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YEAR OF JEWISH CULTURE – 100 YEARS OF THE JEWISH MUSEUM IN PRAGUE
The last quarter of 2006 saw the final celebrations of the Jewish Museum’s centennial, which was commemorated throughout the year by the Year of Jewish Culture project.
The Jewish Museum organized a wide range of events between October and December in partnership with various institutions in the Czech Republic and abroad. In total, there were 18 exhibitions, three concerts, four festivals, ten theatre shows, 15 lectures & discussions and two social events. The Czech Centres in Stockholm, Dresden and Warsaw, the Czech Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Brno Municipal House Association and the Slovenia – Czech League Association were also involved in the celebrations. In addition, the Jewish Museum took part in the Frankfurt and Pisa book fairs.
The Second Life of Czech Torah Scrolls. Czech Torah Scrolls and Binders from the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London and the Jewish Museum in Prague
The Year of Jewish Culture project culminated with an exhibition at the museum’s Robert Guttmann Gallery. This focused on Czech Torah scrolls from the museum’s collections which were sold in 1964 and shipped abroad, where they were given a ‘second life’.
Highlighting the importance of the Torah scroll and the Torah binder in Jewish tradition, this exhibition told the story of the almost 1,800 Czech Torah scrolls whose owners were deported to concentration camps during the war while these rare items were stored in the Nazi-controlled Central Jewish Museum. At the beginning of the 1960s, the Communist Czechoslovak regime began selling ritual objects from the collections of the then state-run Jewish Museum. Torah scrolls became sought-after items. In 1963, once a suitable purchaser had been found, some 1,500 Torah scrolls from the museum’s collections had to be made available for sale. In January 1964, the scrolls were wrapped in Prague and shipped to London, finding refuge at Kent House, the headquarters of the recently established Jewish congregation at Westminster.
The vast majority of usable Czech Torahs have now been distributed to Jewish congrega-tions, Shoah memorials, museums and libraries across the world. The rest form part of a collec-tion in a small museum at Kent House, which commemorates the fate of the scrolls and the history of the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia. The scrolls that the Memorial Scrolls Trust has loaned to congregations are being looked after with great care. These congregations realise the value of the memory of every individual scroll and are developing a number of projects that promote knowledge of the life of the Jewish community in Bohemia and Moravia. The Jewish Museum in Prague is involved in a number of these projects.
The exhibition at the Robert Guttmann Gallery featured a range of Torah scrolls, binders and documents charting the ‘second life’ of the Czech scrolls, as well as a short film made for the Jewish Museum by Ivan Pokorný. On 26 October, a lecture about the scrolls was given in the Marble Hall of the Clam-Gallas Palace by the exhibition curator Dana Veselská (Jewish Muse-um in Prague) and Evelyn Friedlander (Memorial Scrolls Trust, London). This event was organized in conjunction with the Praha – Cáchy/Aachen Association and also featured music by the violinist Alexander Shonert.
The research project into the Czech Torah scrolls and binders in the Memorial Scrolls Trust, London, was financially supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic.
An exhibition on Jewish Education opened on 8 November at the Pedagogical Museum of J. A. Comenius in Prague. This highlighted the importance and history of education in the Jewish tradition.
The tradition of Jewish education stretches back to biblical times. The father’s obligation to teach his children is set out in the first paragraph of the Shema Yisrael (the Jewish creed): “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up...” (Deut 6:6-9). In Jewish tradition, compulsory attendance of elementary schools from the age of six was required as early as the first century B.C.E. The purpose of the Talmud Torah, heder and yeshivah schools was to ensure knowledge of Hebrew, the Torah, Talmud and Jewish laws. Following this tradition, Jews taught their children in their own schools and with the help of private tutors until the end of the 18th century.
It was not until Josef II’s decree of 1781 that Jews in the Czech lands were allowed to attend all public schools, including universities. This decree also supported the establishment of secular Jewish schools in larger Jewish communities with state supervision. Most of the German Jewish schools in Bohemia were closed down at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and replaced by separate religion classes in public schools. In pre-war Czechoslovakia, there were also a number of independent Jewish schools. The clandestine teaching of children in the Terezín ghetto and other concentration camps is another important chapter in the history of Jewish education in the Czech lands.
Due to the huge losses of life in the war, Jewish schools were not subsequently reo-pened. The traditional teaching of religion was swept away after the Communist takeover in 1948 and Hebrew lessons in language schools were later discontinued. It was not until after November 1989 that religious education was restored by the Prague Jewish Community. Later on, the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation helped to found a kindergarten (1994), an elementary school (1997) and a high school (1999). These schools follow standard curricula, as well as offering Jewish education and Hebrew lessons.
This was the first ever exhibition in the Czech Republic to focus on the long-established tradition of Jewish education, which is now being continued by the Jewish schools of today.
We Can Make Ourselves Understood
An exhibition on the life and legacy of Milena Hübschmannová opened at the museum’s Education and Culture Centre (ECC) on 14 December. Hübschmannová was a renowned ethnologist, ethnographer, translator, founder of Roma studies at Prague’s Charles University and frequent collaborator with the museum. The exhibition was organized by the Romeo Association in conjunction with the ECC.
Traditional klezmer songs
On 17 October, the Spanish Synagogue hosted a concert of traditional klezmer songs performed by Katka Kolcovová-Tlustá. This was organized by Steepforest in association with Jewish Museum in Prague and MOFFOM (Music on Film – Film on Music). Guests in-cluded the Canadian DJ and musician Socalled and Spiritual Quintet member Jiří Tichota. The new CD Katryna: Klezmer Inspiration was also presented.
In late October and early November, the Prague and Brno Education and Culture Centres hosted the first two concerts in the Czech Republic of Nikitov, a Dutch/American quartet that plays Yiddish/Jewish songs with elements of Gypsy Jazz.
On 12 October, as part of the Year of Jewish Culture project, the Jaromír Vogel Orchestra Šarbilach appeared in concert at the experimental music venue Roxy/NoD. This was a big band fusion of classical, pop and ethnic music with Jewish roots, featuring works by the artistic director of the orchestra as performed by vocalist and instrumental soloists and a forty-member orchestra.
The Cinegoga / Cinegogue project was presented for the first time this year for the third MOFFOM (Music on Film – Film on Music) festival. As part of this project, a number of films dealing with Jewish culture, history and religion were shown at the Spanish Synagogue between 19 and 22 October. Of particular note were From Shtetl to Swing (dir. Fabienne Rousso-Lenoir, 2005) and Crossing Channels: Composers of Terezin (dir. Simon Broughton, 1994).
Days of Jewish Culture in Brno
From March to November, a number of exhibitions and theatre shows were held at key venues in Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic, for the Days of Jewish Culture in Brno. It was co-ordinated by the National Theatre in Brno in association with the Jewish Community Brno. The main focus of this project in the National Theatre was on the work of artists deported to the Terezín ghetto. Among the exhibitions were Fritz Grünbaum – Grüss mich Gott! at the Moravian Museum and a display of work by the Argentine Jewish photographer Pedro Roth at the Brno City Museum.
Meeting with Holocaust survivors
On 9 November, for the Days of Jewish Culture in Brno, the Museum of Romani Culture hosted a meeting with Jewish and Roma surviv-ors of the Holocaust, entitled We were lucky, apparently.
Hole in the Wall
November saw a premiere by the Prague theatre Minor of the play Hole in the Wall, based on stories by the Israeli writer Etgar Keret.
LECTURES AND DISCUSSIONS
Theatre in Terezín, 1945–2006
In October, the Prague and Brno Education and Culture Centres hosted a two-part lecture by the American researcher Lisa Peschel on theatre in the Terezín ghetto. Peschel’s main focus was on a script discovered last year, entitled Porges’s Cabaret, which reveals the importance of humour and the need to create an impression of ‘normalcy’ as a means of psychological escape from the grim realities of ghetto life. Peschel argues against the predominantly held view in the US that Terezín theatre was primarily about resistance. Students of JAMU (Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts) staged the newly discovered cabaret in Brno.
Wagner in Prague and Brno
On 7 and 9 November, Gottfried Wagner (b. 1947) – the ‘black sheep’ of Richard Wagner’s family – appeared at the Prague and Brno Education and Culture Centres for the publication of the first Czech translation of his autobiography (which translates as “He Who Doesn’t Howl with the Wolf”). Wagner talked openly about the active role played by his relatives in the social and political rise of Hitler. He also condemned their involvement in Hitler’s rise to power and pilloried his family’s sympathy to Nazism, its links to the Nazi regime and the direct influence of Richard Wagner’s anti-Semitic texts on the leader of the Third Reich. On both occasions, Gottfried Wagner spoke with charm and Wagnerian pathos.
VIDEO I CAN’T UNDERSTAND
At a press conference on 20 December, the Jewish Museum’s Education and Culture Centre (ECC) presented a video entitled I Can’t Understand. The main aim of the video, which has been made by the band The Tchendos, is to point out to young people the dangers of Neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism. It is an electron-ic collage based on snippets from an interview with a Holocaust survivor, Anna Hyndráková-Kovanicová. The video merges archival footage from the Second World War and from the immediate post-war period with recordings from recent concerts and demonstrations of Neo-Nazi and skinhead groups – with shouts of “Heil!” and passive assistance on the part of the police – and footage of a Jewish cemetery being destroyed. It will be used by the ECC in its educational programmes and activities and is to be broadcast by Czech Television.
NEW LIBRARY DEPOSITORY
At the beginning of November, the Jewish Museum’s library department successfully completed the relocation of about 33,000 books from a depository in the Brandýs nad Labem synagogue to a new depository in Spořilov, Prague 4. These mainly include books that were part of the Terezín ghetto library, in addition to books belonging to Jewish and other organizations and associations that were confiscated by the Nazis during the war. Covering an area of about 750 metres, these items are now stored in compact, fixed shelves in the newly reconstructed rooms which provide for optimal climatic conditions. After further treatment, the books will be gradually made available to visitors.
SUNDAY WORKSHOPS AT THE EDUCATION AND CULTURE CENTRE IN PRAGUE
In November, the Prague Education and Culture Centre began a series of Sunday work-shops for children and their parents. Those taking part in the first workshops found out about the holidays of Simhat Torah and Hanukkah, learnt festive songs and took home a scroll or a hanukiah symbol that they had made themselves. The workshops ended with a v sit to a synagogue, where the parents were treated to a guided tour while their children were given an entertaining puzzle to do. The Jewish Museum intends to expand these workshops next year.
On 11 October, the Jewish Museum was visited by Théo Klein, a prominent French Jewish official and former president of the European Jewish Congress.
In the last newsletter, we erroneously stated that two paintings by Adolf Wiesner had been returned to the heirs of Jindřich Kolben. They were in fact returned to the heirs of Emil Kolben. Emil Kolben was a well-known Czech entrepreneur and inventor whose assets were confiscated and who perished during the war in the Terezín ghetto.