Sunday, February 2, 2014

Pete Seeger and Me

Letter #10

My father used to call me Ellie Lou.  Did that come from Skip to My Lou? I learned the song, aged three or four, through Pete’s children’s records. When I was a few years older, my father took my seven-year-old brother, Joel, and nine-year-old me to see Pete in a church. I saw the word “communist” for the first time the next day, when I read an article about the performance in the Pittsburgh Press.  Years later I learned that presenters wouldn’t book him in concert venues during those hard years of the Cold War. So Pete pioneered the children’s record market in the mid-1950s at the heart of the baby boom.  He also went to college campuses, one of the first being Oberlin College in 1955. Student Joe Hickerson penned the final verse of Where Have All the Flowers Gone, one of the many Pete songs we sang in our Jewish community center summer camp in the mid-Sixties, along with Guantanamera and If I Had A Hammer. I wonder if that wasn’t a subconscious reason why I chose Oberlin. Anyway, Pete was the invited “speaker” at graduation, a generation later. In high school, I would play his album of story songs over and over, and the Carnegie Hall concert with the Freedom Singers from the Civil Rights movement made me want to go down South.  But at age fourteen, I was too young. By the mid Sixties, Pete was back on the public concert stage, and age sixteen? I left a note on his empty chair during intermission at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute with a heartfelt message that I was a Zionist, but he made me feel proud to be an American, or something to that effect.  I cheered him on, as I watched him finally get on major network TV to sing Waist Deep in the Big Muddy on the Smothers’ Brothers Comedy Hour.
At Oberlin in the early ‘70s, Pete’s father, Charles, a co-founder of the field of ethnomusicology, spent a weekend with a small group of students, including me, thanks to his connection to our music professor. At the time almost ninety, his headstand yoga position was rod-straight, and unforgettable, not to mention his brilliant mind, grace and curiosity.

After college, I moved to Berkeley, where I got the job of researching the first biography of Pete Seeger, working for the author, David King Dunaway. Every day, I would head for the UC Berkeley library, and methodically make my way through the pages of the Daily Worker, New Masses, PM, and other leftwing American newspapers, creating a chronology of Pete’s performances from printed sources. Later I transcribed hours and hours of interviews that David had conducted with key figures in Pete’s life. I still hear Charles’ voice reflecting on Pete’s concern about the sheer power he knew he had at the height of the folk music revival. On the level of documentable facts, I knew more about Pete than I knew about my own father. 

I met Pete for the first time during that period, at the home of Alan Ohta, the brother of Pete’s wife, Toshi.  By age 21, Pete was my role model for life.  Only then did I learn that behind him was the formidable force of this small woman, whose grandfather had translated Marx into Japanese, and who produced countless numbers of Pete’s concerts, co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, and directed films.

In the summer of 1978(?) I went to see Pete in a free outdoor concert at Stern Grove in San Francisco. I was sitting in the sun with friends, after giving up looking for my parents among the ten thousand people crowded onto picnic blankets and chairs in the wide meadow. My brother Joel, then a 23-year-old musician, had recently died of a freak cancer, and I was in a fragile state. Between the heat, spiked juice and the emotional intensity of the group singing that Pete always inspired, I felt faint. I got up and headed fast for shade on shaky legs--and literally fell into my father’s lap. He had Parkinson’s disease, and it was the first time I completely experienced the uncontrollable tremor that he incessantly suffered.

When I moved to an Israeli-Palestinian village during the war in Lebanon in 1982 as part of a program called Interns for Peace, it seemed natural to invite Pete to perform. He wrote back saying he couldn’t come, but wished me well, signing the postcard with his signature banjo drawing. I returned to the States in 1990, and over the next decade sought Pete out when he would come to the Bay Area. I re-introduced myself at a children’s songwriting network conference and we spent about an hour together, mostly me listening to his mesmerizing stories. . . about everything.  What stands out about that particular conversation was his riveting description of the history of Greenwich Village. 

By 1998, I had joined Ursula Sherman as the co-chair of the Berkeley-based Jewish Music Festival. Our approach towards music as a way to inspire, teach and connect, as much as entertain came directly from Pete. Ursula is gone now, so I can only speak for myself to say that his synthesis of universalist values deeply rooted in local identity and action epitomizes my way of being Jewish in this world.

A few years ago, on a cold winter day, I finally visited Pete at his home near the small town of Beacon, New York. Over forty years, Pete and Toshi raised a family there and spurred the drive to clean up the nearby Hudson River. As he showed me around, I asked him how he knew how to build a house. He said he learned from a book he took out of the New York Public Library. The cabin now looked to be for guests, and they lived next door in a comfortable house overlooking the river. Toshi had a soup on the stove, and their daughter Tinya and her friend joined us for lunch. I contributed some fancy jams I had bought at Grand Central Station. 

The train had traveled along the river, passing Sing Sing prison where the Rosenbergs were executed in 1953. It also went by the small town of Peekskill where four years before that, Pete and others had performed at a Paul Robeson concert. After the event, the artists and concertgoers had been forced by the local police to drive along a narrow road and run a gauntlet of rock-throwing right-wing thugs. Pete was in the driver’s seat, with Toshi and two young kids. According to Wikipedia, Woody Guthrie and Lee Hays were also in the car. Guthrie pinned a shirt to the inside of the window to stop it shattering. "Wouldn't you know it, Woody pinned up a red shirt," Hays was to remember.[21] - cite_note-22
Pete and I talked about Peekskill, and he showed me a rock from the incident that he embedded into the stone chimney of the cabin. The fact that he chose to build it and live in the same rural area at the height of the region’s Cold War Red Scare seems amazing to me now. We also talked about Jewish music and the Jewish Music Festival. He showed me and sang a Chanukah song that he had either written or arranged and that I think he was singing with a local chorus.  He reminisced about the late Ruth Rubin, the Yiddish folklorist, and still clearly felt her loss when he spoke of the death, decades ago, of her only child. He and Toshi patiently watched a segment of the Ark Project that I showed them on my laptop that the Jewish Music Festival had commissioned. I asked him about Rashid Hussein, a Palestinian Israeli poet from a village near where I used to live in Israel, and whom Pete had known and recorded with in the Sixties.

I played with their cat, Mochi(?) who they had found in a woodpile, perused the gallery of photos filled with people I knew vicariously – like Moe Asch, and admired the picture of him and Toshi dressed to the hilt for one of his many awards. Pete in a tuxedo was really quite a sight. I had a small tape recorder, and Pete leaned into it as we sat at the table, making sure that it got everything he had to say. He was a teacher, after all.
When Toshi died in July just short of their seventieth anniversary, I had the feeling that he would leave us sometime this year.  But I didn’t know that I would hear the news an hour after I had completed a lecture at Jagiellonian University on the American klezmer revival and its roots in the folk music revival. I had just finished introducing Polish students to the magic of Pete getting an audience to sing Jacob’s Ladder, and had joined my fellow Fulbrighters for a tour of Schindler’s factory, now a museum of the Nazi occupation of Krakow. I was telling a friend how great it was to share Pete with new people.  He told me the news. Yesterday, while researching Jewish music in Poland, I came across a Polish version of Where Have All the Flowers Gone by a singer who also sang Yiddish songs in the Communist era when they weren’t a popular choice of repertoire.
As the tributes, articles and accolades pour in, one initiative really stands out for me. Pete was, above all, a bridge builder. I signed the petition "New York Governor AndrewCuomo: Name the new Tappan Zee Bridge after Pete Seeger." on Will you sign it too?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Of Mice and Men

Letter # 9


We arrive at the palace on a cold, foggy night, after an afternoon of driving along country roads through several small villages. I am with an American friend, David, who has lived in Poland for more than a decade and knows the area well. The plan is to visit old synagogues, then sleep at Kurozweki, a palace whose foundations go back to the fourteenth century and is now a modestly priced hotel. As we drive, we discover a shared dream of buying and renovating one of the dilapidated country manors that still occasionally dot the countryside. On our way back to Krakow the next day, this interest leads us to a deserted-looking, nineteenth century mansion that overlooks a valley—the perfect setting for a Russian novel. David notices a thin thread of smoke rising from the chimney. But I am getting ahead of myself.

People may know of the first village on our tour, Dzialaszyce, from the film Hide and Seek, a must see documentary about an American Jewish man, Menachem Daum, who seeks out the peasant family that hid his father during the war. He coordinates a website that includes memoirs compiled by former residents of the shtetl, which was more than seventy percent Jewish before the war. One story describes a conflict in 1904 between Chassidim and Zionists, when the latter wanted to hold a memorial for the Zionist leader, Theodore Herzl, in the synagogue. Today, this former center of community life is a four walled, roofless shell. High, thick walls separate rows of elongated window spaces—a shtetl version of the Acropolis. When David had last seen it a few years ago, a tree was growing in its interior. A beit midrash, or study house also stood nearby. Now, a locked fence keeps outsiders away and the tree is gone.  So is the beit midrash. David says that the Jewish community in the city of Katowice has control over the site. But without the enormous amount of funding required for renovation, as well as the political will, the ruin seems relegated to remaining a silent witness to centuries of Jewish life and its cataclysmic end.

From there we continue on to another depressed looking village, Pinczow, chartered by the king in 1438; its small post-war cement houses stark evidence of massive wartime destruction.  After years of legal dispute between the municipality and the Katowice Jewish community, the town now has control over its early seventeenth century synagogue and is willing to invest in preservation efforts that began about eight years ago principally through private donations and the World Monuments Fund. A synagogue in the nearby town of Busko Zdroj apparently had been partly restored by the local community several years previously, after which the Jewish community in Katowice had claimed ownership and promptly resold it to a private business for cash. The local museum official who unlocked the door for us and gave us a tour had taken Jewish Studies courses at Jagiellonian University in Krakow and clearly cared about preserving Jewish memory in her community; we communicated in Hebrew. 

Remnants of original floral polychrome designs and Hebrew texts still decorate the walls of this Renaissance era sanctuary. Even more outstanding are deeply etched Hebrew names clearly legible on the walls that date from the years 1673, 1674 and 1681, when the Council of Four Lands met here.  Known in Hebrew as the Va’ad Arba Artzot, this institution enacted administrative, economic, religious, and social legislation for the Jewish community in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, decided how best to allocate collective resources; and employed lobbyists to protect and secure Jewish interests.[1] While the Council’s authority was consensual, rather than backed by force, and was mitigated by religious and local Jewish community leadership, my understanding is that at its height, it represented a degree of Jewish autonomous political organization not realized again until the establishment of the state of Israel more than two hundred and fifty years later.

From there to Chmielnik, another small town that, unlike the others we saw in this area, has totally embraced the Jewish part of its past. Before the war, its population of eight to ten thousand was mostly Jewish. Now half that size and with no Jewish population, the town has invested more than a million dollars to restore its seventeenth century synagogue as a state-of-the-art Jewish museum and cultural center; as we arrived, a class of about thirty high school students was just leaving. The town also received contributions from the European Regional Development Fund ($1.3 million) and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage (approximately $300,000.) [2] These resources enabled them to commission works of art including a stunning glass bimah, or raised central platform where the Torah reading takes place, and an impressive Holocaust memorial on the synagogue grounds listing the names of every Jewish family who had lived in the town before the war. Since 2003, Chmielnik has also held a Jewish cultural festival each June. The first time it took place, people were afraid that Jews would return and reclaim the property that since 1945 has belonged to the families of the present residents. When that fear did not materialize, people relaxed and officials now attribute the event to improving attitudes towards Jews.[3]  Five years ago, the town dedicated and reopened its Jewish cemetery, partially restored thanks to a donation from a Jewish Holocaust survivor now living in Israel.


Before I introduce you to Michael
Popiel de Boisgelin, current manager of the Kurozweki palace, let me tell you about his legendary ancestor, Popiel, lord of the castle at Kruszwica. According to a medieval chronicler, mice and rats ate the cruel and corrupt despot alive. They came out of a lake seeking revenge for the uncles he had poisoned and dumped in the water. They were plotting against him, and he struck first. The family has come a long way since then. With the help of his father, who owns the palace, and other relatives, Michael has created a wonderland for children in the palace they have lovingly renovated. The original foundation is as haunted as one would expect a Gothic palace basement to be – replete with dungeons and Lord Popiel himself, his face half eaten. A herd of wild American bison roams on the palace grounds. The boars, however, seem as tame as my cats – ears twitched and tail wagged when I said hello.
With few guests on a slow Wednesday night the week before Christmas, Michael was eager for our company. He remembered David from a past visit and invited us up to his private office, where the stories he told were as intoxicating as the wine he kept pouring. I don’t have much experience conversing with aristocrats, actually any, but at one point I asked him point blank why he seemed so normal. A tall, athletic man in his mid-thirties, with an easy smile and intent eyes, Michael radiates a confident intelligence that would make him a popular politician if he were inclined in that direction.  Instead, he juggles management of his family legacy with work as a lawyer. His open manner, what I dubbed normal, he attributes to the fact that he was born and partly raised in Canada. Immigrants, he said matter-of-factly, are always at the bottom of the heap.

The next day he gave us a private tour, introducing us to his ancestors along the way through the larger than life portraits hanging in the halls and ballroom.  Reproductions substitute for the originals, safely stored in the Kielce Museum. The Popiel family acquired the palace in 1833 as part of a dowry. A century later, his great uncle gave up his inheritance to the palace as the oldest son to be a priest. Marcin, Michael tells us, saved Jews during the war. The library of more than two thousand books, unfortunately, had been lost when Russian soldiers burned it, probably for fuel. But each existing object of value, from the chandeliers to the chapel alter, had its own story in the saga of returning the palace to its former glory after the war and Communist nationalization. Hundreds of people, including some current employees, actually called the palace home over the years, its many rooms divided into apartments. Silver and other valuables safeguarded for decades by family friends and relatives were now on view in the small palace museum, as was a collection of paintings by the Polish artist and writer Josef Czapski. A co-founder of Kultura, a leading émigré journal based in Paris after the war, the painter was also one of the few to survive Stalin’s massacre of more than 20,000 Polish officers and intelligentsia at Katyn in 1940.

Michael took us out to the courtyard for a final story.  One day an elderly man dressed in a suit and holding a bouquet of flowers came to the palace, looking for Michael’s grandmother, Irena. His wife had died, and he was returning to seek the hand of the woman he had fallen in love with as a young partisan soldier more than a half century before. During the war, living in the nearby forest, he had come to the palace for occasional refuge. We were standing on the spot where he had first laid eyes on her, a woman who literally held down the fort with her two young sons, while her husband was a prisoner of war. Irena had died though, a few years before the man’s visit.

Her grandson sent us on our way with the recommendation of a restaurant in a nearby village that served goose. It turned out that we could only order a whole one. Instead, after a nourishing bean soup for David, and bigos, a cabbage and meat stew for me, we headed to one of the oldest synagogues in Poland, in the village of Szydlow. It stood near the remains of a medieval castle, and the ticket seller told us yet another story of Esterka, the legendary Jewish mistress of King Kazimierz, who in the 14th century had encouraged Jews to settle in Poland. It was said that she had put a curse on the town, which explained why it became a backwater after promising beginnings. 

On our way home, we both wanted to check out the country manor ruin that David remembered from earlier trips.  The only sign of life behind the locked gate was a German shepherd-like dog whose barking told us to keep out as we walked the iron fence perimeter trying to get a better look. David noticed a thin line of smoke coming from the chimney. And then, from across the field, we saw the front door open. What looked to be an old woman stepped down from the columned portico, holding a small bowl.  “Dzien dobre!” we yelled. She responded to our “good day” greeting in kind. “Dzien dobre!” she yelled back. David asked if we might come in and see the inside. No problem. After she filled her bowl with what appeared to be weeds from the frozen winter ground, she unlocked the front gate, the dog stopped barking, and we were in!
We entered a dark, narrow pathway through a web of tree limb scaffolding that held up the roof. This interior forest and sheer will kept the house from falling down on Elizabeta and her now elderly husband, Adam. They had built the labyrinth along with their children in their younger years. On this freezing winter afternoon, Elizabeta ushered us into the living space they had carved out for themselves—a good sized salon; its walls lined with paintings and a large table filled with papers, bowls of apples and walnuts, and half a honey cake, which she immediately offered to us, along with apple cake and tea. A smaller bedroom off this main room was the only one with heat; a narrow kitchen showcased a built-in carved wooden cabinet that Adam built many years ago. Bundled in multiple layers of sweaters, coats and hats, they offered us seats at the table and told us their story.

Adam was originally from Lwow (Lviv in Ukrainian, Lemberg in Yiddish), now in Ukraine. After the war, the Stalinist Soviet Union annexed eastern territory historically part of Poland. In return, the country received land in the West that had belonged to Germany. The subsequent transfer of about a million Polish residents of the east, known as the kresy, or borderlands, included Adam’s family. His mother had refused any compensation, hoping to  reclaim the family estate in Ukraine. When she passed away in the early 1980s, the couple applied for compensation and chose this mansion among the properties offered. Remodeled in 1840 from earlier foundations, its original owner had been exiled to Siberia after participating in the 1863 Polish Uprising against the Russians. Much later, it had been a Gestapo headquarters, a target on the front line between German and Soviet forces, a kolkhoz, or collective farm,  and a school. Adam, a craftsman, trained as an engineer, and his wife Elizabeta, a painter, had arrived there in 1983 and raised a family. With little in the way of income, Adam’s skills had kept the once grand villa standing.

I asked them if they missed the kresy, which today has the nostalgic connotations of a lost homeland for many Poles. Adam responded by describing its land—black as David’s coat. Oil would come out if you squeezed it. Plants wouldn’t be able to stand it if you added fertilizer. Elizabeta said that when she thinks of it, she cries.

We asked her about the realistic oil paintings covering every inch of wall space. Self-taught, she had wanted to go to the fine arts academy, but because her family wasn't working class in Communist Poland, she lacked the correct background to be accepted. The collection included several portraits of elderly Jewish men. They were her specialty. “Everyone,” she said, “wants a Jew.” Adam, too, thought a lot about Jews. Without knowing anything about us, he soon began to recall vivid memories from the war he experienced as a thirteen-year-old boy in Lwow. He started singing a song the Germans sang when they entered the city and described the busty Ukrainian women who offered them bread and cheese. With his father, he had sold goods in the ghetto when it was still open. He was riding tram number ten, passing the ghetto as it was being liquidated. David translated his animated speech. “You had to get into the Jewish police,” he said. “I saw what they did to their own kind.  As soon as they hit, blood flew.” He witnessed Germans throwing people out of windows. Everyone, he said, saw this from the tram. “There was a wooden fence that enclosed the ghetto, and as the tram was going by, the Germans were shooting Jews trying to escape. The bullets passed through the fence and went into the tram, injuring several people.” The corpses gave off so much gas, he added, “You could light a match.” He picked up a nutcracker sitting on top of a bowl of walnuts. He had found the bronze tool in the ghetto after the Jews were gone, it’s engraved initials now no longer legible after decades of use. “I didn’t know its owners,” he said.  “But I think about them every day.”

Kurozweki Palace website:

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Letter #8

December 19, 2013

Our small group received quizzed looks from the customers coming in and out of Sam Scan, a nondescript supermarket in Baluty, a working class neighborhood of Łódź, (pronounced Woodge) Poland’s third-largest city. Despite the cold, foggy air and the winter early dark, we were huddled around an open laptop near the store entrance, straining to hear the sounds of Schubert’s Great is Jehovah Our God. During the war, the grocery store had been the former cultural center of the Lodz Ghetto, where the city’s Jews, who made up a third of its prewar population, were forced to live. William Gilcher, a visiting American scholar and our tour guide, described a sold-out concert on July 2,1942, when a despairing audience listened raptly to the Austrian composer’s celebration of the greatness of God and then to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The musical respite served as a form of resistance to a daily existence filled with slave labor and death, gnawing hunger and the ever-present fear of deportation. One of the students in the group remembered the building from later, as the Halka cinema where he saw Return of the Jedi.

Walking further, we entered a large, indoor mall to warm up. The Bałucki Rynek had been an open market square at the time of the war, overlooked by the office of Chaim Rumkowski, appointed the “Eldest of the Jews” by the Nazis. Rumkowski’s Faustian bargain with evil gave him almost complete control of the ghetto, in return for organizing its approximately 200,000 Jewish residents[1] into an efficient work force for the Nazi war effort. Perhaps thinking about the Nazi slogan “Arbeit macht frei” (Work makes one free) a sign that also hung over the main gate to Auschwitz, and taking it at its word, Rumkowski believed that “Work is our only way.” If he made the Jews indispensable, they would survive.  To a limited extent, this proved to be true.  More people survived the Lodz ghetto than any other during the war. On the other hand, the price was complete acquiescence to the rule of a Jewish leader who arranged for the deportation of any opposition. I wonder whether one reason why the Warsaw Ghetto came to symbolize Jewish life under Nazi occupation rather than its counterpart in Lodz is this history. While the former was the largest, and the latter the second largest concentration of Jewish population, the uprising led by young leftist activists in Warsaw also created a collective memory of heroic, although futile, resistance desperately needed after the war. Resistance in Lodz was of a kind represented by a concert that simply helped to sustain human dignity under inhuman circumstances.

After stopping at several other pertinent sites, we arrived at Bill’s apartment building, which also had a ghetto history. In the city for the semester, he had sought out and luckily found a flat in that particular location as he was researching a visual artist named Izrael Lejzerowicz who had lived in the same building and who had died probably in Auschwitz in 1944. Bill was also teaching a course on cultural life in the ghetto of Lodz to art history students at the university. They were the tour group, a few of whom ended up in his small pre-war flat afterwards for a glass of wine. He had asked them each to bring a poem to share, recalling the artistic salon that Lejzerowicz had hosted in his flat during the war. The young students were from Lodz; several had grown up in or near the former ghetto. One young woman had been taught about the area’s past by her parents. Another who went to high school there almost ten years ago had learned about it from her history and literature teachers. A few had heard about Lejzerowicz before as a Polish artist in the interwar period; others hadn’t. Before the war, Lodz had been an industrial city composed of German, Jewish, Polish and Russian cultures. A doctoral student named Alicja said she became conscious of this historical diversity through the Festival of Four Cultures, which began in 2002.  Last year Steven Bernstein (JMF 2007), Raphael Roginski and Mikolaj Trzaska (JMF 2013) performed, among others. All the students also had seen the Krakow Festival of Jewish Culture, broadcast annually on national television.

After a night in the budget guest-house run by the local Jewish community, I made my way to the Jewish cemetery, founded in 1892. About 160,000 people are buried there, including more than forty thousand who died in the ghetto. The graves tell the story of the Jews from Lodz—from the mausoleum with its gold mosaic ceiling over the remains of the late nineteenth century textile magnate Izrael Poznanski and his wife, Eleonora Hertz, to anonymous grass covered mounds in the Ghetto Field.  Hundreds of orderly rows of small black signs, most engraved with individual names, had been planted by groups of Israeli soldiers who have visited over the past twenty-five years. Two Israeli flags flapped in the wind near the boulder monument to the ghetto victims. Hebrew graffiti scrawled inside the blue star on one memorialized a Lodz survivor who died in the 1967 battle for Jerusalem.

For my final dinner I talked Bill into going to Anatewka, a restaurant in the magnificent Manufaktura mall. The brick buildings and plaza that once housed the sprawling mills of the Poznanski textile empire have become the new town square of post-Communist Lodz. Bill’s first reaction to the Jewish-themed restaurant was negative, like mine often is when confronted with an obviously commercial appeal to Jewish sentiment.  But I was curious, he was willing, and we found ourselves at a table upstairs, by a small Christmas tree.  A Santa Claus doll the size of a two year old vied for attention alongside a large menorah, and the walls were replete with realistic paintings of elderly, bearded Jews. We heard English at the neighboring tables; they seemed to be groups of Poles entertaining European guests. The meal was one of the best I’ve had in Poland: thick pieces of tender tongue under a delicate horseradish sauce. For dessert—plums marinated in Slivovitz plum liquor. Bill had the cheesecake.

Along with the bill, we each received a miniature, plastic Jewish figurine with an arm resting on a coin worth one grosz (100 grosz equals one zloty; a zloty is worth thirty cents.)  The first one, eyes closed, wore a black hat and sported a bushy brown beard and thick payes or side curls. A black kaftan coat partly covered his talit katan, an undergarment that, unlike this one, is meant to hold four fringes on its corners, according to Biblical injunction. The second wore payes and kipa, but no beard or kaftan, and was smiling. Looking at them carefully now, I am surprised at their individuality, despite their caricature. I asked the waitress what the dolls were for. “Jews mean money,” she answered simply, in a tone that implied this was something everyone knew. She went on to explain that Jews knew how to make money.  “They [the figurines] are for good luck.  Be sure to put their backs toward the door so the money will come to you.”

For more information about Izrael Lajzerowicz, check out the website:

[1] YIVO Encyclopedia of Jewish Life in Eastern Europe

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Chanukah in Poland

Letter #7

In Warsaw, the public ceremony for the first night of Chanukah took place outside, in biting cold. My hands objected when the gloves came off, but I had to photograph the menorah outlined in chalk on the pavement created by votive candles we placed within the lines. It took place at Plac Grzbowski, a small square overlooked by an abandoned brick building that somehow survived the burning of the Warsaw Ghetto. On the opposite side stands the Jewish Theater, founded during the Communist era, and presenter of the annual Singer Jewish Culture Festival. My friend Ania gave out Chanukah gelt in the form of chocolate euros, while community officials lit the shamash and first candle of a modest-sized standing menorah. Speeches by community officials and a local priest were kept short and everyone happily moved into the nearby Nozyk synagogue to get warm and eat sufganiot (jelly doughnuts), following the Israeli Chanukah tradition. 

Later, I headed for Warsaw’s iconic landmark, the Palace of Culture and Science, built in the early 1950s on Stalin’s orders. The monumental skyscraper used to dominate the city’s skyline but its prominence is shrinking yearly, as new towers showcasing international capital rise around it. I came to a club on the ground floor to hear Rafael Roginski (JMF, 2013) play at the fifteenth anniversary party of the Forum for Dialogue Among Nations.  I also wanted to congratulate the Forum’s founder, Andrzej Folwarczny who I initially met ten years ago, on the first day of my first trip to Poland. Then he occupied a small office, in a small town near the German border. Today, the Forum is one of the principal non-profit organizations conducting nationwide educational programs that aim to expand awareness of Poland’s historic Jewish presence.

The next day was Thanksgiving.  I wanted to bring Chanukah gelt to the dinner hosted by the Fulbright Commission office. After searching in a few stores though, I realized it was hopeless. Why would Polish stores carry chocolate coins? I learned later that Ania had bought her chocolate euros in Amsterdam. In Warsaw, I needed to go to the one store that sells Judaica, located by Nozyk synagogue. Matzah, on the other hand, is readily available, marketed as a healthy type of cracker. After an afternoon of conversation, turkey and all the trimmings, I made my way downtown to Ec Chaim, an egalitarian congregation that broke away a few years ago from the orthodox Nozyk, for second night candle lighting, latkes and lox. Located on the fourth floor, its view of the Palace of Culture and Science provided a perfect backdrop to the menorah flames. Juxtaposed against Stalin’s gift to the Polish people, built as the dictator slid deeper into the anti-Semitic paranoia known as the Doctor’s Plot, the classic Jewish symbol truly radiated. (See attached photo.)

Friday afternoon, I traveled to a hotel on the outskirts of Warsaw for Limud, a three-day conclave organized by the Joint Distribution Committee, that brought together eight hundred people from all over Poland interested in Jewish learning. I’m told that another two hundred were turned away for lack of space.  Founded originally in England in 1980, the concept has spread to many countries, and sessions are presented on a wide variety of topics, based on what volunteer instructors offer. I gave a session on the klezmer revival, which attracted a small but enthusiastic group. I shared the music of virtuosos, such as Naftule Brandwein and Dave Tarras, who had been born in this region (well, Ukraine), and who very few in the room had ever heard. At the end, an older woman came up and kissed me! Another member of the audience was Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (JMF artistic advisor), and Program Director of the Core Exhibition of the new Museum for the History of Polish Jews. She later presented a riveting session about her father Mayer’s fantastic paintings and his life in pre-war Jewish Poland.  (Check out the book, They Called Me Mayer July.)

Menorah lighting and the havdalah ceremony that formally separates Shabbat from the rest of the week took place Saturday night, led jointly by most of the rabbis working today in Poland, including American-born Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich; Israeli-born Reform rabbi, Gil Nativ, and Russian-born Conservative rabbi Stas Wojciechowicz, all based in Warsaw; as well as American-born orthodox rabbis Tyson Herberger and Avi Baumol based in Wroclaw and Krakow, respectively.  Havdalah songs gave way to spontaneous dancing and in a flash, hundreds of people of all ages were circling fast and hard, stoked by an Israeli DJ who kept running between his machine and the dance floor.

Also at Limud was the new assistant to the Chief Rabbi, along with his father, Dov Bloom. I knew Dov when we were children at the Young People’s Synagogue in Pittsburgh and hadn’t seen him since. I often tell the story that my love for Jewish music goes back to that congregation whose members would sing as enthusiastically as a storefront Baptist church.  I still picture Dov’s mother throwing her head back and singing to the heavens, totally off key. I caught her joy though, and I was glad to share that memory with her son, especially since she recently died.

Finally back in Krakow for the eighth and last night of Chanukah, I discovered the consequences of a Jewish community that is small, but fractured.  Working at home, I called the JCC to get the time for candle lighting—5:30. I arrived only to discover that the real party had started at 4:00, next door at the Tempel Synagogue, and was almost over. Organized by the official Jewish community or gemina, it had been a catered affair with a live klezmer band.  One had to be “in the know.” There was no mention of it on the website of the JCC. The small reform congregation, Beit Krakow, where I went after, also had no idea. Later I checked the gemina’s website. Not there. So who came? According to one Cracovian Jewish local, about forty people belonging to the actual Jewish community, and invited guests, including a priest.

From there, I walked over to Beit Krakow to finally get my fill of candle-lighting. They meet in the secular space of the Galicia Museum, although at least seven historic synagogues and religious study houses exist in the former Jewish quarter of Kazimierz. They have told me that the official gminah, which controls the communal buildings, is Orthodox, and basically does not recognize them. I went by way of Szeroka Square, the heart of this pre-war Jewish neighborhood, where thousands gather every summer to hear the free finale concert of the annual Jewish Culture Festival. The square, ringed by Jewish-themed restaurants, was dark, in sharp contrast to the commercial streets everywhere else dressed up in Christmas lights and tinsel decorations.  It seems to me to be a good place for an outdoor community menorah, like Plac Grzbowski in Warsaw.  But what do I know?

A mill before the war, the renovated museum is an active cultural and educational center and houses Traces of Memory, a permanent photography exhibition showcasing the physical remnants of the Jewish historic presence in Austro-Hungarian Galicia. As if waiting for me, an impressive bronze menorah replete with nine large white candles stood ready for lighting. As I have discovered before with the intimate Beit Krakow group, my presence, in fact, mattered. I was actually the first to arrive, aside from Marta, who was setting up. A few minutes later, we were joined by two others. All three young people were converts, or in the process of converting. Of all the Chanukah events I had attended over the course of the week, this one made the greatest impression. Dina spoke about the conflict between Hillel and Shammai concerning the lighting of the candles (why left to right vs. right to left). Cordion told me about his first introduction to Judaism (at age five, he kicked a ball over a wall, went to get it, and landed in a Jewish cemetery); what it was like to be Jewish now in Zakopane where he grew up, (there is a light side and dark side to the beautiful mountain resort town); and why he intends to move to Israel. Marta, the organizer, had brought placki (the Polish version of latkes) and herring from her family’s village.

Thursday after Polish class, I walked through Krakow’s Renaissance-era huge main square, the rynek, to browse the dozens of temporary stalls selling all kinds of Christmas gifts, and to see the annual competition of homemade nativity scenes. The smell of grilling meat warmed the cold air, as did the piped-in music, although the soundtrack was what you’d hear in any American mall this time of year. I settled on a dish of bigos, a sauerkraut and pork traditional stew and some roasted mushrooms, and slowly savored a ginger cookie filled with rose petal jam on the way home.

Although I don’t usually attend Friday Shabbat services, it is a way to connect with new friends. Tonight, especially, it feels important to say kaddish for Nelson Mandela. Interestingly, the weekly parshah or Torah reading is about Joseph forgiving his brothers; a fitting homage for a man who epitomized the power of forgiveness.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Two Marches and a Parade: Kristallnacht in Wroclaw

Letter #6

On November 9, 1938, Nazis burned hundreds of synagogues throughout Germany and terrorized the German Jewish community in a night of organized violence that came to be known as Kristallnacht. I stand with hundreds of people in the cold, autumn air where a magnificent Moorish-style, cathedral sized synagogue burned to the ground that night seventy-five years ago in what was then the German city of Breslau. I am told later by a visiting American rabbi whose mother remembered the event there as a young girl, that the horror of that night made it clear to the Jewish population, whose roots went back centuries, that they had no choice but to flee the country.

After the war, Breslau’s German population was expelled and Polish refugees from the eastern territories claimed by the Soviet Union, as well as other parts of the country settled in the newly renamed city of Wroclaw, now part of Poland. I traveled there by train from Warsaw to attend the commemorative events—a photography exhibit inspired by the renowned writer and artist Bruno Schulz (murdered during the Holocaust); a Yiddish / Polish concert produced by a local cultural activist and performer Bente Kahan and presented to a thousand school children the week before; and a march that began at the renovated White Stork Synagogue. This stunning building would have been destroyed that night also, had it not been part of a complex that would have sparked an uncontrollable conflagration. Large enough to accommodate several hundred, the space today is an active cultural center presenting events for the small Jewish community, as well as for general audiences.

A few hundred people gathered in the large courtyard after the concert to hear the Wroclaw mayor and the head of the Jewish community say a few words, and then we started walking along the street to the nearby memorial site. A police escort accompanied the march, but it seemed pro forma, rather than for security.  In fact, the only police intervention I saw was when they told a young man waving a large rainbow flag and a young woman wearing one around her shoulders that they couldn’t march with their flags. Why? The young woman said that the police told her the organizers did not want them. The organizer I subsequently asked denied it, but at the same time said that the presence of the gay rights activists could complicate the Mayor’s participation.

Two days later, Monday, November 11th, it is Polish Independence Day. (The official end of World War I, known to Americans as Armistice Day made an independent Poland possible after more than a century of occupation by the Prussian, Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires.) I am now in the city of Poznan with friends where we join what seems like a hundred thousand people of all ages dressed warmly against the November cold, participating in 4th of July-like events. In this provincial town, throngs have come out to watch the Independence Day parade led by a New Orleans-style jazz band, stroll around the Renaissance era central square, peruse the hundreds of vendors, and take photos of a few small groups in folk costume or World War I- era military uniforms. In the evening, we watch the news. While there had been an official parade as well in Warsaw, several thousand right wing demonstrators had also come into the capital from around the country to hold their own march as they have done in recent years. We watch footage of a rainbow shaped scaffold of flowers located in an area known for its hipster scene going up in flames. The marchers had torched it and then forcibly prevented the fire brigade from approaching. They also threw Molotov cocktails at a nearby building where a group of anarchists have been squatting. The hooligans, as they are called here, also tried to set fire to the Russian Embassy.

That Friday evening, I join about a thousand mostly young people in an anti-fascist march organized in response. Several large rainbow flags are waved proudly as I find friends and we wind our way down fashionable Nowy Swiat. We continue towards Plac Zbawiciela and the charred metal rainbow, and then to the anarchist squat, home to several of the organizers. Brazilian drumming and boisterous chanting of “freedom, equality, solidarity,” and “Warsaw free from fascism,” keep us warm as we walk. The heavy police presence I suppose is for our protection, but no “hooligans” are in sight. The only opposition I see is a poor looking older woman bystander who spots a few young Hasids who tell me later they are visiting from London. Dressed in characteristic black suits with white shirts and wearing black hats, they likewise look to be onlookers. I watch as her face contorts in disgust and spits out something that sounds like “zhidki.”

It is the only time I have personally witnessed anti-Semitism in Poland. On the other hand, there is a burgeoning interest in Jewish culture, which can make it difficult to choose which events to attend. On a recent, ordinary Saturday night in Warsaw, Olga Mieleszczuk (Jewish Music Festival, March, 2013) performed at the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews.  Her concert, which brought several hundred to the museum, conflicted with three others—an instrumental concert at the Nozyk synagogue; a performance by another talented Polish Yiddish singer, and a live klezmer band accompanying a Soviet era silent film.

As I write this letter, I am listening to a live broadcast of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra on the classical radio station. The familiar voice of Alberto Mizrahi comes on the air (Jewish Music Festival, 2006). He is singing in Kaddish, composed by Krzysztof Penderecki.

Tomorrow night (Sunday, November 24th),  I truly don’t know what to do.  I’m back in Krakow and have to choose between Kroke, Poland’s veteran neo-klezmer band; a musical at the Philharmonic—The Rabbi’s Miracle; and a tsimbolom concert at the conservatory that includes a suite of Jewish dances from Galicia.

While these cultural events are for general consumption, the annual Limud conference organized by the Joint Distribution Committee focuses on the Jewish community. Associated with an international initiative to bring people together for several days of learning, the Polish version takes place next week.  This year, eight hundred people have signed up. More were turned away for lack of space.

On an entirely different note, I have discovered how to get through a Polish winter.  It is called grzana (pronounced gzhana) wino – hot mulled red wine that at its best includes cardamom, mead, cloves and cinnamon. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

All Saints' Day

Letter #5

I wake up to a cloudless, cool autumn Friday.  Outside, all is perfectly still-- no wind and no movement at 7:30 am.  No cars.  No parents bringing their children to the two preschools across the street. At 8:00 am, a church service begins on publicly sponsored classical / jazz / world music radio station, although a quick check of the dial makes it clear that commercial stations play by their own rules. In Polish class a few days before, our teacher impresses upon us the importance of All Saints Day in this country where the population is almost totally Catholic, at least in background, if not in practice. The TV news last night covered the outgoing traffic situation in the major cities, as millions travel to be with family and visit the cemeteries. 

Walking along the park surrounding Krakow’s Old Town, I go to meet a Polish friend who lives and teaches in the States, but is here for the year to do academic research.  About noon, we head for the Salvator Cemetery. Thousands of people of all ages are coming and going, carrying bouquets and special candles. Joanna has a candle to place on the tombstone of the famous science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem.  Americans may know him through the Spielberg film remake of his story Solaris, starring George Clooney.  Of the thousands of tombstones in this Catholic cemetery, his is the only one with dozens of pebbles and small stones, in addition to flowers and candles.  As marking a grave with stones is a Jewish custom, it seems a way for his fans to express respect for his Jewish background, although he had come from a totally assimilated family. Some stones, combining Jewish and Christian symbolism, are placed in the shape of a cross.

After stopping for tea and apple cake in a small café, she heads back home and I jump on a tram towards the other side of town and Krakow’s main Rakowicki cemetery. Here lies the full pathos of modern Polish history – from victims of Krakow’s ill-fated 1848 uprising quelled by the Austrians, to civilian victims of Hitler and Communism. Unknown soldiers’ graves from World War I and II lay in neat lines at the military section across the street. The whole city seems to be visiting, young and old, in strollers and on crutches, families and people on their own, making their way to the graves of loved ones, and exploring.  I wander around for a few hours, taking photos and noting how candles and flowers, especially chrysanthemums, multiply, particularly at the gravesites of the monuments and cultural figures. Poets and writers, singers and painters are honored and remembered in the same way as family members. I seek out the grave of the poet and Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska. I return again later with friends, to see the countless candles lighting the dark night My day ends at a performance of Mozart’s Requiem at St. Catherine’s Church, one of the greatest examples of Gothic architecture in Poland, located around the corner from my flat in Kazimierz. I squeeze in under an alter, one of more than a thousand concert goers listening in rapt attention to music that sublimely befits Poland’s ethereal day of the dead.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Warsaw, Plock, Bydgoszcz and Torun

Letter #4

I spent last weekend in the middle class Warsaw neighborhood of Mokotow, sitting in Starbucks and reading Solidarity’s Secret: The Women Who Defeated Communism in Poland, by Shana Penn.  As the house-guest of Anna Dodziuk, one of the women profiled in the book, I wanted to use this opportunity to do some homework on the years of Solidarity. While Anna was conducting a workshop during the day in her capacity as a group therapist, I caught up on her and her nation’s recent history.

I’ve known Anna casually for several years through the Jewish Cultural Festival in Krakow that I have attended off and on since 2003. I knew her as an empathic facilitator of a group that meets regularly during the Festival, where people can share their feelings about Jews and Jewishness, a still sensitive topic, but becoming less so, year by year, thanks in no small part to the Krakow Festival, and other increasing numbers of cultural initiatives taking place throughout the country.

What I didn’t know, but learned through reading the book, was that Dodziuk was one of a small group of women who did much to keep the legacy of Solidarity alive from the end of 1981, when it was declared illegal, until the collapse of the Communist regime in 1989. The weekly underground newspaper they collectively edited, printed and distributed nationally with the help of thousands nurtured a spirit of popular resistance that made the demise of Communism possible. Also, like most Americans, I knew of Lech Walesa as the Solidarity hero.  But I hadn’t heard of Anna Walentynowicz, another longtime labor organizer in the Gdansk shipyards. She has been compared with Rosa Parks, who had been a Civil Rights activist long before her historic refusal to move to the back of the bus.

Now a well-established writer in addition to her work as a therapist, Anna Dodziuk credits her economy of style in writing to her experience in the underground press. Every word was precious when the writers, editors, printers and distributers could all go to jail for their participation in the enterprise.

Her sharp honing skills come in handy as we wander from stall to stall at Warsaw’s Hala Mirowska open air market, buying food for Shabbat, particularly mushrooms. Their various shapes and colors look dubious to me, but she extols them for the feast she intends them to be. She is also excited that we will be traveling in a few days and the forests along the way will be in their prime for mushroom picking.

Meanwhile, my days in Warsaw go by very fast. I love the city.  Like most Western baby boomers educated in the shadow of the Iron Curtain, I never learned much about Polish history. The immensity of Warsaw’s wartime fate only became clear when I studied Polish at Warsaw University three summers ago.  In August, 1944, a year and four months after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the remaining citizens of Warsaw launched a city-wide revolt against the Nazis. The Soviet Red Army was close and the Germans were losing ground when the Polish Home Army led a popular, desperate attempt to re-establish Polish sovereignty. The fighters never imagined that Stalin would not allow landing space for Allied air support or that the Red Army would sit and watch from the other side of the Vistula River as the Germans, in murderous revenge, methodically killed thousands and then demolished the city, building by building. By the time the Poles surrendered 63 days later, between 150,000 and 200,000 civilians were dead, and the city was 85% destroyed.

Warsaw looked like Hiroshima in 1945.  Today, after just two decades of post-Communist economic development, new monuments to international capital increasingly dwarf the Palace of Culture and Science—Stalin’s postwar gift to the Polish people—that formerly dominated the city’s skyline. The new skyscrapers are the most recent chapter in the reconstruction story that began with the rebuilding of the city’s historic Old Town soon after the war ended. This story also makes me love Warsaw. . . even the Palace. The city is a testament to the human spirit and its potential for regeneration, a great reminder when I’m having a bad day!

Now back to Anna.  I’ve stayed in Warsaw the extra few days to go with her on a road trip. She has appointments with city officials in the cities of Bydgoszcz and Torun to present certificates honoring them for taking action to remember their Jewish communities.  She works with an Israeli older man, Adam Aptowicz, originally from Poland, who on his own initiative began doing this several years ago in the context of the Israel-Poland Friendship Society. As he is now too ill to travel, she is acting as his representative. We head north towards Gdansk early on a Tuesday morning to avoid rush hour, stopping along the way at a fish restaurant along the Vistula for breakfast. We can catch our own in their stocked pond, but instead choose fresh fried from a long menu. Back on the road, with forest on both sides, we pass lots of cars parked at various spots.  It’s tempting to search for mushrooms, but we are on a mission. We do, however, stop in Plock. How can we not, when a large roadside billboard as we enter the city limits announces the opening of a new Jewish museum in the former synagogue?!

Jews settled in Plock more than seven hundred years ago, and before the war were 25% of its population. Their history is now commemorated in the museum located in the brightly renovated sanctuary space filled with state-of-the-art exhibits. A wall display shows photos of all material remains of Jewish life left in the town. Wrapped around the walls in an adjoining room is the story of the community’s tragic end. Most importantly, we are not alone, although it is 10:00 am on a weekday morning. In the center of the room containing an open Torah, a class of primary school students is gathered around a well-lit exhibit case. They are listening intently as the guide explains to them the importance of learning in Jewish life.

When we arrive at the Mayor’s office in Bydgoszcz, a city of 360,000, the official responsible for local monuments introduces Anna as a Solidarity legend; she is also clearly enthusiastic about honoring Jewish memory in her city. Two photographers capture the moment as Anna presents the certificate to the mayor. Under his watch, a memorial plaque set into a boulder and a sign now mark the site close to the city center where an impressive Moorish style synagogue once stood until its demolition by the Nazis early in the war.

Formal commemoration of the Jewish part of the city’s past is a first step towards integrating this history into its present. We subsequently meet Bogdan Kunach, who directs a non-profit organization responsible for raising money for the local university. As of two months ago, he also has authority over another synagogue, currently in the process of renovation. Dating from the seventeenth century and used as a cinema in the Communist era, it is located in Fordon, a rundown neighborhood that before the war had a Jewish majority.  Sold to the city for one zloty by the Foundation for Preserving Jewish Heritage in Poland that formally owned the building, the city turned it over to Kunach’s foundation for free. The city, the region and the European Union are paying for the extensive renovation. Bogdan, meanwhile, is making plans to turn the currently gutted facility into a cultural center that will serve the neglected neighborhood as well as honor its Jewish provenance.  He is actively searching for artists, and I offer some suggestions.

The next day, we visit Torun, where we have an appointment with the city official in charge of its Old Town, a UNESCO world heritage site. On behalf of the mayor, he also receives a certificate, and takes us to see why. Funded by the city, a glass plaque memorializes hundreds of Torun Jews killed by the Nazis, affixed to a building where a century-old synagogue used to be before they destroyed it. He also shows us another prominently displayed plaque on a residential building in the heart of the Old Town that commemorates Zwi Hirsch Kalischer, a nineteenth century rabbi and early Zionist. We then visit the former Jewish cemetery—a large walled-in, block long, empty lot of trees and grass with a sign at the entrance requesting visitors to respect the park-like space by not walking animals there. A stone monument, not unlike the one we saw the day before in Bydgoszcz, lies at the center, and another monument memorializes Kalischer’s grave, although the exact spot of the original tombstone or matzevah is no longer known. The tombstones (matzevot) that once marked his and hundreds of other peoples’ lives lasted through the Nazi occupation, but were removed by the Communist regime in 1975. While that doesn’t seem like such a long time to recover some of them with a concentrated public relations campaign, such a project is not a high priority.

Back in Krakow, I do hear a few weeks later that disappeared matzevot sometimes do come back. I recently attended a lecture by Dr. Jonathan Webber, an anthropologist who has worked on Jewish heritage in Poland for many years. He recounted the dramatic story of how he restored the Jewish cemetery of his grandfather’s small Galician village with the help of the local community. When he first visited, all that remained was the memory among older people that a particular field, now fallow, had once been the cemetery. Farmers cultivated around it. Sensitive to the fact that the residents needed to be an integral part of the project, he worked closely with local officials, educators, the priest, and contractors over several years. One night, a few weeks before the official opening ceremony, the gate to the handsome new steel post fence was left open. The next morning, the town discovered a pile of stone matzevot on the plot of freshly planted grass that had been dumped there anonymously.  Today, the Brzostek Jewish cemetery is a local landmark that has brought the community’s Jewish history back into its fold.

Of more than a thousand cemeteries in Poland, about eight hundred are still in various stages of neglect—leaving lots of room for new initiatives. Meanwhile, individual matzevot have been catalogued for sixty-four cemeteries by the Foundation for the Documentation of Jewish Cemeteries. [View Online]

I’ll end this letter with one last note on cemeteries. Another British Jewish friend, who like Jonathan Webber, has now made his home in Poland. With a local colleague in the Silesian town of Wodzislaw, Barry formed an organization, Yerusha (Heritage) to restore the memory of the local Jewish cemetery. There was no possibility of restoring the actual cemetery, as the Communist authorities after the war had organized the exhuming of all the Jewish bodies and had them reburied in a common pit.  In their place, they buried the remains of Soviet Red Army soldiers who had died in battle nearby. This history came to light when Barry initiated the process to mark where the original cemetery had been.  An old man found him, told him the story that he had been a teenager and been one of those hired to dig up the Jewish bodies. He knew it wasn’t right at the time and it had bothered him all these years. At Barry’s urging he went public. The pit, which had been covered over and turned into a parking lot, is now fenced and marked.  Barry also told me of one particular matzevah found in the local Catholic cemetery. It was simply recycled, now used to mark a well-tended grave. The Jewish epitaph, in Hebrew and Polish, remains perfectly intact, in the back.