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YEAR OF JEWISH CULTURE – 100 YEARS OF THE JEWISH MUSEUM IN PRAGUE
The year 2006 marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Jewish Museum in Prague. In association with various other organizations and institutions across the Czech Republic, we have prepared a number of events for the second quarter as part of the yearlong project Year of Jewish Culture – 100 Years of the Jewish Museum in Prague. With this project, we hope to familiarize the general public with the diversity of the Jewish tradition and to point out that Jewish culture is still thriving. We also hope to encourage greater mutual understanding and to show that multiculturalism is an enriching experience
Between April and June, 32 exhibitions, 15 concerts, 6 festivals, 13 theatre plays, 28 lectures and discussions and 14 social events were held as part of the Museum’s centenary celebrations. The Czech Centres in Budapest, Paris, Stockholm and Warsaw have also been involved in the Year of Jewish Culture project.
Mazal Tov – Good Luck. Jewish Wedding Ceremonies: Past and Present
From 6 April till 4 June 2006, the Robert Guttmann Gallery hosted an exhibition on the traditional wedding ceremony of Ashkenazi Jews. This examined the Jewish wedding ceremony through various items, including photographs, garments, rings, contracts and gifts.
One particularly noteworthy item was a rare wedding dress, dating from 1896, which was worn by M. Pokorná on her special day; this was acquired by the Museum as part of the Help Search for Neighbours Who Disappeared project. Its modern-day counterpart was a wedding dress from 1999. Putting together this show, the curator Dana Veselská sought to make connections between the various groups of items on display. In addition to contemporary wedding announcements, there was a unique notification from 1913, which states that the Jewish businessman A. Schulz has to remarry his wife of 20 years due to a procedural error. Among the historical wedding contracts from the Museum’s archive was a ketubbah from 1983 – a rarity considering how few Jewish religious wedding ceremonies were held in this country during the Communist era. Many of the exhibits came from private collections, including a wedding contract which was concluded in 1943 in the Terezín ghetto, and a shard pendant from the Weinsteins’ wedding in 1924. Some items from the Museum’s collections were displayed for the very time, such as a set of wedding albums (including the wedding album of the Museum founder S. H. Lieben) and written marriage contracts from the Museum’s archive. Also of interest were items on loan from other museums, such as a wedding ring from the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague and a silver bowl (for collecting money for gifts for poor brides) from the Jewish Museum in Vienna.
Melissa Shiff. Reframing Ritual: Postmodern Jewish Wedding
A video projection in the Spanish Synagogue by the Canadian artist Melissa Shiff coincided with the opening of the Mazal Tov show. This offered an alternative look at the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony. Shiff incorporated digital and electronic visual media into her own wedding ceremony to give a new impulse to a ritual that has remained unchanged for centuries. The chuppah, for example, was tilted to serve as a screen on which a stream of film and photographic images was projected. Shiff's 20-minute video-performance piece presented a ceremony with a traditional function and freshly restructured content. The project was kindly supported by the Embassy of Canada.
Images of the Prague Ghetto
The exhibition Images of the Prague Ghetto has been on view at the City of Prague Museum since the middle of May. Featuring 200 unique images from the 18th century through the 20th, this gives a vivid picture of the main monuments of Prague’s Jewish Town. The show comprises three main sections. The first part contains portraits of rabbis and families in the ghetto The second focuses on the most important sites of the ghetto, particularly the Old-New Synagogue and the Old Jewish Cemetery. Most of the depictions of the Jewish Town by Prague painters date from the period of its reconstruction (which also led to the founding of the Jewish Museum in Prague).
The need to represent a society undergoing a process of emancipation led to the creation of a complete portrait gallery of the spiritual representatives of the Prague Jewish community and of members of patrician and entrepreneurial families in the Jewish Town. The best Prague portraitists, such as Antonín Bayer and Antonín Machek, were receiving commissions from clients in the ghetto by the beginning of the 19th century; the first Jewish graduates of the Prague Academy soon followed suit. Ignatz Josef Porges was one of the most acclaimed Jewish portraitists in 19th century Prague. The Old-New Synagogue attracted the attention of artists at the beginning of the 19th century. Their engravings from the 1830s were used as illustrations for the first guidebooks for Prague. The most important work is a watercolour by Josef Mánes that depicts the Old-New Synagogue interior. The Old Jewish Cemetery was also a popular subject for several generations of artists.
It was first painted by Antonín Mánes, but the most important painters of the cemetery were Bedřich Havránek and Matyáš Wehli who depicted picturesque clusters of tombstones near Pinkas Synagogue with views of Prague Castle. Cemetery views also became a popular motif for Art Nouveau graphic artists. The decision to reconstruct the Jewish Town and the start of its demolition around 1896 produced a wave of broader interest in the Prague ghetto. Artists sought to document the form of the ghetto’s vanishing streets and corners. Among the most important ghetto painters from this period was Václav Jansa; others included Luděk Marold, Václav Hradecký, Jindřich Jakesch and Josef Douba. Antonín Slavíček painted his most famous views of the Jewish and Old Towns at the turn of century. Traditional motifs of the Prague ghetto were also depicted in many replicas by the naive painter Adolf Kohn in the 1920s and 30s.
Due to the numerous works by several generations of Prague painters and graphic artists, the demolished Jewish Town is now, paradoxically, among the best documented historic parts of Prague.
This exhibition is co-held by the Prague 1 Borough.
Don’t Lose Faith in Mankind… The Protectorate Through the Eyes of Jewish Children
A new touring exhibition of the Jewish Museum’s Education and Culture Centre, entitled Don’t Lose Faith in Mankind… The Protectorate Through the Eyes of Jewish Children, was on view at Carolinum Cloister between 23 May and 18 June. The 20 exhibition display panels focus on the fate of six Jewish children before, during and after the Second World War through to the present. The personal stories, diaries and photographs provide the viewer with a key to an understanding of the pre- and post-war events in Czechoslovakia. The subject matter – anti-Jewish orders, deportations, life in the Terezín ghetto, the terrors of extermination camps and the return of deportees to empty homes – is presented in such a way as to encourage students to see history as involving the lives of individual people, rather than as an impersonal list of dates and places. The exhibition at Carolinum was accompanied by numerous film screenings and meetings with Shoah survivors. A website was also put together for the show: www.neztratitviru.net. The exhibition will be on display in the Prague Museum of Children’s Drawings from 3 to 31 July, and then in Brno, Pilsen and Prostějov, until the end of the year.
On 10 May the Spanish Synagogue hosted a concert by Vadim Brodsky with piano accompaniment (held in association with the Polish Institute).
On 7 June the Museum of Roma Culture organized a concert in the courtyard of the Old Town Hall in Brno with performances by the Prostějov-based Jewish band Létající rabín (The Flying Rabbi) and the Brno-based Roma band Gulo čars.
On 4 June, as part of the Respect Festival, Akropolis Palace hosted a concert by the world-famous clarinettist David Krakauer with Canadian DJ Socalled and Klezmer Madness.
Featuring rhythmic compositions and untraditional instruments, a Jewish band performed Yiddish songs and poems about life cycle events in a play directed by Helena Glancová at Divadlo Na Prádle.
In association with the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, a public meeting – We Are All Human – against anti-Semitism and for the support of the Jewish nation and the State of Israel was held in the Wallenstein Gardens in Prague on 23 April.
A commemorative event for Yom Ha’shoah was held on 25 April by the Czech Association of Jewish Youth in association with the Jewish Museum in Prague.
On 7 May the Jewish Museum in Prague presented its project Year of Jewish Culture at the 2006 Book World Trade Fair in Prague. After an opening speech by Deputy Director Eva Kosáková, Arno Pařík presented his publication Images of the Prague Ghetto, Marie Zahradníková spoke about the touring exhibition Don’t Lose Faith in Mankind… The Protectorate Through the Eyes of Jewish Children, and Vlasta Chramostová read excerpts from Ivan Klíma’s book This Is Not a Fairy Tale – It’s Real! The event also featured a performance by violin virtuoso Alexander Shonert.
On 5 May the international ecumenical project People of the World Inscribe the Bible was launched at the Prague Residence of the Israeli Ambassador to the Czech Republic. As part of this project, with organizational support from the Jewish Museum in Prague, the entire Hebrew Bible will be transcribed by hand in the Czech language.
May 16 saw the official opening of a newly refurbished synagogue, dating from 1883, in Hartmanice in the Šumava Mountains. The Jewish Museum contributed to the preparation of an exhibition there. Speeches were made by the Deputy Chairman of the Czech Senate, Petr Pithart, and Chief Rabbi of the Czech Republic, Karol Sidon.
On the night of June 17, the Jewish Museum opened its doors to the public, free of charge, as part of the Prague Museum Night. Visitors were treated to a 9 Gates concert by cantor Boris Finkelstein with the Men’s Choir of the Moscow Choral Synagogue, and then to a tour of the Spanish and Maisel synagogues. The Jewish Museum received 8,000 visitors.
My Encounters with Jewishness
The Museum’s Education and Culture Centre has published a collection of papers from a lecture series that was held at the centre from March 2004 to January 2006. In these lectures, leading representatives of Czech cultural, scientific, religious and political life describe how they have perceived Jewishness – whether through personal encounters, research, literature, their own creative work or, negatively, through a confronation with anti-Semitism.
Texts by Daniel Herman, Jan Schwarz, Rudolf Zahradník, Erazim Kohák, Helena Illnerová, Jan Šimsa, Jan Sokol, Lenka Procházková, Ivan Medek, Cyril Höschl, Jiřina Šiklová, Petr Pithart and Václav Havel. Each paper is accompanied by a profile of the author. The collection is prefaced by a speech given by Jan Werich in 1968 for the opening of the exhibition Millenia Judaica Bohemica in Prague. Appendices include texts relating to Jewish issues by K. H. Borovský, T. G. Masaryk, Jan Masaryk and Václav Havel.
AWARD FOR THE JEWISH MUSEUM IN PRAGUE
The Jewish Museum in Prague received a special prize at the Gloria Musealis Awards Ceremony – in the category Museum Publications of the Year (2005) – for the catalogue The Man who Never Gave Up. The Story of Josef Polák (1886-1945), which was written by Magda Veselská. In 2003 the Museum received first prize for the catalogue Textiles from Bohemian and Moravian Synagogues.
Dr. Miloš Pojar is stepping down as director of the Jewish Museum’s Education and Culture Centre after almost nine years in this position, although he will continue his publication and lecture activities and his work for the Czech-German Future Fund. After serving as Czech Ambassador in Israel (1990–1994) and a high-ranking official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Pojar was able to make use of all his strengths at the Jewish Museum in Prague – notably his knowledge of Czech and Jewish history and culture, language skills, managerial abilities and experience as an author and editor. Under Dr. Pojar’s obliging supervision, the Centre clearly defined and comprehensively developed its activities for the benefit of students and members of the public who are interested in Jewish topics. We would like to thank Dr. Pojar very much for all the great work he has done for the Jewish Museum in Prague.
Participants of the Third Seminar of the European Ministers of Education Teaching Remembrance through Cultural Heritage – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Members of the Executive Committee of World ORT and guests in the Spanish Synagogue: (from the left) Dr. G. Bán, Executive Vice President & CEO of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, which provides permanent support to the Jewish Museum’s Education and Culture Centre (ECC), Sir M. Hatter, President of World ORT, and R. Singer, Director General of World ORT. World ORT also contributes to the activities of the ECC.