My colleague Anastasia Badder and I participated in a conference dedicated to addressing urban Jewish heritage and the multi-layered issues inherent in urban Jewish heritage projects. The contributions to the conference ranged from tourism and sustainability to conservation and representation. The aim of the event was to bring together academics, policy makers, community leaders, and professionals working in heritage industries to examine the past, presents, and futures for Jewish heritage in Europe. The conference was organized in collaboration with the Foundation for Jewish Heritage and the Ironbridge International institute for Cultural Heritage at the University of Birmingham.
Wielopolski Palace – Welcome Reception
All participants recognized that the issues involved in Jewish heritage are complex and dynamic and agreed that there is a need to preserve both the tangible and intangible aspects of Jewish culture and to communicate these to a wider audience. There was much lively debate around what constitutes Jewish culture, how best to preserve culture while keeping in mind that culture itself is not an object, questions of representation and whose voices are heard and by whom, the politics of heritage, tourism, and representation, and how to communicate these complex ideas and stories to a wider audience.
Conference opening at the Tempel Synagogue
Due to the participation a high number of lecturers from all over the world, the conference organizers decided to hold the event in the venues of the Villa Decius, renaissance building located in a vast park near Krakow. Krakow is considered the world heritage city demonstrating both the potential and the challenges involved in its own Jewish heritage. Besides the conference, we can visit free a few Jewish institutions such as the Jewish Community Centre, the Jewish Cultural festival and the Galicia Jewish museum.
Religious Heritage in Urban Settings
The conference introduced a number of very interesting initiatives and programs, such as the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), presented by Stephanie Jenkins.
She described the multiple projects undertaken by her organization aimed at ensuring the long-term sustainability and relevance of religious heritage. While her contribution did not necessarily fit into the conference concept, she highlighted interesting and novel methods for repurposing historic churches and ancient sacred buildings that no longer have an active worshipping community. For example, Stephanie Jenkins demonstrated how the CCT brought life back to a church in Bristol, an area lacking in investments and infrastructure. Drawing on the structure and space of the church, with its soaring ceilings and solid support beams, the CCT worked with a circus school and enlivened this place again. Jenkins also described a project around a church in Bolton, where religious life disappeared in the 1980s. The CCT is trying to find a long-term use for this historic building that will make it relevant to the changing and dynamic community in the area, which is increasingly Muslim. Overall, she demonstrated that the use of old religious structures is very various – other CCT projects included turning one medieval church into a wellbeing center and another old church into an educational institution. After her presentation an inspiring debate began, people asked how organizers work with volunteers and how they handle missing infrastructure, which is essential to make a particular place accessible to public.
I was also very interested in the paper presented by Michal Arend and Daniela Orlando from the Jewish Monument Association and Tikkun Pacov Synagogue Association about the grass-roots conservation campaigns underway in remote towns in the highlands of the Czech Republic. Prior to 1942, this area was a vibrant Jewish community that played a crucial role in the local economic and cultural life. After WWII, the few remaining survivors moved away and the local Jewish history, both tangible and intangible, as well as the memory of Jewish neighbors was subsequently marginalized, nearly to the point of vanishing altogether. Arend and Orlando have made various attempts to save and protect major Jewish sights in Černovice (in particularly an early 19th century synagogue), to renovate the local cemetery, and construct a Holocaust memorial. It was extremely motivating to see the enthusiasm and ongoing success of people deeply involved in their work. Arend and Orlando also published a photographic book entitled ‘Černovičtí Židé & Kameny a lidé’, which is composed of detailed visual documentation of the Jewish cemetery in the town of Černovice. With this book they aimed to make people aware of the history of their region and the Jewish community that used to be deeply enmeshed in local life.
The path leading towards the cemetery along the memorial to Jewish victims from Černovice erected by sculptor Michael Deiml
Similarly, the Tikkun Pacov Synagogue assocaiton has made great strides in preserving the local synaoguge in the town of Pacov. After the war, the local Jewish community sold the building to a state-owned distillery and yeast manufacturing plant. Then, beginning in 1956, the old synagogue was used as a the storefront and business premises of a nearby collective farm. During the communist era, the farm, including the synagogue, fell into neglect and gradually dilapidated over time. Decades later, in 2015, a group of local people came together with the goal of reconstructing the synagogue and establishing a museum and memorial in honor of the former Jewish community. Finally, in April 2017, the Tikkun Pacov Synagogue Association converted the synagogue into an educational center dedicated to commemorating the Jews of Pacov and addressing the history of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
Synagogue in Pacov
Museum or pedagogical center in Ettelbrück?
My colleague Anastasia and I also presented a paper at the conference about a developing project to restore a pre-war synagogue in the town of Ettelbruck in Luxembourg and convert it into a ‘pedagogical center’ and museum. While this project is far from complete, our presentation focused on the ways in which debates around the overall goal of the museum, which objects to include and how to present them, how to tell the history of the local community, whose stories to tell and in what forms, represent negotiations over meaning, representation, and Jewishness, as well as visions of the past, present, and future of the Jewish community of Luxembourg. We noted how discussions around selected historical objects point to the contested process of the construction of a collective memory and communal cultural heritage. We described concerns about how the contemporary Jewish community will be defined and represented, if at all. And finally, we suggested that ongoing debates around what topics should be emphasized or downplayed, such as the Holocaust, indicate the contested nature, not only of the past, but also of collective visions of the future as constituted through representations of heritage. Overall, we argued that, while the final shape and role of the museum remain to be seen, examining the process of putting together this project allows us to explore the ways in which the construction of a heritage regime is at once a negotiation over narratives of the past, shared present identities, and collective visions of the future and the discourses nad social processes at work within these debates.
Coffee break – traditional Jewish products: Coffee Esther and Malabi
Jewish town in Krakow