Jewish Museum in Prague
Meeting of the Association of European Jewish Museums in Prague
Between 26 and 28 March the Jewish Museum in Prague hosted this year’s meeting of the Association of European Jewish Museums. This event which brought together specialists from over twenty different countries was organized by the Jood Historich Museum in Amsterdam. It was no coincidence that Prague was chosen as the venue for the association’s tenth anniversary meeting. For although the association has significantly increased its membership in the last few years, the Jewish Museum in Prague still holds a prominent position within it. Delegates in Prague for the first time were surprised to see such a wealth of exhibitions and major sights, such as the synagogues and the Old Jewish Cemetery, which are in the care of the Jewish Museum in Prague. The Prague museum is also unique on account of the range and the comprehensive nature of its collections. The Association of European Jewish Museums was established as an organization that promotes the study of European Jewish history and seeks to protect and preserve Jewish sights and the Jewish cultural heritage in Europe. Rather than providing funds, the association helps its members by exchanging information and know-how, preparing group exhibitions and projects and providing professional assistance to newly established institutions. Several dozen museums of various types and sizes are now affiliated with the association - from Dublin and Toledo to Warsaw and Budapest, including newly established museums in Eastern Europe. All kinds of institutions are brought together, from traditional museums that have their own collections through to study and information centres that are equipped with state-of-the-art information and media technologies. The bedrock of the association remains Jewish museums in major European cities which have been re-established or significantly modernized during the last decade. Of these, the most important role is played by the Jewish Museum in Amsterdam, the Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris (opened in 1998) and the revived Jewish museums in Frankfurt and Vienna, the oldest in the word. In the last few years these institutions have been joined by the Jewish Museum in London, the Centre for Jewish Studies in Cracow, the Sephardic Museum in Toledo and the Jewish Museum in Athens. The meeting in Prague was attended by 40 representatives of Jewish museums, mostly from West and Central Europe: Brussels, Dublin, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Basle, Vienna, Eisenstadt, Munich, Trondheim, Bratislava, Warsaw and Athens. There were also representatives of recently opened Jewish museums in Hohenems, Furth, Trieste and Bologna and of Jewish museums that are currently being established in Berlin and Istanbul. Hardly any of the new Jewish museums from Eastern Europe which took part in last year’s meeting in St. Petersburg were represented this year. The exception was the Jewish Museum of Vilnius, which is involved in protecting a number of Jewish sights but, as is the case with most other new museums, faces a considerable lack of funds. As in previous years, the meeting involved a number of specialist lectures and discussions on current issues concerning museum activities. The Jewish Museum in Prague prepared a group of lec-tures dealing with research into Jewish sights, con-servation of tombstones in Jewish cemeteries, museum registration and digital documentation of collections. Presentations by museum staff covered the Genizah Project (Olga Sixtová and Arno Pařík), conservation of tombstones (external restorer Petr Justa), documentation methods (Magda Veselská) and the digitization of collections (Petr Kliment). The conference participants had the opportunity to exchange experience and gain new insights into various areas of museum work. Each museum representative talked about current activities and plans, major exhibitions, publications and important acquisitions. Of particular interest was the discussion on the educational activities of museums and untraditional methods of work with children. 3rd September was fixed for the annual Jewish Cultural Heritage Day, which most Jewish museums will mark by holding special events and opening up their exhibitions and collections to as wide a public as possible. The Prague museum’s exhibition of Old Jewish postcards in the Spanish Synagogue received considerable praise. Meetings of the association are always con- nected with a tour of local Jewish sights, which provide a practical illustration as to how typical conservation problems are dealt with. This year, specialist staff at the Jewish Museum in Prague conducted a tour not only around all the museum’s historical sights but also around the newly constructed silver and textile depositories both in and outside Prague. In the evening, a performance of Sephardic songs by Jana Lewitová and Vladimír Merta was held in the Spanish Synagogue. The meeting and lectures took place in the Museum’s Educational and Cultural Centre. The new Jewish Museum in Bologna was selected as the venue for the association’s next meeting in September 2001. As this museum is based primarily on multimedia presentations, the main theme of the conference and seminars will be the use of new information and media technology in museum work and new systems of documenting museum collections.
Exhibition reopening in the Rychnov Synagogue
16 May saw the reopening of the Jewish Museum of Podorlicko and of the Karel Poláček Memorial in the Rychnov nad Kněžnou Synagogue. Newsletter 3/98 focused on the history of this synagogue and on a new exhibition being prepared in co-operation with the Jewish Museum in Prague. The synagogue suffered damage during last year’s floods, as a result of which the west part had to be re-rendered. Five years after its opening in May 1995, a number of new panels highlighting Jewish festivals and religious customs have been added to the exhibition dedicated to Jewish sights and the history of Jewish communities in the region. The most important festivals of the year are documented by early engravings, illustrations and postcards, paintings by naive artists Robert Guttmann and Robert Ehrmann, and graphic art by Marc Chagall and the contemporary illustrator Mark Podwal. As before, the exhibition features a number of ritual objects on loan from the Jewish Museum in Prague.
Concerts in the Spanish Synagogue
Evening concerts have been held in the Spanish Synagogue since April of this year. A greater number of agencies are now involved in the organization of concerts, which is something that adds to the variety of the overall repertoire. So far we have been able to hear ensembles playing on period instruments (Ritornello and Kvinterna) and recitals dedicated to Sephardic songs and classical songs by Jewish composers. A memorable highlight was the concert of 30 May, which was organized by the ”Prague Spring” International Music Festival and performed by the cantor of New York’s prestigious 5th Avenue Synagogue, Joseph Malovany, with accompaniment by Jaroslav Šaroun. A deeply-felt perform-ance and superb interpretation of synagogue chants made the almost three-hour concert an experience to remember.
Art as ”Strategies for Survival”
10 February saw the opening in the Moravian College (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, U.S.) of an exhibition dedicated to the Terezín Ghetto and centred around children’s drawings and the work of Friedl Dicker-Brandeisová. The Jewish Museum in Prague was closely involved in the preparation of the exhibition and loaned copies of children’s drawings and original art work by Friedl Dicker-Brandeisová. A special two-day conference was held to mark the opening of the exhibition by the Czech and Slovak ambassadors to the U.S. This was attended by the curator of the collection of paintings and graphic art at the Jewish Museum in Prague, Michaela Hájková, who gave a presentation on Friedl Dicker-Brandeisová, outlining the work of this prominent representative of the inter-war avant-garde and touching upon her educational activities in the pre-war period and in Terezín.
The Jewish Museum in Prague purchased the following items in the first quarter of the year.
- The History of the Jews in Bohemia and Moravia
Jewish authors in European literature
The Hilsner Affair and Czech Society, 1899-1999