Thursday, July 12, 2012

Staying in Krakow

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I've just been to Krakow for the last few days of the annual Jewish Culture Festival - the best party around. This year I did a couple of lectures to groups who were attending (and observing) the festival. It led to some reminiscing with friends who -- like me -- have been going to the Festival since the early 1990s.

One of the things we talked about what where we had stayed in Krakow in those early years -- because, until the late 1990s, there were very few if any places to stay in Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter where the Festival now takes place.

In the early years, the artists at the Festival used to be put up at the Forum Hotel -- I should say, the late Forum Hotel, because the Forum as it was then does not exist anymore. It is a hulking empty relic that serves as a prop for huge advertising posters....

I used to stay at the Hotel Pollera, an old-fashioned place in the Old Town near the main market square, or Rynek, about a 20-minute walk (or more) from Kazimierz.

For the past dozen years, though, I've stayed in Kazimierz itself whenever I've been in Krakow -- usually at one of two hotels that, I have to say, are run by friends.

One is the Klezmer Hois, operated by Wojtek and Malgosia Ornat, the couple who founded the first Jewish-style cafe in Krakow. I still remember vividly sitting with Wojtek in 1992 or so, at an umbrella-shaded wicker table, eating strawberries and looking out at the devastation of Szeroka street, the main square of Jewish Kazimierz, which then was a ring of dilapidated buildings.

The Ornats opened Klezmer Hois -- their third locale -- in the mid-1990s, in a building that once housed a mikvah. It evolved into a hangout for Krakow Jews and visiting Jewish artists and others -- and it still fulfills that purpose, at least for us older crowd. Sitting in the garden during Festival time, is a delight, a constant round of people dropping by, conversing, eating, drinking. Klezmer Hois is, actually, the one "Jewish style" cafe in Krakow that I go to. The Ornats also run the Austeria Jewish publishing house (which has published my book "Letters from Europe (and Elsewhere)") and the associated Austeria bookstore.

The hotel rooms are old-fashioned and up creaking flights of stairs -- and the breakfast is spectacular, a delicious combination of table service and partial buffet.

Breakfast at Klezmer Hois Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

The other hotel in Kazimierz that I stay in is the Hotel Eden, on Ciemna street, a wonderfully friendly place, founded in the mid-1990s by the American Allen Haberberg, that started out as a kosher hotel. Though no longer kosher, the Eden still caters to Jewish travelers and has a mikvah -- which has been used for conversions as well as ritual baths. Each room has a mezuzah on the door, and there is also wifi throughout the building. I asked Allen not long ago why the Eden was no longer kosher (although it will still provide kosher food for those who ask) -- he told me one reasons was that there are now good kosher caterers as well as an upscale kosher restaurant (the Olive Tree) in Krakow.

Rabbi Edgar Gluck and Allen Haberberg outside the Hotel Eden Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Also on this trip though, for the first time in a long time, I stayed for a couple of nights near the Rynek, at the Hotel Saski -- where I think I stayed with my mother in about 1992./

It doesn't seem to have changed much -- but the Old Town has.... Krakow is the city that doesn't sleep ... at 3 a.m. the streets were as lively as in the middle of the afternoon.

Lobby of the Saski. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Corruption Probe in Budapest

In Budapest, Corruption Probe in Budapest Amplifies Calls for Reform of Jewish Institutions

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Jan. 10, 2012

BUDAPEST (JTA) -- A whistle-blowing rabbi and a reform-minded lay leader are at the forefront of new efforts to shake up Hungary’s entrenched Jewish establishment.

Late last year, Rabbi Zoltan Radnoti alerted authorities to complaints that reportedly include embezzlement and tax fraud in the operation of Budapest’s main Jewish cemetery on Kozma Street. This led to a police investigation and an unprecedented raid on Dec. 1 on both the cemetery and the Jewish community offices that house the burial society, as well as a public airing of the scandal in the mainstream media.

“Many people in the Jewish community administration attacked me for airing internal affairs to the outside,” Radnoti, 40, told JTA. “I was told that I draw a salary from the Budapest Jewish Community, so I was disloyal to my employers.”

But, he added, “You have to fight for the truth no matter what. I think this could become the beginning of the cleaning-up of Jewish communal affairs.”

Joining Radnoti is Andras Heisler, a former president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary, or Mazsihisz, the official umbrella of the Neolog community, a moderate reformist movement to which the vast majority of affiliated Hungarian Jews belong. The Jewish community in Budapest, home to 90 percent of the country’s Jews, is the largest member of Mazsihisz.

Mazsihisz officially represents the interests of Hungarian Jewry to the government and is responsible for the annual distribution of millions of dollars of government grants and Holocaust compensation funds to Jewish organizations. Critics have long called for a reform of its financial and administrative operations, accusing the organization of being undemocratic, unrepresentative, monopolistic and opaque.

Managing director Gusztav Zoltai, 76, has been in office for two decades and has come under particularly sharp criticism for his leadership style and firm grip on power.

“Zoltai manages to hold on to power by switching people in key positions who are somehow dependent on him,” Janos Gado, an editor at the Jewish magazine Szombat, told JTA. Gado and others say that many, if not most, of those who elect communal leaders are financially dependent on Zoltai and the other office-holders they are electing.

Zoltai, who along with current Mazsihisz President Peter Feldmajer declined to be interviewed, was elected managing director in 1991, when the organization was first established to replace the communist-era Jewish body. A child survivor of the Holocaust who lost most of his family in World War II, he had worked previously as the stage manager of a theater.

Last spring, in a case reported in the Hungarian media, Radnoti and Heisler charged that the election of Jewish community officials had been manipulated to prevent changes in the top leadership -- and specifically to prevent Heisler from becoming a delegate to the general assembly, the body that elects the top officials, including Zoltai.

Heisler had resigned as Mazsihisz president in 2005 following his attempts to overhaul the organization were thwarted and his calls for Zoltai’s resignation were rebuffed. But in December, with Radnoti’s support, he was elected to the Mazsihisz board, and now he is hopeful that, with allies like Radnoti, he can make a renewed push for reform.

“If Mazsihisz survives, it will survive in a different form,” Heisler said. “The way it operates now, it can’t continue. Zoltai must go; if he leaves there is a chance.”

Mazsihisz has come under particular criticism for a lack of financial transparency -- criticism the cemetery scandal seemed to bear out. Radnoti claims the investigation and police raid were sparked by material he furnished that document transactions without receipts, double-entry bookkeeping, sales of nonexistent grave sites and other abuses.

“It’s the tip of an iceberg,” said Gabor Miklosi, an investigative journalist who saw Radnoti's documentation and broke the story on the popular website.

After the allegations surfaced, Mazsihisz issued a statement saying that in its own internal investigation. the Budapest Jewish community had uncovered one case of abuse several months earlier that had involved a false receipt. The director of the cemetery was fired after repaying the money, the federation said.

“The irregularities that were committed did not involve the invoicing system of the funerary department” of the burial society, said the statement.

Sociologist Andras Kovacs, who co-authored a report last year that called for “urgent” reform of Mazsihisz, said the manner in which communal funds are distributed is “a totally dark area.” The report, issued in September by the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research, called for structural changes to ensure greater transparency and equitable distribution.

“There are a lot of rumors and gossip,” Kovacs told JTA. “Some former officials of the community suggested several times to launch an independent audit, but it never happened. It is always suggested that to raise questions about this could aid anti-Semites by putting the community in a bad light.”

In recent months, the government has been conducting negotiations that could lead to the withdrawal of some funding from Mazsihisz.

Under a new law, the state recognizes three official streams of Judaism corresponding to the three that existed prior to the Holocaust: Neolog, represented by Mazsihisz; Orthodoxy, whose presence in Hungary is tiny; and the so-called “Status Quo,” now known as the Unified Hungarian Israelite Community, or EMIH. Of the three, only Mazsihisz can currently receive direct government subsidies and collective compensation for unclaimed Jewish assets seized by the communists.

Several Jewish groups are now pressing to obtain direct government funding rather than be obliged to obtain funding doled out by Mazsihisz, which says it will fight any such reallocation.

RUTHLESS COSMOPOLITAN: Czech Jews Remember Havel

RUTHLESS COSMOPOLITAN: At Hanukkah, Czech Jews Marvel at Blessings of Havel's Revolution

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

December 22, 2011

PRAGUE (JTA) – On the first night of Chanukah, I stood in the splendid reception hall of the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Prague as the ambassador himself lit the first candle in an imposing gilded menorah and chanted the blessings over the flames.

Since it was the first night of the holiday, these included the Shehecheyanu – the thankful blessing recited when reaching a special or long-awaited moment: “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe who has given us life, sustained us, and allowed us to reach this occasion.”

How strangely fitting to recite this, I thought, at this very time and in this very place. Two days earlier Vaclav Havel had died, and many people were still in shock at the loss of the shy dissident playwright who had led the Velvet Revolution that ousted the communist regime in 1989 and gone on to become Czechoslovakia’s – and then the Czech Republic’s – first democratic president and enduring moral compass.

Masses of candles in Havel's memory were glowing on Wenceslas Square, site of the huge demonstrations that had toppled the regime. And plans were going ahead for the somber state funeral.

Why at this sad moment of mourning did I feel that the Shehecheyanu was fitting?

It was because, in a way, I felt it was a blessing that honored Havel himself, for without him and the impact he had had, this Chanukah evening -- and what it represented -- could not have taken place.

Joined by his family and a few guests, Ambassador Norman Eisen lit the first candle ahead of his official holiday reception for hundreds of diplomats and political and cultural figures. Throughout the evening, the menorah blazed at one end of the hall, while a huge decorated Christmas tree, placed there by the U.S. government as part of its decoration of this public space, glittered at the other.

“It’s my first Christmas tree ever,” Eisen, the son of an Auschwitz survivor from the former Czechoslovakia and an observant Jew who had had the residence kitchen koshered, joked to the crowd as waiters threaded through with trays of latkes.

Eisen opened his welcoming remarks by asking for a minute of silence in Havel’s honor. Then he told the story of the residence – a mansion that had been built by a wealthy Jewish family, the Petscheks, in the late 1920s. The family left in 1938, before World War II broke out. During the war it served as the residence of the head of the German army occupying Prague. Afterward, the mansion became Czechoslovak property until 1948, when the United States purchased it.

There were quite a few Jews at the reception, old friends of mine from the Prague Jewish community such as Leo Pavlat, the director of the Prague Jewish Museum, who delightedly told me how he and Eisen had seats next to each other in synagogue. I was there to make a formal presentation of a big website project I am coordinating on Jewish heritage in Europe.

I couldn’t help but think back.

The postwar communist regime had carried out a policy of persecution aimed at stifling Jewish life, and the state-appointed community leadership had followed the party line, routinely issuing statements critical of Israel. In May 1989, Pavlat had spearheaded a group of young Prague Jews who sharply criticized these regime-approved aparatchiks. He and his friends warned that Jewish life in Czechoslovakia was “in danger of extinction.”

The Velvet Revolution, with Havel as its reluctant hero, changed everything.

One of Havel’s first acts as president was to reinstate full religious freedom. And one of his first state trips abroad was to Israel – bringing with him an entourage of 180 Prague Jews. By the end of 1990, Pavlat was serving as a diplomat in the Czechoslovak embassy in Israel. He remained there until 1994, when he returned to Prague and took up the directorship of the Jewish Museum.

At the ambassador's reception, I reminisced about those heady days, and about Havel’s impact, with Tomas Kraus, who has served as executive director of the Federation of Czech Jewish communities since 1991. Kraus had helped organize Havel’s first trip to Israel and had been part of the Jewish delegation that accompanied him.

“It was exciting,” Kraus recalled. “It was part of the ‘Velvet Europhoria.’ Everything that we had not dared to dream of was immediately possible. The Holy Land had been a philosophical term for us, an image of something that you would never be able to reach – only in a dream. And then, overnight, it was a reality.”

That trip to Israel, he said, was “a very symbolic way to show what Czech foreign policy would be. It was a very important sign of what his priorities would be.”

On the domestic front, too, Kraus recalled, Havel had been extremely important. Not just with his condemnation of anti-Semitism, but with the active role he played in addressing issues such as restitution of Jewish property and in awarding one of the highest state honors to Nicholas Winton, who organized the Czech kindertransport to rescue some 669 main Jewish children on the eve of World War II.

“Today we can look back into history over these past 22 years,” Kraus said. “Sometimes you don’t realize that you are living through history.”

He went on, “Havel’s passing will leave a very big gap. Since he left office, he was in a position without concrete power. But sometimes a moral authority is stronger than armies.”

Preserving Remains of Death Camps

Auschwitz's Future Secure, Preservationists Worry About Forgotten Nazi Death Camps

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

October 12, 2011

ROME (JTA) -- Auschwitz, the most notorious camp in the Nazi killing machine, may soon claim success in its campaign to preserve the legacy of the Holocaust.

The foundation supporting the site in southern Poland has attracted tens of millions of dollars from donor countries, and the camp’s barracks and other buildings seem set to be preserved for decades to come. The museum memorial at the former Nazi death camp attracts more than 1 million visitors per year.

Some fear, however, that the concentration of resources and attention on Auschwitz could overshadow other preservation efforts and threaten the integrity or even the existence of the memorials and museums at lesser-known camps and Holocaust sites in Poland.

"Because Auschwitz is treated as the symbol of the Holocaust and the whole world is supporting only this museum, everybody in Poland, including the government, seems to think that this is enough," said historian Robert Kuwalek, a curator at the state-run Museum at Majdanek, the Nazi concentration camp and killing center near Lublin in eastern Poland. "The problem is deeper because it is the lack of basic knowledge that the Holocaust happened in forgotten sites like Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek and Chelmno.”

Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka were the three killing centers of the so-called Operation Reinhard plan to murder 2 million Polish Jews in 1942 and 1943. During that operation, Kuwalek said, "more people were killed in a shorter time than in Auschwitz-Birkenau during the whole period that that camp functioned."

Despite their importance in the history of the Holocaust, these and other sites -- such as the forced labor camps at Stuffhof and Gross-Rosen -- are overlooked by the vast majority of visitors who want to learn about the Holocaust or pay homage to its victims firsthand. All are marked by memorials or even museums. But some are located in remote parts of the country, and most are in serious need of upkeep and preservation.

The museum at Sobibor, for example -- the site of John Demjanjuk's crimes -- was forced to close in June when funding from local authorities ran out. An estimated 167,000 to 250,000 people, mostly Jews, were murdered at Sobibor, which is located in a remote part of eastern Poland. In May, a German court convicted Demjanjuk, now 91, of complicity in the murder of 28,000 Jews there.

"We simply realized that we could not afford to pay our bills this year, maintenance costs included," Marek Bem, a Sobibor museum spokesman, told the Krakow Post. "Without a stable budget we can't make any plans for the future."

The museum reopened July 1 after the Polish Culture Ministry announced that it would be reorganized as a state-run institution funded by the ministry.

"Auschwitz is the great exception to the rule," said Rabbi Andrew Baker, the director of international Jewish affairs for the American Jewish Committee. Baker was the point man for the AJC in its cooperation with the Polish government to build a large and impressive monument and museum at Belzec, where 500,000 Jews were killed. The center opened in 2004.

"With all the focus on Auschwitz, there's a kind of irony," he added. "It is coming that Auschwitz is becoming a universal symbol. It is raising money from scores of countries. When the survivors pass on, one question will be how to retain the identity of Auschwitz as a place where Jews were killed. It can become a universal place of lessons about genocide."

The Auschwitz Foundation was set up in 2009 with the goal of raising $163 million and thus guaranteeing an annual interest income of about $6 million for the much-needed conservation of barracks, the ruins of gas chambers, and other artifacts and material.

To date, nearly 20 countries have announced support for the effort, bringing the total pledges to more than $122 million. Germany alone pledged about $82 million. Israel was the latest country to pledge funds, with a $1 million contribution pledged to the foundation a few days before Rosh Hashanah.

In a statement quoted by the Auschwitz museum website, Yad Vashem director Avner Shalev explained why the investment was seen as so important.

"The site of Auschwitz-Birkenau, where over 1 million Jews were murdered during the Shoah, has become a key symbol of the Holocaust and of absolute evil," he said. "It is therefore a moral imperative to preserve the site's authenticity and legacy, and it is meaningful that Israel is participating in meeting that imperative."

The success to date of the Auschwitz fundraising campaign has been greeted with a cautious sigh of relief by scholars and preservationists who for years had raised the alarm about the threats to the site.

"It seems that the future of Auschwitz with regard to preservation is mostly secured," said Tomasz Kunciewicz, director of the Auschwitz Jewish Center, an educational institution in the town of Oswiecim, where Auschwitz is located. "Several governments have already made significant contributions, and others are expected to follow suit.

"However, regarding the more 'forgotten' death camps, such as Sobibor, the situation seems to be acute and there should be similar international efforts made regarding fundraising as in the case of Auschwitz."

In contrast to the 1.3 million visitors to Auschwitz last year, only about 30,000 go annually to Belzec, in southeastern Poland, and 20,000 visit Sobibor. Even Majdanek, which has a large museum and many more original buildings and other infrastructure than Auschwitz, attracts only about 100,000 annual visitors. The Majdanek museum is still coming to grips with a 2010 fire that destroyed one of the original barracks, where some of its key collections were stored.

"Everybody talks about the problems at Auschwitz," Kuwalek said. "Nobody pays attention to the other places. I'm really afraid that they were forgotten and will be forgotten."

Determining how to deal with these sites, he added, "will be a discussion that is more and more important. There is a recognition that something has to be done, but no one knows how and what."

Jewish Life in Poland and Hungary

Is Jewish Life in Poland and Hungary Sustainable?

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

September 20, 2011

BUDAPEST, Hungary (JTA) -- It's not easy to decipher the complicated trajectory of Jewish life in post-communist Europe.

“There are claims and counterclaims about contemporary European Jewish life," Jonathan Boyd, the executive director of London’s Institute for Jewish Policy Research, said. "At one end of the spectrum there are reports of a remarkable renaissance of activity; at the other there is a strong narrative of decline."

Boyd's institute recently published a pair of reports written by local researchers in Hungary and Poland that offer a more nuanced view. The reports looked at the development of Jewish life in these two countries since the collapse of communism and examined the challenges their Jewish communities face going forward.

The reports, Boyd said, "illustrate that both perspectives are correct: While Jewish life has undoubtedly been reinvigorated since the collapse of communism, considerable investment is required to ensure the long-term sustainability of Jewish life in both places.”

Hungary, with an estimated 100,000 Jews, has the largest Jewish population in post-communist Europe outside the former Soviet Union. In Poland, the European Jewish heartland that was home to more than 3 million Jews before the Holocaust, the Jewish population today is estimated at only 8,000-15,000.

The reports were prepared on the basis of personal interviews with a range of Jewish community activists in each country, followed up by focus-group discussions. Their results highlight similarities in the post-communist Jewish revival process but also illustrate the differences between various Jewish communities.

They also demonstrate the increasing importance of alternative forms of engagement in nurturing identity among younger Jews. These include Jewish community centers, Jewish studies programs, grassroots educational projects such as Limmud, and even initiatives such as Jewish cafes and culture festivals.

The research in Hungary showed a community reinvigorated over the last 20 years but facing the challenge of low engagement in communal life, with only 10 percent of the Jewish population affiliated with a Jewish organization.

Young people especially appear alienated from established Jewish communal structures, such as the umbrella Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities -- or Mazsihisz, to use its Hungarian acronym.

The JPR Hungary report calls for an urgent overhaul of Mazsihisz and the entire institutional system of organized Hungarian Jewry to ensure that decisions on issues affecting the whole community are made in a democratic and transparent fashion.

It also calls for greater religious pluralism and more cooperation and coordination among the plethora of often competing local Jewish groups and initiatives. This, it said, could help foster the emergence and training of a new generation of leaders "who recognize that success in any part of the community should be regarded as success for the whole community."

"One of our purposes was to present conflicting views on every issue we considered," sociologist Andras Kovacs, an expert on Hungarian Jewish issues who was one of the co-authors of the report, told JTA. "We wanted to provoke debate."

In Poland, research bore witness to the rebirth of a community that remains tiny but has a disproportionate impact both at home and abroad, in part due to the importance of Polish Jewish history and heritage to world Jewry.

Because of this, the report said, and "because of the remarkably positive reaction of the Polish state and most of civil society to Jewish interests and concerns," Jewish programs in Poland "have a very high multiplier effect," with a direct impact "both on the world community of Jews of Polish origin, and on Jewish and non-Jewish Poles alike."

Therefore, it said, preservation and study of Jewish heritage -- from cemeteries, synagogues and Holocaust sites such as death camps, to archival, museum and library collections -- "are of great importance."

Moreover, it said, while Orthodox Jewry remained the primary established religious stream, only a minority of the community identified with Orthodoxy.

The report urged greater investment in programs supporting Jewish cultural initiatives and non-Orthodox alternative forms of Jewish engagement.

"There is a future for the Jewish community in Poland, but the community will remain small," Konstanty Gebert, a leading Jewish intellectual and writer who co-authored the report, told JTA. "While the Orthodox part will remain a core of it, it represents only a minority," he said.

"Culture is a main identity factor for young Jews," he went on. "The most important things are happening on the interface between the Jewish community and society at large."

Jonathan Ornstein, the director of the Jewish Community Center in Krakow, said the report gave a good overall picture of Jewish life in Poland today and many of its complexities.

"It accurately portrays Polish Jews as being optimistic and not overly concerned with anti-Semitism, which stands in marked contrast to the rest of Europe," he told JTA.

But he added, "I would have liked to see more focus on the somewhat unnatural structure of the community, where official religious life is Orthodox but few of the members are. Polish Jewry coming to terms with that situation, and having its institutions more accurately represent the people is to me the greatest challenge we face moving forward."

The reports were the first two of a series of JPR investigations into contemporary Jewish life in Eastern and Central Europe funded by the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe. Future reports will deal with Ukraine and Germany.

“This research highlights the importance of avoiding generalities about Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe," Sally Berkovic, the chief executive of the Rothschild Foundation Europe, said in a statement. "Despite some shared experiences, each Jewish community, with its distinctive characteristics, has responded differently to the challenges precipitated by the fall of communism."

Ruthless Cosmopolitan: Jewish Heritage in Slovakia

RUTHLESS COSMOPOLITAN: In Slovakia, Being Strategic About Preserving Jewish Heritage

August 28, 2011

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (JTA) -- In 1989, on the eve of the fall of communism, the American poet Jerome Rothenberg published a powerful series of poems called "Khurbn" that dealt with the impact of the Holocaust on Eastern Europe.

In one section, he recorded conversations he had had in Poland with local people who had little recollection of the flourishing pre-war Jewish presence.

"Were there once Jews here?" the poem goes. "Yes, they told us, yes they were sure there were, though there was no one here who could remember. What was a Jew like? they asked.

"No one is certain still if they exist."

I often think of this poem when I travel to far-flung places in Eastern and Central Europe, and it was certainly on my mind on a trip to Slovakia this August.

That's because yes, there are still Jews here, and the post-Communist revival has reinvigorated Jewish communities in the region.

But also, despite this, numbers are still so small that even in many places where Jews once made up large parts of the population, Jewish history and heritage have been, or run the risk of being, forgotten.

"Look," my friend Maros Borsky reminded me in Bratislava. "Kids who were born after 1989 don't even remember communism."

Borsky is trying to do something about this -- which is why I was in Slovakia.

The vice president of the Bratislava Jewish community, Borsky is also Slovakia's leading Jewish scholar and expert on Slovak Jewish heritage.
 At 37 he is the leading Slovak Jewish activist of his generation, engaged in everything from religious, cultural and educational initiatives to his own personal commitment to raising his daughters in a Jewish home.

"I'll do anything to support his efforts, he has made such a difference to Jewish life here," said Andrew Goldstein, a British Reform rabbi who has played a hands-on role in nurturing Jewish revival in the Czech Republic and Slovakia for more than two decades.

Now chairman of the European Union for Progressive Judaism, Goldstein comes to Bratislava once a month to hold classes and lead a non-Orthodox Shabbat service as an alternative to the one conducted by the city's only resident rabbi, Baruch Myers, who is affiliated with Chabad.

Goldstein and I met in Bratislava nearly six years ago when he officiated at Borsky's wedding.
 This time, Goldstein and his wife and I, along with half a dozen Israeli journalists, were on a five-day tour that Borsky led to Jewish communities and heritage sites around the country.

The aim was to introduce the Slovak Jewish Heritage Route, an educational and touristic itinerary Borsky devised as a means of integrating Jewish heritage and memory into local tourism, culture and education so that Jews, their history and their fate are not forgotten.

I have followed the development of the route ever since Borsky first conceived it five years ago, and I believe it is an important strategic endeavor that could provide a model for other countries. Only 3,000 Jews live in Slovakia today, but there are synagogue buildings or Jewish cemeteries in literally hundreds of towns and even major cities. The Slovak Jewish community does not have the resources to save or even to care for all these places.

So Borsky convinced communal leaders to sanction a strategy that concentrates on just a few. This resulted in his Slovak Jewish Heritage Route, which includes 24 flagship sites in all eight regions of the country: mainly synagogues, but also Jewish cemeteries, Holocaust memorials and museums. They are marked with plaques bearing a distinctive logo.

Each was chosen for its historic or architectural significance but also for its sustainability. This does not mean, of course, that other sites should be forgotten. But to be included on the route, there must be a partnership in place with a local body to ensure long-term care and maintenance.

Our tour took in more than a dozen of the sites: from the active synagogue in Bratislava to Presov in the far east, where the magnificence of the surviving synagogue utterly dwarfs the potential of a Jewish community that now numbers only a few dozen people. We saw synagogues used as art galleries, and one now used as an art school. There were little Jewish exhibits, and ruined synagogues still undergoing repair. In one of these, the partially ruined synagogue in Liptovsky Mikulas, Goldstein and his wife stopped to chant prayers so that the sounds of Jewish liturgy could once again be heard.