Shanghai: Saving the stones

As is too often the case, Jewish gravestones are used for other purposes by people who live where Jewish populations no longer care for and maintain cemeteries.

Israeli journalist Dvir Bar-Gal, who arrived in Shanghai nine years ago, is the Jewish tombstone collector of the city, according to a CNNGO.com story.

Scattered in cauliflower patches, or sunken, mud-covered, in riverbanks, or sometimes used as washing slabs by villagers around the city, are the gravestones of old Jewish settlers of Shanghai. During the Cultural Revolution, the gravestones were uprooted, smashed and scattered throughout the region. The cemeteries have long been paved over, with no recognition of the bodies buried underneath. The stones that remain are like historical islands, isolated and disconnected from their past.

For Israeli photo-journalist and documentary maker Dvir Bar-Gal, a first encounter with a headstone in a Shanghai antique store has become a decade-long quest to discover their origins. And what started as a journalistic project quickly turned into a personal mission. “I got more connected emotionally,” he says. “There’s a lot of energy involved every time we flip over the stones and read the mud-covered inscriptions.”

Bar-Gal’s quest, now called the Shanghai Jewish Memorial Project, has seen him journey to numerous rural villages around Shanghai. There, he’d find old tombstones in fields, along rivers, or used as construction blocks for pathways and walls. His plan is to discover and restore as many stones he can and then display them, as a shrine to this nearly lost aspect of Shanghai’s Jewish history.

Stones have been recovered by the Shanghai Jewish Memorial Project from bike path bridges, fields and riverbeds. Bar-Gal interviews local residents and tries to put the puzzle pieces together.

Bar-Gal says there may have been some 3,700 Jews buried in the city, but couldn’t find gravestones or cemeteries other than the pieces he discovers. He’s found some 85 stones over the past 10 years. He’s contacted families of the deceased and asked architects to design a permanent home.

A few years ago, American Lily Klebanoff Blake joined Bar-Gal and they went to the rural location where he found her grandmother’s stone in a riverbed.

“It was still covered in mud but I felt compelled to show my respect for my grandmother by washing the mud off the gravestone,” she says. “Touching the gravestone, I felt an uncanny connection to my grandmother, who died when I was four years old.”

The recovered stones remain in a few places: a storage space, a Buddhist cemetery and the journalist’s own gallery.

He has a network of people who let him know when stones are found. In March, a neighbor told him some stones were found in a western suburb and he found two new ones.

His inspiration comes from days like that, and he’s working on various projects: a documentary (not yet funded), a book about Shanghai’s Jewish history, and as a tour guide and photographer.

Yanhua Zhang, research director for a non-profit heritage conservation group, believes that a permanent home for the stones can help people trace their family history, and would raise awareness of the former Jewish ghetto.

Read the complete story at the link above.

Cleveland: Preserving photos, April 7

Professional photographer Rich Santich will cover copying and preserving old photographs at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland, on Wednesday, April 7.

The program begins at 7.30pm in the Miller Board Room at Menorah Park, 27100 Cedar Road, Beachwood.

Santich runs MotoPhoto in Shaker Heights and will demonstrate what individuals can do themselves and what can be done professionally.

MotoPhoto is a photo processing firm and provides other professional photographic services.

He will demonstrate how to copy and/or preserve old family photographs that researchers find among our family possessions.

Those individuals who are so inclined, or willing to learn, a few basic computer skills can often do much of the work themselves when it comes to copying old photos.

Others may be more inclined to have the duplicating done professionally.

Santich will cover the various options as well as offering basic tips on the preservation of historic family photo heirlooms.

Click here for more information on the JGS of Cleveland. Check out their online resources, such as grave photographs and obituaries.

Belarus: Dunilovichi 1834 census, cemetery

Artist and genealogist Susan Weinberg of Minnesota spent six weeks studying Yiddish at the Vilnius Institute and also visited Dunilovichi, Belarus, during the summer of 2009.

While there, she made a copy of the 1834 census for Dunilovichi, which has 375 entries and some 60 surnames.

Susan would like to have it included – to benefit other researchers – on JewishGen’s All Belarus Database, but there is a cost to get the translation done. She has already created a ShtetLinks page for the town with extensive information (see link below).

Readers with roots in the area may wish to contribute to this effort.

Where is the shtetl?

It is 82 miles N of Minsk, 80 miles ENE of Vilnius, 18 miles WSW of Hlybokaye (Glebokie) and 16 miles ESE of Pastavy (Postawy). Interestingly, Tracing The Tribe had a TALALAY branch that lived in Glebokie for a short period of time.

Readers might know this shtetl by some of its other names: Dunilovichi (Russian), Dunilowicze (Polish), Dunilovitsch (Yiddish), Dunilavichi (Belarus), Dunilavicy, Danilevitch, Dunalovitch, Dunovitz, Duniloviche, Danilevicai, Dunilovicy, Dunilaviciy. It looks like this in Belarusian: Дунілавічы; in Russian: Дуниловичи; and in Yiddish: דונילאוויטש


She also visited the Dunilovichi cemetery, but it was nearly impossible to walk through as it was so overgrown and stones have fallen (see above photo).

Susan reports that there is now an opportunity to work with the Jewish Heritage Research Group of Belarus to arrange for an annual site clean-up, during which vegetation would be cut back and fallen stones lifted.

“We are fortunate that there is an intact cemetery in this shtetl as so many others have been destroyed,” she writes.

Photos on these pages were received from Susan, who writes that she would very much appreciate the efforts of Tracing the Tribe and its readers to assist in both these projects.

The Dunilovichi site contains extensive information, including name lists, gravestones, families, maps, photographs and more.

Contact Susan directly for more information.

She researches and paints her family history, which focuses on Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. During her Vilnius summer, she conducted research in the archives and traveled to her family’s Belarus shtetls.

Since her return, Susan has created Shtetlink websites for Dunilovichi and Radom, published an article in Avotaynu and is now developing a body of artwork based on her travels. Her art addresses family history themes through painting and collage. She also does genealogy consulting and lectures frequently on genealogy topics.

Additionally, Susan is a geneablogger – see her Layers of the Onion: A Family History Exploration. She began blogging last summer when she studied Yiddish at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute for six weeks.

ShtetlLinks: New, updated pages

JewishGen ShtetLinks has added new and updated pages that serve as memorials to the Jewish communities that once lived in those places. The sites also provide resources for future generations of descendants.

N =new page
U = updated page

UKRAINE

N – Chumal’ovo (Csmolif)
Helen Ganz Kastenbaum

N – Yurovshchina (Labun)
Emily Garber

AUSTRIA

N – Lackenbach (Lakompak)
Yohanan Loeffler

BELARUS

N – Lebedevo (Lebiedzieva)
Eilat Gordin Levitan, WebPage design, Judith Goldsmith

MOLDOVA

N – Leova
Rennie M. Salz

POLAND

N – Pultusk (Pultosk, Ostenburg)
Stanley Finkelstein

N – Radom
Susan Weinberg

N – Rawa Mazowiecka
Merav Shub

HUNGARY

N – Sarvar (Savar)
Anne-Marie Pollowy Toliver

U – Bodrogkeresztur

Readers who wish to create a ShtetLinks webpage for their ancestral shtetl or to adopt an orphaned shtetlpage should contact Susana Leistner Bloch, VP ShtetLinks. Volunteers are available to help create these webpages.

Cairo: Rededication, Maimonides synagogue, March 7-9

Yves Fedida of the International Nebi Daniel Association has announced the dedication of the restored Moses Maimonides (Rab Moshe) Cairo Synagogue and Yeshiva on March 7-9, in Cairo, Egypt.

The event is by invitation only. Read below to learn how to request an invitation.

See a video (9:47 minutes) on the Maimonides project and visit the association’s website, available in several languages.

Learn about the synagogues of Egypt here. To see a short video on Alexandria’s synagogues, click here. This is the El Nabi Daniel synagogue in Alexandria:

Cairo’s Rabbi Moshe complex – and another nine synagogues in Egypt – are historical heritage sites under the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Through an extensive restoration program, the Supreme Council of Antiquities – with the help of the Jewish Community of Cairo – has completed the renovation of the Maimonides complex.

The rooms have niches where, until recently, sick people of all faiths and genders would spend the night praying for recovery or fertility.

The synagogue adjacent to these rooms was built in the early 19th-century. The yeshiva suffered recurring flooding from underground water and the synagogue was badly damaged in the 1992 earthquake. The restoration has been a painstaking effort returning the compound as faithfully as possible to its original splendour .

The three-day event program includes visits to synagogues and cemeteries, music presentations, history talks, refreshments, brunches and dinners.

– Dinner in the communal centre of the main Synagogue, Shaar Hashamayim, built in the early 20th-century and faithfully restored in its rich decorations.

– Visit to Fostat (Old Cairo) where the oldest remaining synagogue in Egypt stands, believed to have been first built around 340BC.

The pre-Islamic Ben Ezra Synagogue which has also been perfectly restored was the synagogue where Rab Moshe prayed and held services as the head of the Jewish community of the time. The famous Geniza Papers were found at the Ben Ezra Synagogue and the new Geniza museum in the Ben Ezra complex has a number of reproductions of these papers.

– A visit to the also recently restored Moussa Dar’i Synagogue built by the Karaite community in the 1920s. It features Art Deco lotus flower columns and an imposing dome.

– Finally, a visit to the Jewish cemetery at Bassatine, in the southeast outskirts of Cairo, a vast site that has not been easy to maintain.

The Jewish Community of Cairo has made heroic efforts to defend it against a highway overpass and squatters’ buildings which have encroached on the territory itself. Most of the marble tombstones have been stolen in 1967 so that the majority of the tombs are today unidentifiable. However, the Cairo Community has built a perimeter wall and continues to landscape the cemetery and guard it against vandals. It maintains a list of a number of tombs that have been identified.

Events on Sunday, March 7 start at 2pm at the complex, with a presentation, Ladino music, prayer, refreshments, history of Maimonides, history of Jews in Egypt, Arabic songs and a program by the Supreme Council of Antiquities. At 6pm, attendess will have an oriental Egyptian dinner at the Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue.

On Monday, March 8, attend a meeting at the Ben Ezra Synagogue, a presentation on Maimonides and his letters discovered in the Genizah, and brunch, followed in the evening by a 9pm dinner reception.

On Tuesday, March 9, attendees will visit the restored Karaite Synagogue, hear the community history. There will be optional tours of other synagogues and the Bassatine Cemetery.

Attendance is by invitation only, which can be applied for from the Cairo Jewish community. Email here or here for more information.

Egypt: More Jewish restoration projects

In an article forecasting announcements of major archaeological discoveries in Egypt, mention is made of additional restoration projects for Jewish sites in that country.

The story appeared on BikyaMasr.com.

Zahi Hawass, Egyptian Supreme Council for Antiquities secretary general, noted that these announcements will be made over the next three months.

Most importantly for Tracing the Tribe readers, he said that Egypt is currently working on the “restoration of Jewish temples, including three temples and the restoration of five other temples would start soon.”

Other topics addressed were DNA test results on the lineage of Tutankhamun:

“Egypt will announce the secrets of the family and lineage of Tutankhamun on the 17th of February in the Egyptian Museum through the announcement of results of scientific tests conducted on the mummy of the king after the completion of DNA analysis and CT scan.”

Other announcements to be made soon will include important discoveries in the area of Saqqara and the Pyramids. Robots will be sent into the corridors of the Great Pyramid of King Khufu.

Hawass added that the Council’s work on antiquity restoration includes Pharaonic, Coptic, Jewish and Muslim within the cultural heritage of Egypt, such as the Coptic monastery of St. Anthony and restoration of Cairo’s Hanging Church.

Read the complete article for much more.

London: Romanian synagogue exhibit opens Feb. 3

London’s Spiro Ark will open a photo exhibition – The Last Jew of Sighisoara and Transylvanian Synagogues – on Wednesday, February 3.

The exhibit will be of interest to those researching Romania or in the restoration of Eastern European Jewish sites in Eastern Europe. The synagogues in the photographs – where Jews are no more – will become Jewish historical and cultural centres.

The exhibit opening will include a talk by Jessica Douglas-Home on the Mihai Eminescu Trust’s restoration work on historic buildings in Romania.

The Trust, chaired by Douglas-Home, was founded in 1987 and works in Saxon Transylvania, where its goals are to conserve and restore the region’s historic built heritage, to revive the economic life of its village communes and to train indigenous craftsmen in new or forgotten skills.

Freelance journalist Petru Clej, with a special interest in Jewish Romanian history and the Holocaust, will speak on “Attitudes towards the Holocaust in Romania – from frank admission to ugly denial.”

The film “Gruber’s Journey,” by Radu Gabrea, will be screened.

Doors open at 6.30pm; the program begins at 7pm. Fee: £5 (+£1 online booking fee)

Spiro Ark is a London-based charitable organisation which organises Jewish cultural events and courses in Jewish history, culture and languages. Its tag line is “inspiration through Jewish history and culture.”

Learn more about Spiro Ark, which aims to teach Jewish history and culture. It believes both are important as it combines Jewish education, history and culture to maintain Jewish identity in the 21st century.

The Spiro Ark also has a blog which covers events, reviews and history. Co-founder Nitza Spiro authored a post on the upcoming exhibit, raising some interesting questions:

The question whether old and dilapidated synagogues, which are no longer in use should be restored and maintained, is in our view a rhetorical one. For us Jews whose life-line to things Jewish is Jewish history, the answer is obvious. The question however remains whose responsibility it is to bear the cost.

Should it be an individual whose ancestors came from the specific area or used that particular synagogue; should a Western community adopt a restoration as their memorial to those who perished leaving us with the obligation to remember, or should it be the responsibility of the State where the synagogues are found?

She includes more information on the Mihai Eminescu Trust’s restoration of the Medias synagogue which will become a national heritage center to teach visitors, including students, about Transylvania’s Jewish history.

Thanks to Saul Issrof of London for this tip.