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In the currently used Jewish cemetery in L'viv, Ukraine

In the currently used Jewish cemetery in L’viv, Ukraine

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I just came across this fascinating article, about the process of creating a gravestone memorial, on a public radio station in San Francisco — How do you Capture a Life in Stone? Blending Artistry and Culture to Honor the Dead.

The author, Melanie Young, speaks with gravestone carvers who work today in the area — including one immigrant from the former Soviet Union, who explains the technique used there, which includes detailed etched portraits of the deceased and other sculptural forms.

Leon Radar opened Art in Stone in the 80s during a wave of Russian immigration. His son, Michael, immigrated with the family and he explains, “The Russian Jewish community, they’re accustomed to what they saw back in their homeland and they didn’t have anybody to manufacture it for them.”  

Leon Radar learned his craft in the Soviet Union. “I came to work with artist when I was 14 years old. Step by step I learned. Working, working, drawing, drawing.”  

Through his training, Radar mastered the very distinctive Russian style. If you go to the Russian section of the Jewish cemetery, it feels a little like you’ve entered a fairytale. Huge, granite sculptures rise up to represent the dead. They cover the entire grave and reach as high as 16 feet. Some take the form of a loved one’s passion, such as a life-size guitar or grand piano for a musician, or a winding strip of film for a photographer.  

For many years, Radar also hand-etched images into granite. Much like creating a tattoo, he would use a needle and etch in each dot. He created vivid images. The work was slow and painstaking. But he says he didn’t mind.

“Oh I love it,” says Leon Radar. “When I work I don’t need food, I don’t need water, I don’t need anything, I am fully in this work.”

Today, Leon Radar’s son, Michael, says computers have changed all that.

“We have a different technique now. It’s also etched in stone but it’s half computerized half sand blasted,” Michael Radar explains.

In a way, the process transforms granite into a photographer’s lens. Families can design much more intricate and realistic imagery for their loved ones. Michael Radar points to an example of the work.

I’ve put up a new gallery of photographs of candlesticks in Chmielnik, Poland.

https://candlesticksonstone.wordpress.com/photo-galleries/candlesticks-in-poland/candlesticks-in-chmielnik-poland/

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The elegant and informative riowang blog runs a very nice post — with lots of photos — about the Jewish cemetery in Tekovo/Tekehaza  in Ukrainian Transcarpathia, which comments in particular on the large number and variety of stones marked by candlesticks.

it is worth noting a special gravestone motif, which almost has its own school in the cemetery of Tekeháza: the large and diverse number of geometric candelabra. The presence of candelabra – as we have already seen in the cemetery of Lesko – is not unique in itself. We meet with them almost only on women’s graves, praising the Friday night candle-lighting and, beyond that, the light and warmth of the family home as well as the virtuous woman maintaining it. What is interesting in Tekeháza, however, is the large number and many variations of stylized, geometric candelabra.

The many photographs on the post show candlesticks that are geometric and braided at the same time, as well as some that look like plants:

Once speaking about the candelabra, it’s worth to point out a special local form of this motif. About these gravestone decorations it is difficult to decide whether they are three-branch candelabra or stylized three-leaved plants

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By Ruth Ellen Gruber
I’m honored and delighted to report that at a ceremony at the Polish Consulate in New York last night I received the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit  — one of Poland’s highest honors awarded to foreigners. Poland’s President Komorowski presented the awards — alas, I was not able to be in New York, but my friend who stood in for me took a video of the moment when my name was read out:

Given my history with Poland, going back more than 30 years, it is quite an honor! As my old friend and colleague Doug Stanglin reported in USA Today, this award comes 28 years after Poland’s the-Communist regime arrested me, threw me in jail, interrogated me and expelled me on trumpted up “espionage” charges.

What a difference a few years and the fall of the Berlin Wall makes.

In 1983, at the height of martial law and the Solidarity worker’s movement, Poland’s communist-led government detained American reporter Ruth Ellen Gruber on suspicions of “crimes against the state.”

The then-bureau chief for United Press International was hauled in for questioning by police, then expelled from the country.

Thursday, the Polish government was at it again, with a new proclamation aimed at Gruber.This time, it bestowed on her the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit, one of the highest honors awarded to foreigners.

.Read full story HERE

Painted Tombstones

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

This is a cross-post from my Jewish Heritage blog

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

During my recent trip visiting Jewish heritage sites in Slovakia, I came across some artwork that demonstrated the way Jewish gravestones were often painted in various colors to emphasize the carved ornamentation. (I have posted on this in the past, and have also posted pictures showing gravestones in Romania, Poland and Ukraine where you can still see traces of such polychrome decoration.)

The watercolor pictured above is a view of the  Jewish cemetery in Ungvar (today Uzhorod, Ukraine) painted in 1930, apparently by Eugen Barkany, who assembled the wonderful collection of Judaica and other objects that formed the basis of the Jewish museum founded in Presov, in eastern Slovakia, in 1928. (At the time both Uzhorod and Presov were part of Czechoslovakia — to see old postcards of Uzhorod, click HERE.) The painting clearly shows the polychrome decoration.

The Barkany collection is now displayed in the women’s gallery of the marvelously ornate Orthodox synagogue in Presov, a stop of the Slovak Jewish Heritage route (scroll down for previous posts on this route).

Here are some other paintings of cemeteries and stones by Barkany, from 1930, on display:

Can’t read it well — but, Humenne? (near Presov)
Lwow/L’viv — tomb of the “Golden Rose” (cemetery has been destroyed)
Michalovce

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I recently returned from a trip to the far southeastern corner of Poland — that sharp, elongated triangle bordered by Ukraine and Slovakia. I was there, based in the town of Sanok, to write an article about the project to built a replica of the roof and ceiling of the destroyed wooden synagogue in Gwozdziec, now in Ukraine. But I also took the opportunity to visit half a dozen Jewish cemeteries (in Rymanow, Dukla, Sanok, Lutowiska, Baligrod and Lesko) and document the way that candlesticks were used to mark women’s graves. I found several new styles, from very elaborate to simple and not so simple scratched images — no doubt hallmarks of local carvers, and I have begun to post the pictures in the Poland section of the photo galleries.

Here’s a taste:

Lutowiska, June 2011

Rymanow, June 2011

Lesko, Poland. June 2011

Iconography

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I’ve come across a recent blog post on a genealogy site called “blood and frogs” that uses photographs to illustrate general iconography on Jewish gravestones. The photographs were taken 18 years ago, mainly in the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw.

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