Jewish Heritage Report
Vol. II, Nos. 1-2 / Spring-Summer 1998


ISJMís first year as a revived organization has been tremendously productive.  In addition to publishing the Jewish Heritage Report and establishing an ISJM webpage ( the organization has taken an active role in helping to design, fund and promote the following projects.  With the help of our members and sponsors we look forward to an even more active year ahead.  Regular project progress reports are posted on the ISJM website.  If you are interested in more information about any of these projects, we urge you to visit the web-updates and/or to contact ISJM.


ISJM Sponsors Syrian Synagogue Exhibition
ISJM has organized the tour of Silenced Sacred Spaces: Selected Photographs of Syrian Synagogues by Robert Lyons, an exhibition drawn from the remarkable photographic survey conducted by Lyons for the World Monuments Fund in the spring of 1995.  The exhibit was first organized by the Jewish Heritage Research Center and the Lowe Art Gallery in Syracuse NY, with financial assistance from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.  It was on view at Yeshiva University Museum in New York from September, 1997 through January, 1998 and can currently be seen at  the Bínai Brith Klutznick National Jewish Museum in Washington, DC through October, 1998.  Other bookings are being confirmed.

Damascus, Syria.  Racqy Synagogue.  Photo:  Robert Lyons, 1995.

The exhibit presents a selection of images from the 18 synagogues photographed by Lyons in April 1995 during a documentation project organized by the Jewish Heritage Program of the World Monuments Fund.  Lyons' photographs, while ostensibly designed to document Syrian synagogues threatened by closure and dismantling, reflect his keen eye and sense of space.  An essay brochure about the exhibition, written by curator Samuel Gruber, is available from ISJM.

Publication Grant of $150 to Phyllis Myers, President, State Resources Strategies for the reproduction of additional copies of her report, Democracy in Development: A Reconnaissance of Monuments Protection Law and Cultural diversity in Poland, The Czech Republic, and Slovakia, for distribution to monument officials in Poland.

Research Grant to Ruth Ellen Gruber for her new book, Klezmer in the Wilderness.
This book explores the Jewish revival in Europe and the context in which it is happening by focusing on several aspects of the trend, including principally the boom of interest in things Jewish among non-Jews in Central Europe and the coincident "Jewish repopulation" of the region through the revitalization and rising self-awareness of local Jewish communities since the fall of communism.  It will also discuss the impact of American and other foreign Jews who visit in increasing numbers.
Personalities, participants, and motivations often overlap, and all of the component trends involve the use of memory as a vehicle in recreating or re-establishing Jewish identity -- be it personal Jewish identity or the historic Jewish identity of a country or region.

Klezmer in the Wilderness focuses mainly on the two countries which arguably had the deepest involvement in the Holocaust and where today's trends are most strikingly apparent -- Germany, the wartime perpetrator, and Poland, home to the largest pre-war European Jewish population and the country that became the Nazi's paramount Jewish killing ground.

The book includes sections which discuss the current trend in identifying and conserving historic Jewish sites, and discuss the role of the physical heritage of Central European Jews in restoring memory and shaping contemporary identity.  The book is scheduled to be published by the University of California Press.  Ruth Ellen Gruber is known widely for her journalism and as the author of two books on Jewish themes: Jewish Heritage Travel and Upon the Doorposts of Thy House: Jewish Life in East-Central Europe, Yesterday and Today.
With the assistance of the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation and the Gates of Chai Foundation, ISJM has given grants of $5,000 to this project.


Documentation of Afghanistan Synagogues
ISJM has given grants of $950 to Prof. Annette Ittig to document several sites of Jewish interest in Herat, Afghanistan including  four former synagogues and a bath house.  She commissioned photographs, measured drawings, and described the buildings.  The Yu Aw Synagogue figures most prominently in her documentation, as it remains closest in form and function to its original use.  This work is part of a larger project to document and protect the historic Old City of Herat.

Herat, Afghanistan.  Decoration from former Yu aw Synagogue.  Drawing courtesy of Annette Ittig.

Research in Jodensavanne, Suriname
New York architect Rachel Frankel, has traveled to Jodensavanne, Suriname to document and explore several important distinctions between the construction of Dutch synagogues and the Bereche ve Shalom synagogue in the formerly Dutch colony of Suriname (see JHR I:3-4).

Ms. Frankel will return to Holland to study contract documents for repair work carried out at the synagogue in the early 19th century.  These may reveal additional details about its architecture.  In the summer of 1998, Ms. Frankel was in Suriname with Prof. Aviva Ben-Ur and carried out a full survey of the early cemetery, which will included recording and translating the inscriptions on the gravestones in Hebrew and Portuguese.
With the assistance ISJM members, the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation, the Mitrani Family Foundation, and the Maurice Amado Foundation, ISJM has given grants of $9,200 to this project.

Judaica of English Synagogues to be Documented and Photographed
ISJM has awarded a grant of $500 to The Hidden Legacy Foundation to help fund their survey and photographic documentation of English Judaica in the historic synagogues of Plymouth and Exeter.

Documentation of Greek Synagogues
Greek Architect E. Messinas continues his research and documentation of the synagogues of Greece as part of his doctoral work at the National Technical University in Athens.  Messinas, who now lives in Israel, has been visiting, describing and photographing Greek synagogues since 1993.  He is expanding his research through the consultation of historical and archival documentation in Greece and Israel (see JHR, I: 3-4, 4).
Through the generosity of the Mitrani Family Foundation, ISJM has awarded a $5,000 grant to assist Mr. Messinasís work.

Research on Jewish Cemeteries in France
In an effort to determine how the French have administered their Jewish cemeteries, ISJM has awarded a grant of $500 to Isabelle Meidinger, a French doctoral student, to allow her to travel to many Jewish cemeteries in France.  Because of the peculiarities of French burial laws, in conjunction with the necessities of Halakhic laws, Jewish cemeteries in France have had an erratic history.  In some instances, a Jewish community had control over its cemeteries and burial plots.  In others, Jews had no voice whatsoever.  Ms. Meidingerís research will attempt to discern any patterns underlying these policies.

Kerepesi Jewish Cemetery Documentation
Budapestís Kerepesi Jewish Cemetery contains the graves of scores of notable Hungarian Jews, including that of the renowned Jewish-Hungarian poet Jozsef Kiss.  It also contains at least nine mausolea designed by celebrated architect Bela Lajta (Leitersdorfer) (1873 -1920), including several large sculptural monuments in black marble. Lajta also designed the cemetery entrance gate and the pre-burial hall.  Recognizing that this cemetery has never been adequately documented, ISJM is pleased to help initiate a project in conjunction with Charles Hebbert.  ISJM has awarded $500 which will allow the project to develop to a point when additional funds can be leveraged Ė hopefully from local Hungarian sources.

Maurie Sacks Documents Catskills Synagogues
Maurie Sacks, professor of anthropology at Montclair State University (New Jersey), continues her project to document the synagogues of the Catskills (New York State) with regards to architecture and the social construction of sacred space.  Most of the resort communities built synagogues which are now in danger of abandonment because of the decline of Jewish communities in Sullivan County, NY, that accompanied the deterioration of the resort industry.

Plans call for a complete architectural survey and photo-documentation of the synagogues, analyzing the size, arrangement, and kinds of space included in each, and a search for aesthetic forms carried from the communities' places of origin and their American adaptations.  Key members of each community are being interviewed to elicit the rhetoric of Jewish sacred space, and to examine how Jews construct a sense of "place" through building synagogues.  These interviews reveal changes in demographic, economic, and religious characteristics of the communities throughout the century, and the impact of these changes on the relationships of the people to their synagogues.

To date, between forty and fifty oral history interviews and a documentary survey of the synagogues are complete.  Dr. Sacks and her team are now seeking funding to conduct the architectural survey.
An ISJM grant of $500 is intended to assist photographic work required in the preparing of NRHP nominations for many of the synagogue buildings.

Southern New Jersey Synagogues Photographed
ISJM has given a grant of $500 to Anne Fox and Mark Olsen for a project that documents the rural and small-town synagogues of southern New Jersey (USA).  Ms. Fox, a journalist, is writing about the synagogues and their communities.  Mr. Olsen is photographing the synagogues in both black and white and color to create a forty-print photo exhibit that can be shown in museums, galleries, and community centers.  At the conclusion of the project, which the authors plan to include a book and exhibition, Olsen will donate the 35mm slides to the International Survey of Jewish Monuments.

The project is divided into two parts.  The first is to photographically document as many of these synagogues as possible; the second is to interview the present caretakers.  Much has been done to document synagogues worldwide, however at this local level the opportunity still exists to not only photograph these (mostly) clapboard structures, but also to interview and gather a history of these synagogues from a most intimate perspective--from the people who grew up and worshipped in them.

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