Saturday, November 1, 2014

Museum Celebrates 1,000 Years of Poland's Jewish History

A wooden seventeenth-century synagogue from a formerly Polish town in Ukraine, has been reconstructed at Warsaw's new Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
Photo: Czarek Sokolowski, courtesy the Associated Press.

In what was once Warsaw's Jewish ghetto, the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews, a new museum dedicated to the history of Jews in Poland, opened this week. The institution offers a reminder of the Jewish culture that thrived in Poland for millenia before the devastating Nazi occupation.
Polish Holocaust survivors were in attendance on Tuesday as the museum unveiled its core exhibition, "A Thousand-Year History of Polish Jews." The museum takes its name from the Hebrew word for Poland, Polin, which means “rest here." When the Jews began settling in Poland in the Middle Ages, they found a tolerant government that offered a great deal of political autonomy, allowing them to thrive for many centuries.
"When you are a Jew, even if you were not born in Poland, the very name 'Poland' stirs up trembling and longing in your heart," noted Israeli president Reuven Rivlin during the opening ceremony. Of 14 million Jews worldwide, nine million can claim Polish ancestry.
“The Holocaust has cast a shadow onto this great civilization and the generations of Jews who lived in Eastern Europe before the Second World War, as if those centuries of life were little more than a preface to the Holocaust," museum director Dariusz Stola told the Associated Press. “But that is absurd. This museum stresses that 1,000 years of Jewish life are not less worthy of remembrance than the six years of the Holocaust."
Today, Poland is home to only 30,000 Jews. Of the 3.3 million Jews in the country before the war, 300,000 survived, but faced severe persecution under communist rule. In the years that followed, the country's once vibrant Jewish culture dried up, and was largely forgotten. “Polish history didn't speak of Jews. It spoke of cemeteries, of the Holocaust, of the ghettos," Piotr Wislicki, the head of a Jewish historical society, told the AP. "It spoke exclusively of death."
After $100 million in construction costs and nearly two decades of planning, the museum provides the Polish people with a much-needed reminder of an important, culturally diverse, pluralistic chapter of their history. “Even though we aren't Jews," said one visitor to the AP, "we need to know about it."


Histories Absolved: Revolutionary Cuban Poster Art and the Muslim International


The L.A./Islam Arts Initiative is already under way at dozens of venues across the city, from the gorgeous Doris Duke’s Shangri-La and accompanying contemporary Islamic art group show at Barnsdall, to foodie events, workshops, screenings and concerts — with programming continuing through December. Its goal is not only to educate new audiences about the rich eclecticism and high-stakes urgency of understanding historic and contemporary Islamic arts but also to articulate and strengthen the shared bonds and common goals of an international coterie of artist-led resistances to oppression and injustice. Among the most salient of its offerings is this weekend’s pop-up exhibition and workshop in Chinatown, as Medina hosts Histories Absolved: Revolutionary Cuban Poster Art and the Muslim International — a survey show of political graphics linking the struggles of Cuban and Muslim cultural revolutionaries — along with a hands-on workshop by the Self-Help Graphics Barrio Mobile Arts Studio, an organization that knows a little something about fomenting cultural justice through art itself. As with the entire initiative, the Medina event hopes not only to educate but also to inspire creativity and engagement on your own terms. Medina, 977 1/2 Chung King Road, Chinatown; Sat., Nov. 8, 6-10 p.m.; free.
— Shana Nys Dambrot


Veterans with PTSD Release Their Demons Through Art

This ceiling tile by Iraq war veteran Jennifer DeGaetano will be on display at Cappetta’s in West Haven. She said art helps her healing process.(Kristin Stoller — New Haven Register)

GUILFORD >> Vietnam War veteran John Jones was the only sailor who survived a fire on his ship, and since then he has been plagued by the “what ifs” and demons of post-traumatic stress disorder.
But at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System’s West Haven campus, Jones feels like he can let some of these demons out — through art.
“I saw things that people shouldn’t see,” said Jones, who was only 19 when he served in Vietnam. “You can’t unsee things. They play on your mind, you know?”
The Guilford Free Library is hosting an art exhibit throughout November of pieces by Jones and other Connecticut veterans. The veterans’ service ranges from the World War II era to Afghanistan.
The show includes work from artists representing the Giant Steps Program at the West Haven VA and the Rocky Hill Veterans Center programs, among others, organizer John Henningson said.
“The Giant Steps program is designed for those with a disability who are somewhat reluctant to expose themselves to the public for whatever reason,” he said. “Art, however, gives them a way to express themselves and show another side of their personality.”
In the ’70s, Jones said he turned to the VA when he couldn’t stop crying and screaming weeks after returning from Vietnam, but no one knew what PTSD was back then and he was sent away, he said.
“It was either jump off a building or go to downtown New Haven,” Jones, a Milford resident, said, recounting his turn to drugs and alcohol.
In 2004, he came back to the West Haven VA after the “drugs had taken their toll” and was able to be helped through medication, therapy and art. He displayed a collage he made of pieces from the ’50s that make him feel good, such as his old skateboard and a decal off his old Volkswagen.
Sandy Benge, who served in the Air Force during the ’80s, said the art therapy program has been an answer to so many of her problems associated with PTSD. She was the only woman in her group of 200 men based in Montana.
“I don’t dread coming to the VA anymore,” Benge said. “It’s like a breath of fresh air. I have a smile on my face when I used to have a grimace.”
Through art, she said she finds acceptance and healing in a non-judgmental environment.
As a Giant Steps Program volunteer, Henningson said he was impressed by the quality of the artwork of the veterans he sat with. Though the exhibit is in Guilford, he said it will feature art from veterans across the state.
Jennifer DeGaetano, an Army veteran from Operation Iraqi Freedom, displayed a painting she made on a ceiling tile, which can be seen at Cappetta’s Pizza in West Haven. The tile shows a female soldier dreaming of pizza, which DeGaetano said was what she missed most when she was in Iraq from 2004 to 2005.
“It’s a very valuable program to me because it is a safe environment where I can express myself freely without judgment,” she said. “I’m going through a recovery process with my peers and not alone. It’s something meaningful that I can look forward to.”
In the Giant Steps program, DeGaetano said she gets lost in the art and doesn’t have to think or talk about what she went through if she doesn’t want to.
Veterans interested in showcasing their work can contact Henningson at
Henningson is also raising money to purchase and install signs in front of the residences of the more than 800 living veterans in Guilford. These signs would be installed in November to celebrate Veterans Day, he saiid.