Road tripping in western Ukraine

I recently spent a week in western Ukraine, where I gave the concluding talk, July 27, in a series of lectures called “Jewish Days in the City Hall: (Un)Displayed Past in East European Museums.” 

The series was organized by the Center for Urban History, where I have spoken before — and where I have also taken part in other programs (including as a member of the jury for the design competition for three sites commemorating Jewish history in Lviv — one of them, the Space of Synagogues, was dedicated last year.)

The lecture series focused on a number of questions related to Jewish museums in Eastern Europe: “What are the Jewish museums of Eastern Europe telling us about? What are the challenges that Ukrainian museums face when including Jewish history into the dominant narrative of their exhibitions? What are the perspectives for historical museums of Ukraine in a global context? How do they see their role and mission in developing critical perception of the history of Ukraine and shaping participatory historical culture in the present-day society?”

In my talk, I reflected on the changes that have occurred in the Jewish heritage and Jewish heritage travel field in the nearly 30 years that I have been involved — and specifically in the 25 years since the publication of the first edition of my book “Jewish Heritage Travel” and 15 years since “Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe.”

The themes were similar to those in a presentation I gave a month earlier in Glasgow, at a conference on “Dark Tourism” that focused on Dark Tourism at Holocaust, Nazi and World War II sites; my presentation was called “From Dark Tourism to Tourist Attractions”.

When I started writing about Jewish heritage sites and Jewish heritage tourism, almost any visit to a Jewish heritage site in eastern and central Europe was a form of “Dark Tourism.” Most Jewish heritage sites such as synagogues and Jewish cemeteries were neglected, ruined, abandoned or transformed for other use. There were only a handful of Jewish museums and almost no Jewish heritage sites were mentioned in guidebooks or even local histories.

The evolution since then has been dramatic, regarding infrastructure, information sources, agencies of display and deep-seated attitudes to travel, heritage, and Jewish presence (and fate) in the region.

Ruins still abound, and many sites and experiences remain deeply tragic. But scholars, genealogists, tour guides, governments, cultural and heritage entrepreneurs have studied, mapped and documented almost everything; some continue to sink into oblivion, but others have been opened up for unprecedented travel and educational opportunities as well as for commercial touristic exploitation.

During my week in Lviv, I took two day trips to visit Jewish heritage sites in the region — we visited nearly a dozen. I had wanted specifically to revisit places I had seen earlier, in particular in 2006, when I researched the latest version of my Jewish Heritage Travel book, to see the changes.

Much of what I found was as distressing as I had found in years ago, or in some cases even more so — but there were also some positive developments.

I have published lengthy posts on some of these sites on the Jewish Heritage Europe web site — here are the links:

— AMBITIOUS PRESERVATION PLANS IN ZOLOCHIV

Recounts my meeting with the mayor to discuss a range of planned projects

— IN BRODY, NEW SIGNAGE AT FORTRESS SYNAGOGUE RUIN & IN TOWN; NEW  RECOGNITION OF JEWISH HISTORY

— VOLUNTEERS CLEAN UP STRYI SYNAGOGUE RUIN; WILL SIGNAGE COME NEXT?

— RE-ERECTED GRAVESTONES IN ROZDIL

— THE WEEDS OF HIGH SUMMER (AND THE CHALLENGES THEY POSE)

 

 

I Speak about Jewish Heritage Europe in a Spectacular Venue in Florence

 

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

(This post also appears on my En Route blog for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal)

I had the pleasure and privilege Sunday of giving a presentation about the Jewish Heritage Europe web site project in Florence, in one of the city’s most prestigious and spectacular venues — the Salone dei Cinquecento of the Palazzo Vecchio, the city hall of Florence, a massive building with a distinctive tower that was originally built at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries.

With Pope Leo X…Photo: Angelo Pontecorboli

I was part of a five-person panel speaking on various aspects of “Developing Jewish Cultural Heritage in Europe.” Our round-table was part of a huge, weeklong biennale on Cultural and “Landscape” Heritage sponsored by the Fondazione Florens. Other people on the panel included Giuseppe Burschtein, an IT specialist and Jewish heritage activist in Florence; Renzo Funaro, an architect who heads the “Opera del Tempio” project of restoration and promotion of Jewish heritage in Florence and elsewhere in Tuscany; Dora Liscia Bemporad, the director of the Jewish Museum in Florence; and Annie Sacerdoti, a pioneer of Jewish heritage documentation and activism in Italy and one of the spearheads of the European Day of Jewish Culture.

The moderator of our panel was the journalist Wlodek Goldkorn — who pointed out at the start of the event that this session was probably the first time that a Jewish program (other than a commemorative event) had taken place in the magnificent hall, a grandly huge space dating from 1494, richly decorated with a gorgeous painted ceiling, sculptures and paintings from the 16th century.

View from the Podium

We had a pretty good crowd — and nobody left in the middle! Given the mix of people on our panel, presentations included both local and Europe-wide issues — and none of us had more than 10 minutes or so to speak.

For my talk, I had an internet connection projected on two immense screens. I presented Jewish Heritage Europe as a tool that is already functional, attracting 4,000-5,000 people a month. I took the audience on a tour of the site, describing both the static content for 48 countries — and also the dynamic content — the newsfeed, calendar, and the In Focus section.

I had wanted to highlight some other web sites that bring Jewish heritage online — such as Judaica Europeana and Virtual Shtetl. But, alas, there wasn’t time.

You will just have to go to all those web sites and explore!