Ruth Ellen Gruber Reflects on Five Years of Jewish Heritage Europe

February 19, 2017

Source: eJewish Philanthropy


Since its launch five years ago, Jewish Heritage Europe has become an essential one-stop shop for news, information, and resources concerning, as the name indeed suggests, matters of Jewish culture and built heritage in Europe: museums; synagogues; cemeteries, and so on. Ruth Ellen Gruber, the author of Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe who has chronicled Jewish life in Europe for over twenty-five years for the JTA among other places, edits the site, which is supported by the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe. Here, Liam Hoare talks with Gruber about the site’s development and how European attitudes towards Jewish heritage have changed in the time she has been reporting on these issues.

What was the impetus behind setting up Jewish Heritage Europe five years ago?

JHE builds on and expands a previous version of the site that was launched after a major conference on the Future of Jewish Heritage, held in Prague in 2004. The decision by the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe to relaunch and expand came as a follow-up to a conference held in Bratislava, Slovakia in March 2009 that discussed the state of Jewish heritage sites in Europe as well as strategies for their restoration, use, and upkeep. That seminar, attended by international Jewish heritage experts as well as by representatives from Jewish communities in more than a dozen countries, also resulted in the Bratislava Statement, a major statement of specific ‘best practices’ about how to deal with Jewish heritage sites.

JHE’s aim is to facilitate communication and information exchange regarding projects, initiatives, and other developments such as restoration, ongoing projects, best practices, advisory services and more. Its primary focus is Jewish built heritage: synagogues, cemeteries, mikvaot, Jewish quarters and other physical traces that attest to a Jewish presence on the continent stretching back to Antiquity, but it also includes material on Jewish museums and other cultural institutions.

What are you looking to do with the site over the next couple of years?

We hope to continue to expand and to further engage our readership. I would like to see more interaction: comments, discussion, sharing of projects and expertise. We’ve had good feedback and response to the ‘Have Your Say’ op-ed section that was launched a year ago. At present, they run about once a month, but I hope to be able to increase their frequency. I would also like to publish more in-depth articles, book reviews and the like.

Also, we have just launched a separate section of the web site, the JHE Jewish Cemetery Forum, dedicated specifically to Jewish cemeteries, gravestone studies, and related topics. It pulls together links and resource material on a wide range of issues and also allows readers to post news and information about their own cemetery projects.

This new cemeteries section ties in with another new initiative on Jewish cemeteries that was launched at the same time by the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe: the European Jewish Cemetery Advisory Network (EJCAN), comprised of more than thirty international experts on the widest variety of issues relating to Jewish cemeteries. They are ready to comment on questions directed to them by Jewish communities, NGOs, civic authorities, individuals, and others on issues ranging from how to reset a gravestone to how to interpret the poetry of epitaphs.

Read the entire interview at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Feb. 22, 2017