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YEAR OF JEWISH CULTURE – 100 YEARS OF THE JEWISH MUSEUM IN PRAGUE
In the summer months, the Jewish Museum in Prague entered the second half of its centennial year. In partnership with a large number of institutions in the Czech Republic and abroad, it has once again managed to prepare a wide range of events that not only celebrate its 100th anniversary but also increase general awareness of Jewish issues and Jewish topics.
A total of 27 exhibitions, nine concerts, six festivals and two theatre shows, one conference and three social events were held as part of the Year of Jewish Culture project between July and September.
Form of the Scroll
The exhibition Form of the Scroll was on view in the Robert Guttmann Gallery between June and July. Featuring about a tenth of the Museum’s 600 scrolls, this exhibition included all types of ceremonial scrolls, notably the scroll of Torah (Pentateuch), which is the holiest book within Judaism, and the Book of Esther. The beauty of these scrolls lies mainly in the calligraphy of the Hebrew script. The exhibition’s focus, however, was on private scrolls of Esther dating from the 17th century through the 20th, which, unlike synagogue scrolls, are usually decorative. Scrolls adorned with ornamental motifs or with entire series of illustrations for the story of Mordecai and Esther were displayed in their entire length (up to several metres), so that their beauty could be appreci-ated in full.
The Book of Esther also became a model for local and family scrolls that describe the mi- raculous rescues of individuals or of the whole community from danger. In these works, written by their involuntary protagonists immediately after the incident, specific expression is given to local history and the general picture of the insecure status of members of the Jewish community. On display in the exhibition were the oldest of these scrolls (from Prague, 1622) and the most recent (from Sušice, 1866).
As demonstrated by this exhibition, the scroll has also been an inspiration for artists, whether they create illustrative accompaniments to the Book of Esther or use its form and traditional decoration as a source of inspiration in their own work.
Defying the Beast. The Jewish Museum in Prague, 1906–1940
Another exhibition for the Museum’s centennial opened in the Robert Guttmann Gallery on August 16. Entitled Defying the Beast, this traces the fate of the Museum’s first decades.
The title of the exhibition is a reference to the pamphlet Bestia triumphans by the writer Vilém Mrštík, which pilloried the arrogant and insensitive approach of the Prague municipal government toward Jewish ghetto sites that were earmarked for demolition. The fact that several synagogues and prayer rooms were facing immediate destruction during the ghetto clearance became the main impulse for the establishment in 1906 of the Association for the Founding and Maintaining of a Jewish Museum in Prague (under the supervision of Salomon Hugo Lieben and August Stein). By 1909 the collection of ritual items was large enough for the Museum Association to open its first exhibition in rented rooms on Benediktská Street. In 1912, it opened a larger exhibition in the Prague Burial Society’s building. The third exhibition of the by now flourishing museum opened in 1926 in the Burial Society’s Ceremonial Hall; two display cases from this show were restored for the present exhibition.
The Beast struck again several years later, this time in the form of the Nazi regime. Despite the political events of 1938–39, the Museum Association decided to continue its activities. But in May 1940, it was officially dissolved, along with other Jewish societies and organizations, at the behest of the Nazi authorities. The collections remained on view until 1941, when it definitively closed to the public in accordance with other anti-Jewish measures. The museum’s building became a warehouse and was looted several times.
In spring 1942, employees of the Prague Jewish Community initiated the founding of the Central Jewish Museum with a view to protecting synagogue items, books and archival records from the dissolved Jewish communities of the Protectorate. To back up their cause, they referred to the more than 30 years of the Jewish Museum’s existence, in addition to the unique nature of its collection. This collection was gradually incorporated into the Central Jewish Museum. These items constitute the core of the present-day collections and exhibitions of the Jewish Museum in Prague. They are listed in the exhibition catalogue, which has been prepared by the curator Magda Veselská. This exhibition not only traces the Museum’s first decades but also recreates and documents some of its original exhibits and features unique items from the pre-war collection.
Melissa Shiff: ARK / ARCHA
Since September 14, ARK by Canadian multimedia artist Melissa Shiff has been on view in the former Small Pinkas Street, which is one of the few remaining authentic areas of the former Jewish Ghetto. ARK is a large sculpture in the form of a ship, whose prototype is Noah’s Ark. It provides a metaphor for the Jewish Museum as an ark that preserves the precious legacy of Jewish culture in the Czech lands – a legacy that is closely linked with the history of this site and with the present-day life of the city.
ARK is a 4.5-meter high sculpture constructed of acrylic and aluminium. Once night falls, how-ever, it becomes a massive three-dimensional screen on which the eventful story of the Jewish Museum is projected (via two video projectors inside the sculpture) as a thirty-minute video. Melissa Shiff sees the Museum not only as an ark, but also as an archive that helps to preserve the cultural memory of a people. In addition, ARK confronts the destructive forces that the Museum has had to face in the course of its turbulent history: man-made catastrophes, such as the Holocaust, and natural disasters, such as the recent flood in Prague (2002).
As part of the Museum’s 100th anniversary celebrations, ARK will be on display until January 14, 2007.
This project was made possible through the kind support of the following partners: Good-side Foundation, Hardesh Foundation, The Lee Foundation, The Davis Family, The Glina Family, The Warshafsky Foundation, Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, City of Prague, Prague 1 Borough, Embassy of Canada / Ambassade du Canada, 9 GATES – Festival of Czech-German- Jewish Culture, JAP – Jewish Art / Products / Politics and SIEZA, s.r.o., which provides comprehensive solutions for security, management and information systems.
“I have not seen a butterfly around here...”
On September 14, an exhibition of black-and-white photography by the Argentine artist Rosa Revsin opened at the Jewish Museum’s Education and Culture Centre. These works were inspired by an anthology of poetry by child inmates of the Terezín ghetto which was published under the title I have not seen a butterfly around here. Held in association with the Embassy of Argentina.
Visual Metaphors: The Art of Mark Podwal
The exhibition Visual Metaphors: The Art of Mark Podwal opened on September 22 at the new American Center in the renovated Wratislaw Palace.
Mark Podwal (b. 1945, Brooklyn) is among the leading contemporary American graphic artists and illustrators. His work draws mainly on themes from Jewish culture and tradition. Inspired by the world of Jewish legends and tales, much of his work focuses on Rabbi Loew of Prague and the Golem, the Prague ghetto and the city of Prague, which he has visited several times. Masked by an apparent simplicity, Podwal’s drawings always resonate with new ideas, metaphors and wit. His combination of various motifs create new connec-tions, reshape traditional themes and uncover the hidden meaning of old symbols. Podwal’s artistry has enhanced an array of creative projects from the cover of a CD recording by Itzhak Perlman to the design of a seder plate for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Podwal has authored and illustrated a number of books and his art is represented in various collections across America, Europe and Israel. The Jewish Museum in Prague hosted an exhibition of Podwal’s work in 1997 and chose Mark Podwal to create a limited edition of silkscreen prints to commemorate its 100th anniversary. These prints can be purchased directly from the Jewish Museum in Prague or from its on-line store at www.jewishmuseum.cz, or by contacting Forum Gallery 745 Fifth Avenue, New York 10151.
There Was Once a World
An exhibition of period photographs, texts and objects documenting the history of the Jewish communities in Loštice, Mohelnice and Úsov, entitled There Was Once a World, opened at Mohelnice Museum. This has been organized by the Respect and Tolerance Association in association with the Jewish Museum in Prague.
They survived hell
An exhibition of photography by Jana Noseková-Žantovská has been prepared by the Josef Sudek Gallery in Prague in association with the Jewish Museum in Prague. Entitled Hell Survivors, it features photographs of Czech born Israelis who survived the Holocaust.
Neighbours Who Disappeared and Tribute to the Child Holocaust Victims – exhibitions in Los Angeles
The Jewish Museum exhibition Neighbours Who Disappeared was on view at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust between 20 August and September 29. Of particular note was a panel prepared by students of the Chotěboř Commercial Academy. The congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim has a Torah scroll from the town of Chotěboř and is in close contact with the London-based Czech Torah Network – an organization that cares for Czech Torahs that were confiscated by the Nazis during the Second World War and subsequently sold to Great Britain in the 1960s; these are now on permanent loan throughout the world.
Hear Our Voice
On 20 July, the State Opera Prague hosted the premiere of the music theatre piece Hear Our Voice as part of the Year of Jewish Culture. This marked the culmination of a music education project co-organized by the Hackney Music Development Trust (London), the Internationales Kammermusik Festival (Nürnberg) and the Jewish Museum (Prague). It was by nearly a hundred children from Britain, Germany and the Czech Republic under the baton of international conductor Peter Selwyn with the soprano Alison Buchanan and the Fürth Streichhölzer Youth Orchestra. Together, they gave voice to the words of Jewish children whose own voices were silenced in the Holocaust.
This project comprised two parallel sections. The art section was accompanied by an exhibition in each country; the one in Prague was held in the Jubilee Synagogue. The music theatre section culminated in the performance at the prestigious State Opera Prague. The English-German-Czech work was made possible by the cooperation of the many students and teachers from each of the three countries. The expression of sufferingin the poems, diaries and letters written by chil-dren of the Holocaust served to increase young people’s awareness and understanding of current issues of racial hatred and intolerance.
Klezmer for the Sultan
A new interpretation of the history and roots of Jewish traditional music in Turkish culture was provided by the Israeli-born composer and percussionist Yinon Muallem at the Archa Theatre in Prague on September 19. The Turkish dancer and choreographer Berrak Yedek also performed at this concert, which was held with the support of the Jewish Museum.
Poláček’s Summer Festival
The 13th annual theatre festival held in honour of the Rychnov-born writer and journalist Karel Poláček was held in Rychnov nad Kněžnou at the end of June and beginning of July.
The 14th annual festival for the Boskovice Jewish Quarter took place between July 13–16. This featured music of various genres, theatre, film, exhibitions, art workshops and happenings throughout the town.
Week of Jewish Culture – Holešov 2006
Concerts, lectures and film screenings took place at the end of July at the Holešov festival.
The 3rd annual Shamayim Třebíč festival took place in the Rear Synagogue and in the Jewish Quarter.
We Can’t Grumble
On September 24 and 25, the Prague-based Divadlo na voru [Theatre on the Raft] staged the premiere of the play We Can’t Grumble (based on texts by Oser and Marie Warszawská and Johannes Urzidil).
Grand opening of the Brno office of the Education and Culture Centre
With great interest from the public and the media, the Jewish Museum in Prague opened the Brno office of its Education and Culture Centre – its first office outside Prague – on September 20. Its address is Třída Kpt. Jaroše 3, Brno.
The grand opening was attended by the Museum Director Leo Pavlát, the Mayor of Brno Richard Svoboda and representatives of state, cultural and educational institutions. The event was uniquely hosted by the actor and writer Arnošt Goldflam, who greatly contributed to the festive atmosphere, which was enhanced by the lively klezmer music of Ha Chucpa.
The new centre will host lectures, meetings, exhibitions and interactive workshops for schools and other interested parties from the South Moravian region; in time, it seeks to expand its services to cover the whole of Moravia and Silesia. In November it will be starting a regular series of cultural programmes for the public. The centre has a flexible lecture hall which seats 30–80 people and is equipped with modern audio-visual facilities.
Synagogues in Bohemia and Moravia
As part of the Year of Jewish Culture and in association with Blanka Rozkošná (Matana Association), Czech Centres have prepared an
exhibition of photographs that highlight the past and present of Bohemian and Moravian Synagogues. This show started off in Stockholm and then moved to Dresden in October, from where it is touring to Warsaw in November.
GALA EVENING AT THE ARCHA THEATRE
On September 18, friends of the Jewish Museum celebrated its centennial at the Archa Theatre in Prague. After opening speeches by the Museum Director Leo Pavlát and the Czech Minister of Culture Martin Štěpánek, Eva Holubová and Jiří Dědeček interviewed several Czech Jewish writers – Lenka Reinerová, Ivan Klíma, Ivan Kraus, Arnošt Goldflam, Irena Dousková and Tomáš Kolský, who read from their works later on in the evening. Music was provided by Michal Prokop, Alexander Shonert, Yinon Muallem Ensemble and Hana Hegerová. There was also a screening of documentary films relating to the Jewish Museum in Prague.
100 Items from the Jewish Museum in Prague
Published for the 100th anniversary of the Jewish Museum in Prague, this illustrated catalogue features a hundred of the most interesting items from the museum’s collections (which contain as many as 40,000 Judaic treasures). It includes a representative selection of textiles, metalworks, miscellaneous items, manuscripts, rare books and visual artworks. These items have been selected as they are either exceptional in some way or else are the most widely represented items in the collections. Most of them are on display in the museum’s exhibitions. The catalogue contains whole-page photographs and details of the items with brief texts in six languages – Czech, English, German, French, Italian and Spanish.
On the basis of a decision of the Museum’s Board of Trustees, two paintings by Adolf Wiesner were returned to the heirs of Emil Kolben on September 8, 2006. Emil Kolben, a well-known Czech entrepreneur and inventor, perished during the war in Terezín and his assets were confiscated.