As the first visitors stream into the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which officially opened its doors in downtown Warsaw last week, they are encountering a bigger story than just the Holocaust.
“They’re responding exactly as we hoped for—seeing the Holocaust within the 1,000 year history of Polish Jews,” says Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. A 2008 winner of the FJC’s Jewish Cultural Achievement Award, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is one of the major forces behind the nearly decade-long development of the museum. She directs the museum’s core exhibits, which are expected to open in early 2014.
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett was chosen to head up the museum’s exhibition team in 2006, just as she was finishing up an illustrated memoir called They Call Me Mayer July. A look at prewar life in the Polish town of Apt, where her father had grown up, that book underscored what was already an entrenched, lifelong fascination with a lost Polish-Jewish world. She is Canadian by birth, has spent much of her professional life in the United States, but she’s lived nearly full-time in Poland for the past half-decade. In 2012, she applied and received Polish citizenship. In many ways, Kirshblatt-Gimblett, or BKG as she’s affectionately known to colleagues, hopes that the museum will prompt visitors—especially American Jews—to think beyond the Holocaust, or to put that event in a larger context. She also hopes the museum will help Jews from all over reflect on a small minority who, despite everything, decided to stay in that country.
“I think the most surprising reaction was how ‘at home’ people felt because this building is really monumental and dramatic,” she says. The nearly $100 million project was designed by Finnish architect Rainer Mahlamäki.
“Most of all [there’s] the pride of those who attended – these are the people, these are the Jews, who are here, who stayed in Poland, who cast their lot with Poland, who have stayed the course. This museum can be a great source of pride for them, for everyone in Poland, for Jews around the world –for the world. This is a museum that matters,” she says.
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is only one of several recent FJC grantees who work challenges popular misconceptions about Polish Jewry. Filmmaker Adam Zucker, whose documentary The Return was awarded a 2011 Kroll film fund, is another.
In this documentary, Zucker follows the journeys of four young Polish women, all of whom discovered in their teens about their Jewish ancestry. In many ways, their evolution of identity mirrors that of many young Poles, particularly those in cosmopolitan settings like Warsaw and Krakow, who are reaching beyond anti-Semitism and communism, who look to the legacy of Polish-Jewish culture for artistic and spiritual inspiration.
Zucker has traveled to Poland over half a dozen times during the shooting of The Return. He thinks there’s still a gap between American Jewish perceptions of Poland and the facts on the ground—a gap his film, like the new museum, hopes to challenge. “I find most American Jews are quite unaware that there are Jews in Poland today. I’m sure it’s changed a bit over the past 15 years, but don’t think it’s a whole lot. Part of the problem is that while American Jews continue to travel to Poland, either as part of youth groups or on their own, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest in expanding itineraries beyond a historical tour, which is usually Holocaust-centric.”
Zucker, who also directed the 2007 documentary Greensboro: Closer to the Truth, is hard at work to complete his film as soon as possible. He recently screened a 28-minute shortened version of The Return at the 92nd Street Y for potential funders. And he’s raised about two-thirds of his $45,000 goal via Kickstarter.
For those interested in Polish-Jewish history, the work of two other grantees is particularly pertinent.
In 2007, the Gantz Zahler Grant was awarded to Antony Polonsky, a preeminent scholar of Eastern European Jewry at Brandeis University. Polonsky received the prize for a three-volume history, The Jews in Poland-Lithuania and Russia 1250–1914, published by the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. Polonsky was most recently on the FJC’s academic selection committee for the 2013-14 Doctoral Dissertation fellowship in Jewish studies.
Also, don’t miss Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance after the Holocaust, by filmmakers Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky, winner of the 2004 Kroll Film Fund. The documentary traces the encounter between Daum and his two sons, both highly religious Jews living in Jerusalem, and the family that helped to shelter Daum’s parents during the Holocaust. The documentary, which was broadcast on PBS’s Point Of View series, is a fascinating look at questions of the ethical legacy of rescuers and the complexities of Polish and Jewish identities.
The Foundation is accepting applications for its 2013 Kroll Documentary Film Fund. A filmmaker will receive between $15,000 and $35,000 to finalize a project in post-production that explores Jewish history, culture, and identity.
Since its inception in 1996, the Kroll Film Fund has supported the completion and distribution of more than 85 award-winning documentaries exploring many aspects of Jewish culture and history.
Deadline for applications to the 2013 Kroll Film Fund is July 16, 2013.
Cecelia Peck”s heartfelt documentary Brave Miss World will be screening at the Sarasota Film Festival this weekend. In her film, Linor talks about being a survivor of rape, and the healing process from such a traumatic event; she also interviews other survivors of rape from diverse cultures and countries, and how they have dealt with what they have endured.
Peck’s film rolls out this April (Sarasota, Cleveland, and Dallas), in conjunction with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)’s Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Month. Through these screenings, Peck and Linor hope to raise awareness of rape, and to help those who have suffered it find the courage to confront their terrible experience.
Sarasota Film Festival Screenings:
Sun, 4/7 4:35 PM
Mon, 4/8 5:00 PM
Cleveland International Film Festival Screenings:
Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 7:15 PM
Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 12:20 PM
Dallas International Film Festival Screenings:
At the upcoming Westchester Jewish Film Festival, keep an eye out for the following five films from the Foundation for Jewish Culture!
- Joe Papp in Five Acts: April 4th at 7.30pm and April 6th at 9.30pm
- Sosua: Make a Better World: April 7th at 5.00pm
- The Law in These Parts: April 11th at 5.00pm
- Inventing Our Life: April 11th at 7.30pm and April 13th at 1.30pm
- Numbered: April 13th at 3.30pm and April 22nd at 2.30pm
The Westchester Jewish Film Festival will run from April 3rd to April 25th. This year, the 11th of the Festival, is the largest Jewish event in Westchester county. Don’t miss it!
You can order tickets through the Jacob Burns Center website, or call them (914.773.7663) for more information.
Jacob Burns Film Center
Media Arts Lab
Pleasantville, NY 10570
Artist Helene Aylon, a 2002 Jewish Cultural Achievement Award recipient, will be speaking at SUNY Purchase in Purchase, NY on Wednesday, March 13 as part of the university’s Spring 2013 Visiting Artist Lecture Series.
She will be reading from her newest book, Whatever is Contained Must Be Released: My Jewish Orthodox Girlhood, My Life as a Feminist Artist (Feminist Press, 2012). This exciting autobiographical work talks about the author’s upbringing in a Jewish Orthodox family, her dreams of escaping to a more open culture, and her involvement with the environmental art scene of the 1970s.
This event is free and open to the public, so don’t miss it!
Wednesday, March 13th
Visual Arts Building
Purchase, NY 10577
One night only! On March 22nd, Ofri Cnaani (Six Points Fellow, 2007) will be presenting her live video installation based on Joseph Haydn’s orchestral composition Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross at the Metropolitan Museum. This will be accompanied by live music performed by the Salzburg Chamber Soloists.
Cnaani is drawing inspiration from Haydn’s original performance of the work in 1786, which employed special lighting and sound effects to enhance the experience of the performance. Her interpretation of the crucifixion originates with Haydn’s music, but her video installation will incorporate more universal elements that speak to a wider population than its original Good Friday audience in Cádiz Cathedral.
The performance will take place at 7.00pm on March 22nd. Tickets are $45. Don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see this classical masterpiece in a wholly original light!
For information about the Metropolitan Museum and tickets for this event, you can read more here.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 5th Ave
New York, NY 10028
Lynne Avadenka (Fellow of the American Academy in Jerusalem, 2011; Visiting Fellow of the Humanities Institute of the University of Michigan, 2013) will be opening her solo show, Language Comes After Artist, at the University of Michigan on March 21st. There will be a reception from 6.00pm to 7.30pm, where Avadenka and Professor Eric Bermann will be available for questions and discussion of the exhibit.
Avadenka’s work often incorporates elements of both scriptural texts and texture, mixing the visual beauty of calligraphy and that of the materials words are written on—paper, glass, wood, clay, and other surfaces. By using selected text in unusual contexts, she opens our eyes to seeing words in new ways.
Language Comes After Artist will showcase Avadenka’s large drawings and prints on the walls, one piece on glass, and potentially a few other book works. Upstairs, in the Frankel room, all of Lynne’s hand made books that have been collected by the University library will be on display.
Language Comes After Artist will run from March 21st to May 17th.
In addition to the exhibit, Avadenka will be teaching a workshop at the University of Michigan for the spring, lecturing, and participating in panel discussion. The panel discussion is April 9th, ath 12:30, at North Quad, Space 2435 (the front gallery space of North Quad) addressing books,texts and archiving in a digital world. Lynne’s more formal lecture will be on April 16th, at 12:30, at the Institute.
Event and Venue Info:
The University of Michigan
503 S State St
Ann Arbor, MI 48109