Hamas is the typical Israeli guy: makes promises, sets a date, shows up late, and then the whole thing lasts 2 minutes. #israeliblackhumor— Fania Oz-Salzberger (@faniaoz) July 12, 2014
In Eastern Europe, A New Generation of Jewish Leaders
Sitting in her office in a rather grim-faced building attached to the handsome Nozyk Synagogue, I asked the new President of the Jewish Community of Warsaw, Anna Chipczynska, what it was that she campaigned on in order to win the election. “To what extent did I really have to campaign?” she ventured.
One only has to look at the gender and age composition of the recently-elected board of the community. “Three out of seven people are 35 years or younger, four out of seven are women, so I think it’s an interesting signal. The other interesting signal is that I am not Orthodox – I practice Reform, so it’s something new for the community.” She added, “the fact that I was elected maybe also has to do with a feeling that people simply wanted to see the younger generation come to power.”
Eastern European Jewry is defined generationally in a way that cannot be said of their western European counterparts, simply because of the experience of communism. It varies country to country, but in general it can be said that the so-called ‘middle generation’ who came of consciousness between 1945 and 1989 and did not experience the vibrancy of Jewish life prior to the Holocaust have weak or underdeveloped Jewish identities.
While the institutions and bonds of the Jewish community were reconstructed after the Second World War, Jewish identity became unmoored, detached from tradition and knowledge. Sameness triumphed over difference, collectivism at the expense of individualism. In Poland in particular, there was also the trauma not only of the Holocaust but also the state-sponsored anti-Semitic campaigns of 1968, both of which informed a certain view that assimilation was preferable to identification.
Today, there is a sea-change in eastern Europe, and the young generation that is the mirror image of the middle generation is taking positions of authority and seeking to affect change in their communities. This young generation – more active, confident, and interconnected – is shaped on the one hand by the freedoms communism bequeathed upon its passing and on the other by a revival of Judaism in all its facets which began to gain ground during the 1990s.
What is to be done with the buildings of Jewish life when there is no Jewish life left to speak of?
This was one of the questions suggested by this year’s 7@Nite Festival in Krakow. For one evening a year, the doors of the city’s synagogues are thrown open to the general public and exhibitions, lectures, and live music aim to remove the barriers and dissolve the mystique that surround these places of worship. This year’s theme, Synagoging Poland, sought to take visitors on a journey around the existent, non-existent, or forgotten synagogues that still dot the Polish landscape.
“We have around three-hundred synagogues still standing in Poland in different forms with different things happening in them,” Monika Elliott, Program Director of the JDC Poland Foundation, told me when we had a chance to sit down in a café in Kazimierz, the historic Jewish quarter, a few hours before 7@Nite began. “But in general, people have no idea that, when they pass by their hairdresser every day, the building it’s in used to be a synagogue seventy years ago. We have no idea about our own recent history.”
Indeed, as Weronika Litwin outlined in a 2010 symposium exploring contemporary Jewish life in Poland, of the synagogues that managed to survive the Holocaust and the destruction of Nazi occupation, very few regained their old function as houses of worship. In large part, this is because in the smaller towns and villages, no Jews remained to pray in them. Litwin writes in “Synagogues and Cemeteries: What Is Being Done and What Needs To Be Done”:
Taken over by the State Treasury, the synagogue buildings were often used as warehouses, which led to their further deterioration. Synagogues which were significant for their historical and architectural value were often turned into museums or libraries. This prevented them from falling into complete ruin, but has not helped their slow decline, as neither the museums nor libraries in Poland have the money for the costly preservation works which are usually required for historical buildings.
The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, responsible for the protection and commemoration of surviving monuments of Jewish cultural heritage in Poland, has worked on restoring some of these synagogues, particularly in southeastern Poland as part of a project called the Hasidic Route, which follows the remaining traces of Jewish life in the region. The first stage of the restoration of two historic synagogues in Krasnik – one of which dated back to the middle of the seventeenth century – was completed in 2010, for example.
Is this any way to thank your host?
Brazil just got eliminated from its own World Cup by losing 7-1 to Germany. We know, we can’t believe it either.
This photo pretty much sums up how the match played out.
Germany advances to the final on Sunday, while judging by the pictures below, we assume Brazil will go and make up for the shots it didn’t take on the pitch by heading off and taking some at the nearest bar.
(Photos: Francois Xavier Marit/AFP/Getty, Themba Hadebe/AP, Almeida Vanderlei/AFP)
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.