Sundays, January 17-February 28, 11 am – 12:15 pm
Poland – the Epicenter of the Ashkenazi World in 1939
So many of our Jewish ideas and so much of culture comes from Poland. We will go to Warsaw, Krakow, and Auschwitz-Birkenau, and will touch upon 3 central themes – 1,000 years of Jewish life in Polin, the period of the Shoah from 1939-45, and the complicated post-WWII to the present period of resuscitation of Jewish life in Poland, as well as the strengthening of ties between Israel and Poland.
Russia: St. Petersburg and Moscow – The Pale and Beyond
Many Ashkenazi Jews say that their ancestors came from ‘Russia,’ however most likely they didn’t! Jews generally were not allowed to live in what is today the Russian Federation until 1860. From that period until the Russian Revolution in 1917, this area was an anvil of Jewish creativity. In addition, major events- including the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881, the Russian Revolution, the Great Patriotic War (WWII), the Cold War, and Glasnost – had tremendous impact on the Jewish population in this part of the world and beyond.
The Golden Age of Jewish Life in Sepharad/Spain – A Guide for the Perplexed
For centuries, the Jewish community of Spain was one of the world’s most significant. Its creative achievements in the arts, sciences, literature, medicine, diplomacy, etc. were unprecedented for a Diaspora community, largely because of the interaction and integration of the Jewish community in Muslim Spain. All this ended during the same year that Columbus set sail to discover America. We will visit some of the more important Jewish centers, including Córdoba, birthplace of Maimonides, Granada, home of the beautiful Alhambra Palace, where Ferdinand and Isabel issued their expulsion order, as well as the beautiful synagogues of Toledo.
Berlin – The Rise and Fall of German Jewry – From Success to Shoah to Rebirth
During the short period from the arrival of Moses Mendelssohn in 1743 to Max Lieberman becoming the President of the Prussian Academy of Arts, the Jewish community in Berlin grew in size and significance. This meteoric rise took less than 200 years. The success of Berlin Jewry was almost unprecedented, and its achievements collapsed quickly after the rise of Nazism in the early 1930s. This journey will examine the growth and success of Berlin Jewry, its quick downfall and the Final Solution conference at Wannsee and will grapple with the complex challenges of Germany’s post WWII legacy. We’ll also explore issues of memory and teshuva, as well as German Israeli relations and the rebirth of a significant Jewish presence in Berlin.
In the Footsteps of Theodor Herzl in Budapest and Vienna
February 14 and 21
These two capitals of the Austro-Hungarian Empire boasted thriving and influential Jewish communities, which reached unprecedented heights during the Fin de Siecle era. Austria alas was the first country to fall under Nazi control outside of Germany in the 1938 Anschluss, whereas Hungarian Jewry was the last major European Jewish community to be rounded up by the Nazis in 1944. This two-part session will explore the achievements of the Jewish community in these two beautiful cities and the complex search for identity leading up to World War II. We will grapple with two very different stories of how anti-Jewish policies and the Shoah developed, and will discuss Jewish life post-1945. We will focus on some key personalities including Theodor Herzl, Hanna Szenes, Raul Wallenberg, Sigmund Freud, Stefan Zweig, and Viktor Frankl.
Prague – The Jewish Story in a City in Search of Freedom
Prague’s Jewish story can be understood by walking through the richly preserved Jewish neighborhood which is one of the more visited tourist sites in the city. This city is layered with centuries of quests for freedom from Jan Hus’ early 15th century attempts to reform Christianity (a century before Martin Luther) through the Velvet Revolution led by Vaclav Havel in 1989. The Jewish community was a part of this zeitgeist and had a short-lived Golden Age in the late 15th-early 16th centuries. We will explore the oldest synagogue in Europe, the 13th Century Altneushul, the centuries old Jewish Cemetery, and hear some of the stories of the more prominent Jewish characters, from the Golem of the Maharal through Franz Kafka.