Monday, September 12, 2011

Poland: Radoszyce Jewish Cemetery Has New Fence and Gate

Radoszyce, Poland. New Wall and gate at Jewish cemetery. Photos courtesy of The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland

Poland: Radoszyce Jewish Cemetery Has New Fence and Gate

(ISJM) The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland reports that in 2010-2011 it has built a wall and gate surrounding the Jewish cemetery in Radoszyce, and the access road to the cemetery was renovated. The works were carried out in cooperation with the local Forest Authority (Nadlesnictwo Ruda Maleniecka). Funds were raised by the descendants of Radoszyce Jews from Israel and the USA.

The Jewish cemetery in Radoszyce was established in the 18th century. The grave of Rabbi Issachar Ber Baron, Tzaddik of Radoszyce and disciple of the Seer from Lublin, is located on the cemetery grounds. His ohel is annually visited by his disciples.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

USA: Syracuse, NY, Temple Concord Sanctuary A Century Old: Re-Dedication on September 18, 2011

Syracuse, NY. Temple Concord in winter and summer. Photos: Samuel D. Gruber

USA: Syracuse, NY, Temple Concord Sanctuary a Century Old: Re-Dedication on September 18, 2011
by Samuel D. Gruber

(this text adapted from my article that appeared in the Jewish Observer)

On September 23, 1911 Syracuse, NY dignitaries gathered on the steps of the newly-built Temple Society of Concord to dedicate Central New York’s newest place of worship and the grandest Jewish building in Upstate New York. On September 18th, 2011 at 2:00 pm Rabbi Daniel J. Fellman, congregants and public and religious leaders will join together to re-dedicate the stately classical-style Temple for another century of Jewish worship in Central New York.

Temple Concord began the celebration of the building’s construction last September, when the congregation celebrated the centennial of the laying of the building's cornerstone. In the past year Temple Concord has hosted a series of historical, cultural and community events to celebrate 100 years of Reform Judaism on the “Hill.” Events have included concerts, lectures, historically inspired religious services, and a benefit auction.

The year will conclude with the weekend celebration; a gala dinner dance on September 17th celebrating the congregation’s centennial families – those members whose families have maintained continuous membership and service at Concord since this building opened; and Sunday’s rededication. The congregation will especially recognize life-long member 97-year old artist Fritzie Smith, whose grandfather Louis Glazier served as assistant to Rabbi Guttman, who presided at the building dedication, and also served as the congregation’s cantor and Hebrew teacher even before the new Temple was built. Other families honored will be the Holsteins, whose ancestor Adolph founded the Syracuse Ornamental Company (SYROCO) in 1890 and donated the present pulpit, lecterns and arm chairs as a memorial to his parents. “Our place of worship is our religious home,” said his grandson, life-long member Alexander Holstein. “The beautiful building and its walls hold treasures of the happy and sad times of our family life for four generations.” Octogenarian Michael Moss’s family will be honored – his parents Jacob Moss and Frances Silverstein were among the first to be married by Rabbi Guttman in the new sanctuary on June 4, 1912. The congregation will also recognize the Dan Harris family, which on the Rosenbloom side has been associated with the temple for many generations.

When Concord Rabbi Adoph Guttman and then congregation President Gates Thalhiemer addressed their audience of the city’s political and business leadership and a large ecumenical assembly of clergy in 1911, they knew they were doing something extraordinary – testimony to the struggles and success three generations of American Jews is Syracuse. In 1911 the city of Syracuse was not yet a century old, and Jews had organized in the city only seven decades before. Temple Concord had been founded by Jewish immigrants from Central Europe in 1839. Could those Jewish leaders have imagined that their congregation and their new building would remain intact and strong for another century?

It was an age of optimism, and that was surely their inspiration, though the tumultuous and transformative events of the 20th century could not have been anticipated. But through horrific world wars and the destruction of the Holocaust; the expansion and contraction of Central New York’s economy, industry and population; the spread of electricity, the automobile, air and space travel, and computers and so many other technological, social, demographic, economic, military, artistic and political changes; Temple Concord has always maintained Friday night worship services, a religious school, and a caring, welcoming community. The congregation has changed and modernized, but its stately building, designed by architects Alfred Taylor and Arnold W. Brunner, has changed little inside and out.

Brunner, who at the time of the Temple’s construction was president of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and was overseeing the completion of his grand Federal Building in Cleveland, is also notable as the first successful American-born Jewish architect. He was probably recommended to the congregation by the great lawyer and human rights advocate Louis Marshall, who remained associated with Temple Concord all his life, even when he served as President of Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan.

For generations, Temple Concord has been a bedrock institution in Syracuse, and since 2008 its building has been designated as a landmark for the nation, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

On September 18, 1911 the Post-Standard reported that

“Simplicity and dignity, two marked characteristics of the new house of worship, were emphasized at the dedication of the massive synagogue of the Temple Society of Concord … The new temple is one of the most impressive buildings in Syracuse. Having followed out the Doric Renaissance style of architecture, with four immense columns, the general effect is not unlike that of the ancient temples, and the interior, with its old ivory finishes, subdued lights and Circassian walnut trimmings, is equal in beauty to any recent work of art along architectural lines in this city.”

Gates Thalheimer, president of Temple Concord in 1911

At the 1911 dedication Thalheimer said: “In this country no Jew needs to be ashamed of his religion. Under the protection of the Stars and the Stripes we are permitted to worship God according to the dictates of our heart. All that is required of us is to be upright and honest in our dealings with fellow men and be good American citizens. The better Jews we are the betters Americans we will be.” A century later, these sentiments remain as true as ever.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ukraine: Golden Rose Synagogue ruins NOT under threat of demolition (though as has been the case for years, longterm care remains uncertain)

L'viv, Ukraine. Remains of Golden Rose synagogue. Photos: Samuel Gruber, 2008).

L'viv, Ukraine. Explaining the archaeology at the Gold Rose synagogue. Photo: Samuel Gruber, 2008.

Ukraine: Golden Rose Synagogue ruins NOT under threat of demolition (though as has been the case for years, long-term care remains uncertain)

There has been a lot of concern about the fate of the ruins of the Golden Rose Synagogue in L'viv, Ukraine, based on the circulation of a misunderstood that implied the imminent destruction of the site. That is not the case... the construction is on an nearby site...and includes archaeological investigations that I, among others, requested. However, overall concern for the long-term future of the entire former old Jewish quarter of L'viv is justified, and this occasion is a good opportunity to widen the discussion beyond the small number who for many years have advocated protection and preservation of the area.

For now, read Ruth Gruber's recent JTA article for the current situation. I will post more about the background and future of the areas in upcoming days.

--- Sam Gruber

Ukrainian mayor says synagogue ruins are not threatened

WARSAW (JTA) -- The mayor of the Ukrainian city of Lviv denied reports that the preserved remains of the historic Golden Rose synagogue were being destroyed to make way for a controversial hotel.

"I want to reassure everyone that no construction has ever taken place at the site of the Golden Rose," Lviv's mayor, Andriy Sadovyy, said in his statement.

"Construction of a hotel in the neighboring Fedorova Street, which has drawn criticism from some civic organizations’ representatives, has nothing to do with the site of the former Synagogue,” he said.

The mayor also said that plans were going ahead for new memorials to Lviv Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

The Golden Rose synagogue was largely destroyed during World War II; what remains are its foundations and a wall bearing arches.

On August 19, a Lviv district court ordered the Ukrainian Investment Company, the hotel's builder and investor, to "stop any preparatory and construction works on the plot" on Fedorova Street and "vacate building machines from this territory."

The site of the envisaged hotel does not directly touch the Golden Rose ruins. But critics charge that it could compromise a mikvah, the foundations of a former kosher butchery and other buildings in the old Jewish quarter.

“It is a disgrace,” said Meylakh Sheykhet, the Ukranian director of the Union Council of ex-Soviet Jews, in a statement. “They are building the hotel over the very places where there are Jewish artifacts buried and where the mikvah once stood.”

The mayor's press office said that his statement had been issued in response to an article by Tom Gross published by The Guardian newspaper and other international media outlets. Gross' article was headlined "Goodbye, Golden Rose."

In The Guardian, Gross wrote: "Last week I watched as bulldozers began to demolish the adjacent remnants of what was once one of Europe's most beautiful synagogue complexes, the 16th-century Golden Rose in Lviv."

Although the "adjacent remnants" to which Gross referred apparently did not mean the actual preserved ruins of the synagogue building, many readers were left with the impression that the synagogue itself was threatened. Other media outlets picked up the story and reported that the synagogue was being destroyed. Even Wikipedia at one point stated, "It [the Golden Rose Synagogue] was illegally demolished by the government of Ukraine in 2011 to build a hotel."

“After the publication of this information we have received inquiries from various countries of the world about the situation of the ruins of the Golden Rose Synagogue," Sadovyy said.

Sadovyy's statement noted that Lviv staged an international architectural competition last year for memorials to mark three sites of Jewish history in the city. Winners, announced in December, came from Israel, the United States and Germany.

One of the sites, the so-called Synagogue Square, includes the ruins of the Golden Rose and the space in front of it where another synagogue and a beit midrash once stood. Sadovyy said that an international group of experts "is at work" on this project. JTA has learned that Jewish representatives and city officials will meet in Lviv next month to discuss how and when to implement construction of the memorial there.

"It is extremely important to us, that, together with the Jewish community, civic organizations and everybody concerned with the fate of Lviv heritage, we resolve the issue of Synagogue fragments’ conservation as well as the issue of their worthy setting," Sadovyy said.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Potomac, Maryland. Chabad Center of Greater Washington, Shinberg/Levinas, architects. Photo courtesy of Shinberg/Levinas.

Publication: Maya Katz, The Visual Culture of Chabad

I haven't had a chance yet to read Maya Katz's new The Visual Culture of Chabad but look forward to doing so soon. Meanwhile, I post a recent review from H-Judaica by Michal Kravel-Tovi (University of Michigan).

This new book clearly delves deep into the history and beliefs of Chabad, and also Chabad's survival and growth mechanisms. Katz mostly deals with Chabad 2-D imagery, espeivally portraits, but she touches on other forms of artistic expression and media. My own interest is this right now is two-fold. First, Chabad is now commissioning new architecture, such as small and elegant Chabad Center of Greater Washington in Potomac, Maryland by Shinberg/Levinas. Also, Chabad's by its massive presences throughout the world, and especially in Russia and Eastenr Europe, is deteriming Jewish visual culture for the next generation through its decoration of synagogues, schools and other institutional buildings. Lastly, Chabad is taking over many synagogues built by and for other Jews, from very old buildings, to new ones like the synagogue in Dresden, Germany.

How will Chabad interpret, preserve and present the visual culture it has inherited? Unlike movements in much of American Judaism, Chabad's taste is influenced and largely controlled from a single place - 770 Eastern Parkway. Like many past Jewish movements Chabad is expansive, but at the same time it is uniquely centralized. That said, I've spent time with Chabad emissaries in far flung parts of the world and have seen how they have influences - and been influences by the non-Chabad world in which they live - often as a lonely minority. Given this, the evolution of Chabad visual culture may evolve in similar ways to other Jewish art in the past.

Kravel-Tovi on Katz, The Visual Culture of Chabad

Maya Balakirsky Katz. The Visual Culture of Chabad. Cambridge
Cambridge University Press, 2011. Illustrations. 264 pp. $95.00
(cloth), ISBN 978-0-521-19163-0.

Reviewed by Michal Kravel-Tovi (University of Michigan)
Published on H-Judaic (August, 2011)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman

Among Faces and Gazes: The Visuality of Chabad Hasidism

In The Visual Culture of Chabad, Maya Balakirsky Katz directs her perceptive scholarly gaze to the expansive field of visual culture that has come to mark the Hasidic movement of Chabad. Katz focuses on the array of images, personal portraits, and visual artifacts that so extensively permeate the public surroundings and daily experiences of those who encounter and participate within this global religious movement. Throughout the text, one is struck by Katz's attentiveness to phenomena that, pervasive as they are, might otherwise escape the eye or appear trivial. But nothing is trivialized in Katz's study of how Chabad has produced, consumed, and embedded itself within a rich, two hundred-year-old visual tradition. Rabbinical portraiture of the Chabad dynasty, the Chabad printer's mark, public menorahs, and replicas of "770" (the central headquarters of the Hasidic court, located at 770 Eastern Parkway in New York City), among other material expressions, are all examined within the pages of this book.

In conducting such an examination, Katz successfully chronicles some of the yet untold aspects of Chabad's social history. Indeed, rather than only unpack the aesthetic choices and visual tastes expressed by Chabad, the book reflects a broader scholarly agenda--to "tease out how the social life of 'things' ... provides insight into Chabad's social life" (p. 227). Through both a careful historical excavation and a close reading of Chabad's visual productions, the author offers an insightful analysis of how individuals, organizations, and communities within Chabad learn to both make visible and perceive their religious worlds. Since these undertakings have made Chabad one of the most visible movements in the contemporary Jewish world, The Visual Culture of Chabad can be read as a book about the interrelated dynamics of visuality, public visibility, and religious piety. These dynamics reveal the extent to which there is more to Chabad's visual culture than meets the eye; Katz offers a multilayered analysis of how historical, social, and institutional forces have underwritten the visual engagements of the Chabad movement. These engagements, Katz argues, have played a constitutive role, rather than solely a reflective one, in the development of religious ideologies and devotional practices among Chabad Hasidim.

The structure of the book conveys Katz's commitment to both visual culture and to her disciplinary orientations as an art historian. The Visual Culture of Chabad is organized along the thematic, material lines of visual culture; but Katz also temporally situates the objects investigated here with a historical analysis that unfolds both within and across chapters. The eight chapters are divided into two parts. The first part (chapters 1-4) focuses on rabbinical portraiture--from the portrait of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the late eighteenth-century founder of the Chabad movement, to the contemporary religious and messianic industry revolving around the image of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The second cluster of chapters (5-8) focuses on material objects that take center stage in Chabad's public life, from the building of "770" and its replicas to museological displays. Though in these chapters Katz develops the structure of her text in relationship to a particular object, detailing in each case a nuanced historical narrative, the book avoids fragmentation into a series of isolated stories. The chapters, effectively framed by the book's introduction and postscript, coalesce to produce a dynamic and well-integrated account--one that is held together by the numerous analytical and methodological threads (dealing specifically with the intersection of visual culture and religion), which are skillfully woven through each chapter.

However, the strength of the book lies less in the novelty of these analytical and methodological threads than in the richness of Katz's account of Chabad's material trajectory. The author, for example, does not coin new concepts, nor does she problematize extant theoretical frameworks of visual culture. Also, while uniquely applying an analysis of the "sacred gaze" to a Jewish rather than Christian context, the author fails to explain what we might learn about Jewish visual piety from the case study of Chabad. Finally, the structure of the book, particularly its division into thematic clusters of "the rebbe portraiture" (and thus of images of subjects) and "objects of Hasidism," would have been better reinforced if it had been grounded in the analysis of subject/object relations that is so prevalent in scholarly discussions of material culture.

These unexplored theoretical trajectories do not lessen the power of The Visual Culture of Chabad as a truly original work on the Chabad movement. In the context of a scholarly discussion that has predominately dealt with textual representations, Katz's analysis of the crucial role of visual material culture in the formation of the religious messianic movement that Chabad has become yields an especially innovative account. The perspective of visual culture not only allows Katz to employ a refreshing terminology (such as "Chabad image bank," "devotional portrait," and "visual messianism"), but also allows Katz to introduce new narratives about Chabad's development. Even if Katz is not the first scholar to refer to or engage with Chabad through the lens of visual culture (see, for example, Richard Cohen's epilogue in his Jewish Icons [1998], Jeffrey Shandler's chapter on Chabad in his Jews, God, and Videotape [2009], or Samuel Heilman's chapter in Jack Wertheimer's edited volume Jewish Religious Leadership: Image and Reality [2004]), she adds a number of new and valuable pieces to the discussion. Furthermore, while a book exploring the dynamics of a continuously evolving empirical field can never fully constitute, in and of itself, a comprehensive project, the book's breadth remains quite remarkable. The cover of the book--its own visual representation--appears to frame it as an analysis of Chabad messianism. After all, it features the face of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the celebrated icon of Chabad's messianic campaign, displayed on a New York highway billboard with a written message heralding the immanent redemption. However, by covering a range of themes, including institutional infrastructure, leadership, and the movement's relationship with cultural Zionism, Katz's contribution to the literature on Chabad transcends the issue of messianism alone. Ultimately, the book offers new understandings of how Chabad has endured, and even thrived, despite numerous moments of crisis.

Take, for example, how Katz's analysis of photography during the tenure of Yosef Yitzchak, the geographically displaced sixth rebbe, (chapter 3) sheds light on the crucial function of this visual medium in the maintenance of leadership amid potential disruption. In particular, Katz shows how, through the production of the rebbishe photographs, as well as the circulation of photographs between the rebbe and devotees, Yosef Yitzchak established a virtual court in Poland, while maintaining authority and relationships in absentia. Or, consider how, as Katz shows, Chabad's visual program builds simultaneously on the tradition of interactive visualization of a rebbe (discussed in chapter 4) and an architectonical infrastructure that detaches the Hasidic court from the person of the rebbe (discussed in chapter 6), thereby driving the movement's messianic ideology and enabling it to cope with the leadership void.

Katz is at her best when she weaves her analysis of a particular visual tradition or object together with an ostensibly unconnected part of Chabad's history. The connections to which she draws attention are illuminating--such as the psychological and aesthetic connections she traces (in chapter 2) between the puzzling four portraits of Yosef Yitzchak, drawn by a woman artist in 1930s Vienna, and the experience with psychoanalysis of his father, and predecessor of the Chabad
dynasty, the RaSHaB, in early twentieth-century Vienna.

Katz's position as a viewer calls for some commentary. There is no fascination, let alone adoration, in how Katz uses the lens of visual culture to describe Chabad. As she historicizes the devotional objects and sacred visual images with which Chabad identifies, she by necessity presents the movement with an often challenging "textual portrait": she provides counter-narratives to some of its hegemonic myths and attends to objects from which the archival gatekeepers would have probably preferred she divert her gaze. At the same time, her critical, even daring, analyses are always sensitive, engaged, and empathetic, both reflecting and creating a close aesthetic distance. Neither a detached scholar nor admirer of Chabad's sacred material culture, the author positions herself at a critical distance from her objects--a position that allows her to zoom in and out in order to produce a convincing analysis. However, we know almost nothing about this position; while Katz writes on the visuality of Chabad Hasidism, she remains for the most part out of sight. We do know that the four portraits of Yosef Yitzchak were hung by her bedside table for two years; we know Katz engages with and even produces images of Chabad, as some of the photos included in the book are attributed to her private collection; and we even know that she is "one of David Berger's indifferent Orthodox Jews" (with regard to Chabad's disputed messianic theology) (p. 15). But we know hardly anything about her own modalities of seeing the world and especially the Chabad movement. Since the author does acknowledge in her analysis the implications of a "female gaze," it would have been helpful to locate her own perspective within the framework of gender politics--for example, as an orthodox woman who views and writes about portraits of (male) rebbes. To the extent that Katz adopts the idea that images should be treated "not only for what they depict but also for how they make us see"--and also that she works under the premise of "multiple visions"--it would have been constructive to know how the images of Chabad effected her own vision (pp. 10, 232).
The added value of a more reflexive positioning becomes apparent in one revealing moment in which the author does locate herself in relationship to her field of study. As she writes: "In the weeks after I lost my own mother prematurely and inherited her precious family photograph albums that she spirited out of the Soviet Union in the late 1970s, I felt inexplicably moved by the gentle intimacy of Yosef Yitzchak's portraits. Although I had previously cynically dismissed the portraits' identification with RaSHaB as an attempt to alleviate the stigma of the female gaze, I came to see RaSHaB's presence as consciously inscribed in Yosef Yitzchak's portraits. In confronting photograph after photograph of my teenage self imitating what I always saw as my mother's larger-than-life beauty with the same pout and disinterested eyes I knew by heart from her family photographs, I could see RaSHaB's likeness posthumously embedded in the life portraits of Yosef Yitzchak" (pp. 60-61). This moment is memorable not only because it captures the author's own intimate reflections on the recent death of her mother, but also because it provides us with a glimpse of how Katz has come to change her view of a particular Chabad object. By utilizing her positionality in this way, she traces an unexpected layer of the object's already intricate aesthetics.

I hope this book will set an agenda for scholarship on both Jewish visual and material culture, as well as on the Chabad movement and the ongoing development of its visual world. While the book teaches us about the power of visual representations, its quality also reminds us of the strength of good textual representations.

Citation: Michal Kravel-Tovi. Review of Katz, Maya Balakirsky, The Visual Culture of Chabad. H-Judaic, H-Net Reviews. August, 2011.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tunisia: Safx Synagogue Reported Looted and Desecrated

I am cross-posting this blog entry from Point of No Return. it is the first news of the this destructive event. There will need to be more confirmation, but this appears to be an act of serious destruction. I am sending it on to my colleague Dominique Jarrasse who wrote about the synagogue in his recent book on the synagogue of Tunisia. I hope he will be able to collect additional information. For those most interested in developments concerning Jewish heritage and political issues in the Muslim world, I recommend subscribing to Point of No Return.

- Sam Gruber

Looting and damage to Sfax synagogue is confirmed

Nobody saw the vandals, although the Beth El synagogue is in the centre of Sfax

You read it first in English on this blog (thanks to Point of No Return reader Ahoova). Now the sad news of the looting and wrecking of the newly-restored Beth-El synagogue in the Tunisian city of Sfax has been confirmed, although the Tunisian press has stayed mum. Jean Corcos has put together the following report for the French-Jewish organisation CRIF which I have summarised in English:

The news was broken on the web by the Sfax-born Israeli Camus (Yigal) Bouhnik. The vandalism took place around 18 August, during Ramadan.
About 30 elderly Jews still live in Sfax. Security has been lacking since the Jasmine Revolution broke out eight months ago. There used to be a 24-hour police guard under the Ben Ali regime, but the police are now engaged elsewhere quelling unrest and lawlessness.

The police are now preventing access to the interior of the building. Those who want to enter must apply for the keys to the head of the local Jewish community, Mr. Zarka. We do not yet have photos of the damage.

Those responsible left no trace of external damage, and no graffiti on the facade: this was confirmed by a Tunisian Muslim friend.

How come nobody saw the vandals? The Beth El Synagogue is located centrally, opposite a large coffee shop crowded at night during the month of Ramadan.

For the benefit of the busloads of pilgrims, Torah scrolls were kept in the synagogue yet the Ark was forced open in what Corcos describes as a 'malicious and antisemitic act'.

Marble plaques honouring benefactors who helped to refurbish the place were smashed.

Dozens of silver Kandil plates were taken. Tunisian Jews follow the custom of honouring their dead by lighting candles dipped in oil. The beaker containing the wick is itself attached to a plate of silver on which were engraved names, dates of birth and death. Sfax had a collection of the kandils of all abandoned synagogues in the city in cardboard boxes inside the Synagogue Beth El : they were all stolen.

The collection boxes for pilgrims' donations were also taken.

The windows of the synagogue, which had been repaired during the great restoration three years earlier, were smashed.

Lastly -'outright villainy', in the words of Jean Corcos - the apartment next to the Synagogue owned by the charitable organization OSE was completely stripped of its contents - from household appliances to the air conditioning unit.

Read article in full (French)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Romania: Popricani (mass-grave) Memorial at Iasi Jewish Cemetery

Iasi, Romania. Dedication of the New Grave and Monument to Popricani Massacre Victims in Jewish Cemetery (June, 2011). Photos courtesy of Lucia Apostal, FED-ROM

Romania: Popricani (Mass-Grave) Memorial at Iasi Cemetery Dedicated
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) Last April I wrote about the reburial in the Iasi, Romania Jewish cemetery of the remains Jewish massacre victims discovered in November 2010. In June a monument was erected to cover the grave. The inscription was composed by Romanian "Elie Wiesel" Institute for Study of Holocaust.
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 grave is very large - 11.00 m x 2,50 meters. The cover of the grave is made concrete, cast in place, with terrazzo finishing. This large and heavy lid sits on foundation-beams cast a half meter beyond the grave boundary. On the lid are 36 slim black granite plaques, each engraved the Magen David, symbolizing the 36 unknown victims buried, all of whom were murdered by the Romanian Army. At the far end of the grave there is a tombstone clad in black granite, with the text engraved in Romanian, English and Hebrew.

The project was organized and designed CAPI-FedRom (Lucia Apostol) and carried out by the Jewish Community of Iasi, with full financial support of Caritatea Foundation.

The monument dedication took place as part of the commemoration ceremony of the 70th anniversary of the Iasi Pogrom, that was held on June 28 2011, in Iasi.

USA: Shearith Israel Cemeteries in Manhattan

New York City, NY. remains of the first Jewish cemetery of Congregation Shearith Israel. Photos: Samuel D. Gruber

USA: Shearith Israel Cemeteries in Manhattan

Every few years there is an article on the cemeteries or former synagogues of New York's Congregation Shearith Isreal, the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States. Its a great demonstration of how long Jews have been in NYC (since the 1640s!), but also how populations have moved "uptown" geographically and socially. This is a good thing, since in New York - or at least Manhattan - there are there is always a new audience that needs to know these things.

The latest article in the tradition is by Adam Chandler from Tablet Magazine. Its a pretty good piece, with a few correctives added by readers at the end. The last paragraph, however, seems to indicate that the 1860 synagogue on 19th Street, sold in January 1895, still survives in some much modified form. The building that may survive would have been O'Neill's Dry Goods Store behind the cemetery, not the synagogue itself. I'm pretty sure the synagogue was a long block away on West 19th St. near 5th Avenue, not between 20th and 21st Street near Sixth, where the cemetery is.

Here is the 19th Street synagogue, one the few Roman Baroque style synagogues in America, and one of the earliest (the first?) with a dome.

New York, NY. Former Congregation Shearith Israel at 19th St.. Photo: Kings Handbook of New York (2nd edition, 1893). The building was sold in 1894.

Also, a little more information on the damage caused by nearby construction work in 2006 would be worth knowing. At the time there was legal wrangling over who was responsible, and who had to pay for repairs. Since then, I don't recall reading about repairs done at all - though I hope they were!

by Adam Chandler
(Tablet Magazine, August 26, 2011)

There’s a small Jewish cemetery tucked away on an unlikely block in Manhattan, behind some condominiums on West 21st Street. It’s just a few minutes from Tablet Magazine’s new office on Tin Pan Alley, and I recently stumbled upon it. As it turns out, it has two siblings further downtown, and, taken together, the trio offer a window into the history of both the city and its Jewish community.

The three historic Manhattan cemeteries belong to Congregation Shearith Israel, a Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in Manhattan and the oldest Jewish congregation in North America, established in 1654. They are perhaps the most durable legacy of New York City’s long-ago Jewish past. The Shearith Israel congregation was founded by 23 Jewish refugees, descendents of Spanish Jews, exiled during the Inquisition, who fled from Recife, Brazil, after it was taken from the Dutch by the Portuguese. They were fleeing anti-Semitism but were greeted coldly by Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch director-general of the colony of New Netherland. From 1654 until 1825, Shearith Israel was the only Jewish congregation in New York City. In its long history, membership of the congregation has included Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo, three founders of the New York Stock Exchange, and the poet Emma Lazarus, whose famous words from “The New Colossus” are affixed to the Statue of Liberty. Shearith Israel—the name translated is “Remnant of Israel”—owns a Torah that dates to the American Revolution.

Read the entire article here.

Plastic Judaica

Plastic Judaica
by Samuel D. Gruber

Plastic (phenol formaldehyde) memorial (yahrzeit) lights, replacing candles, in the collection of the Amsterdam Bakelite Collection. Photos: Samuel D. Gruber 2011.

As some of you know, for the past year I've been curator of the Plastics Collection at Syracuse University, and while have not given up my research and activism vis-a-vis Jewish art and architecture, I have launched into to a new work area. Usually, I just split my interests - plastics by day, and teaching "Art and Architecture of the Synagogue" at night. But occasionally I can bring these two seemingly disparate disciplines together.

One such occasion came last July, when I was in Cologne, Germany, to comment on the ongoing archaeological excavations of the medieval synagogue and Judengasse. I took the opportunity to visit the Amsterdam, and the Amsterdam Bakelite Collection of Reindert Groot, to discuss possibilities of collaboration. Besides showing me hundreds of notable plastic objects - mostly from the 1920s-1940s, Reindert knew I would want to see the above pictured plastic yahrzeit "candles." Today we are used to seeing plastic lights, including memorial lamps and Hanukah menorahs, but these are very early examples.

For the most part, despite its popularity for novelty items and souvenirs, plastic has been slow to find a foothold for religious use. In Judaism, to the best of my knowledge, plastic has not been used in synagogue ritual objects, especially those in association with the Torah. The concept of Hiddur Mitzvah (embellish the commandment) encourages the decoration of the Torah with fine art of precious materials and unique design and artistry, and cheap mass produced plastics simply do not fit the bill. But there are still plenty of plastic mezuzot on the market, and I would not be surprised to find some plastics - especially hard and bright acrylics - used in some contemporary Ark designs somewhere.

In 500 Judaica: Innovative Contemporary Ritual Art (Sterling Publishng, 2010) and I see that only two featured works include plastic - and these are textile works than include polyester fibers.

Plastics are widely used for celebratory purpose, such as Purim graggers and Hanukah dreidls, and I recently saw a youtube video advertising a plastic "shofar."

For Christians, especially Catholics, there are plastic rosary beads and crosses, and beginning in 1935 General Plastics,Inc. manufactured a plastic portable "sick call " kit so priests could easily carry candle bases, a holy water bottle and a crucifix when visiting the sick, and these and similar products were more widely used during World War II. That war was also the first time to my knowledge that plastic crosses were mass produced so that every solider who wanted could have one. Was there any sort of Jewish equivalent?

I'd love to hear about more plastics in Jewish and other religious contexts. Send me information, pictures, or even consider donating the objects to the Plastics Collection at Syracuse University.