagogue was destroyed and many Jews murdered, but it was rebuilt. After the destruction of 1349 a small Jewish community was reestablished in 1372, but this community did not last long. In 1424 Jews' right to reside in cologne were revoked and the city was Judenrein for centuries. The synagogue remains today are part of the city's rich archaeological zone and part of the fine Archaeological Museum, which also preserve remains of the Late Roman and Early Medieval Cologne.

When in 1349, the night of 23 to 24 August, the Jewish Quarter was attacked and almost all its inhabitants murdered in what was one of the most brutal and devastating massacres of Jews in the late Middle Ages many people took refuge in the synagogue, which was then burned and subsequently looted. It is not clear whether Jews sacrificed themselves as martyrs or if they were attacked after taking refuge in the stone building.

Afterward, whatever was not of value - either because it was too damaged or of unknown use - was thrown as rubble into large pits or left it in place. In one of the pits - which may have been used as a privy and/or rubbish pit before the destruction - archaeologists are now recovering thousands of fragments of the destroyed synagogue, and earlier refuse from the period of intensive Jewish use. There have no reports of finding human remains.

Cologne, Germany. Fragments of synagogue bimah. Photo: Willy Horsch.

Previously fragments of the stone bimah (platform from which the Torah is read) has been found and published by Scheutte, but now many more have been found and archaeologists are also uncovering fragments of furniture, books, burnt parchment, toys, medicine bottles and even food waste. "It is the largest archaeological collection of finds from a German synagogue," says project manager Schuette.

Perhaps most remarkable find has been a collection of more than seventy fragments of slate on which extensive inscribed writing has been found. More pieces are still coming to light with inscriptions in Hebrew, German and Latin. Sometimes there are just scribbles or drawings, but there are also longer texts. A long poetry text literature from before 1349, is written in German, but in Hebrew script - possibly an important text example of early Yiddish. Only time will will tell what these text contain, already it is clear that we might have a new sort of genizah - though one not deliberately made by Jews to preserve sacred objects and texts to Holy to destroy, but rather an accidental genizah, where fragments of Jewish life and thought have been entombed for centuries by their destroyers. The inscribed tablets are strong evidence for the presence of a yeshiva or Jewish school on the synagogue premises.

It is remarkable that these finds - as well indications of the synagogues earlier history - were overlooked in the excavations by Otto Doppelfeld undertaken in the 1950s, which Scheutte, who began these excavations in 2007, felt required examination and continuation. But Doppelfield was working under intense pressures of time - whereas Scheutte has been given the opportunity, encouragement and budget by the city of Cologne to carry out a careful, continuous and far-reaching project. In the end the story of the Jewish quarter of Cologne, its historic synagogue and the vicissitudes of the Cologne Jewish community through the centuries will be told in a new museum to be erected over and around the synagogue site.

The excavation of the Cologne synagogue tells us much about the medieval Jewish community in Cologne, and also recover important traces of art and architecture. The excavation is also a new chapter in what I call the "archaeology of destruction," following especially the excavation of the demolished synagogues of Regensburg and Vienna, each of which was more systemically dismantled by Christian authorities for material reuse. Some day we may also witness the excavation of the great medieval synagogue of Budapest, which was burned like Cologne, with Jews inside.