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Where is Dubnow?

Where is Dubnow?

In recent years our state celebrated its 50 year anniversary, and the world celebrated the begining of the year 2000, two significant dates which were accompanied by a deluge of articles, on every possible topic. Suddenly 'history' was no longer the name of a boring subject, knowledge of dates became not only popular but a worthwhile topic of conversation, or knowledge that could assure success in trivia games.
The term "new historians" crops up with increasing frequency in the papers and in the discourse accompanying academic research. But for many of us the word 'history' evokes the memory of the 10 serious looking volumes of "the Dubnow", as we called Shimon Dubnow's "The History of the Jews", which during the 1950s-60s, would be found in nearly every home in Israel next to the Cassuto (Cassuto's commentary on the bible), the Even-Shosan (the unabridged Hebrew dictionary), and the complete works of Biyalik (the National Poet of Israel).
So what happened to us? Why do we no longer teach Dubnow, why do we no longer read and browse Dubnow? W h e r e is D u b n o w?

He used to be important and respected, almost a cultural icon. He was so important that many cities named streets or public gardens for him, as Sima Sela found, and consequently she dedicated her piece to "No. 10, Dubnow", and it's almost no surprise that "Dubnow Garden" is already being named for some benefactor. Sima also traveled to Riga and photographed the place when Dubnow was murdered. Haya Graetz-Ran, co-conceiver of the idea for this exhibition, called her piece "To Write Again That Which Was Erased." It's made up of Jewish symbols, torn fabrics, pouches that could have been used for earth from the Holy Land, the kind that was in Jewish graves in the Diaspora, pouches of the kind that wanderer may carry. However, Haya filled those pouches with flour and rice. She also added photos that "spill" out of of a collection of abandoned albums.

Coincidentally, Haya Graetz-Ran and her sister, Varda Yatom, are descended from the family of the historian Hirsh(Tzvi) Heinrich Graetz, who attempted, in his books of Jewish history, to construct Judaism as an organic religious state structure, and his followers made up the strongest opposition to Dubnow method of presenting the Jews as carriers of a unique culture that can be observed any where in the world, which is why argued for Jewish self-rule in the Diaspora.

Linda Bar-On made a quilted "Memoriam", in an almost Diaspora like style, in memory of the historian and of his tragic death by a representative of the Euro-Culture he wanted to be a part of. Linda's quilts are usually colorful, however this time she made a monochromatic piece.

Now these are the names of the ten volumes:

  1. The Beginning of Israel as a People (approx. 20th-11th cent. before the Common Era and the destruction of the 2nd Temple).
  2. From the Beginning of the Greek rule of Judea until its destruction by the Romans.
  3. From the Fall of Judea to the Decline of the [power] Centers of the East.
  4. From the Beginning of the Diaspora in Europe to the End of the Crusades.
  5. From the 13th to the 15th cent.
  6. The 16th cent. and the First Half of the 17th cent.
  7. The Second Half of the 17th cent. and the 18th cent.
  8. The End of the 18th century and the Beginning of the 19th.
  9. The 19th cent.
  10. From the Pogroms of the 1980s to the Holocaust.

While volumes 5 to 9 simply state the date of the period they deal with, the first volume starts with the beginning of Israel as a people, and ends with the word "Destruction." The 2nd and 3rd volumes mention the word "Destruction" in their names. The 4th mentions the Diaspora and the Crusades, both of which were bad times for our people, and the last volume mentions the pogroms and the Holocaust.

On the gallery wall you can see a reproduction of the last two pages of the series, the last chapter, where Dubnow writes of the rise of the Nazis, starting with the sentence :" In the summer months of the year of killing, the refugees of plundered Vienna fled to the four corners of the earth. It was clear that there was no escape to the six hundred thousand Jews, but by fleeing the two German countries .. " and the chapter ends in a paragraph mentioning the pre-state Israel and ends with the sentence " thus, the Chronicles of the Jews continue."

Haim Maor, in his "My Father's Number", burned holes in the shape of the number that was marked of his father's arm. His father was in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942. Making a hole in the book also evokes the secret hiding places the Haganah and Palmach members used to cut into books.

When we started working on the concept for the exhibition, on March 2000, our spirits were high. We were on the threshold of peace. Not everyone agreed on the proposed treaty, it was obvious that there would be problems, yet we all looked to a better future. The troubles that started in October changed the views of entire groups, or pushed aside for other groups what they did not want. The nearly daily headlines of "Jews were murdered", "A controversy between the Rabbis and the Hasidim", "Sephardim and Ashkenazim" are names of chapters in the Dubnow books. The ten artists created their works encompassed by an uneasy atmosphere.

Barry Plotkin's work wonders "Objectivity?", between the six red lights and the stack of newpapers we can put all our thoughts about what is happening to us.

Varda Yatom positions hands carrying the book as a prayer book, "The Shadow" - is it a plea for help, or is it the shadow of other hands, preying hands?

Dov Chernobroda attempts to explore the beginning of the historical-national connection in his works "Matrimony"/"For You Have Struggled".

We are pleased to welcome a guest artist, Avraham Haddad, who resides in Paris where he teaches in the "Beaux Arts". His ink drawing depict people in positions that evoke a smile.

Dalia Rozentraub saw the photos of Dubnow and his wife and was amazed at the resemblance to her grandparent, who were among the founder of Gdera farming community (Moshava). From that moment on, the private and the public history merged. The viewer looking at work "In Eternal Memory" sees how the images of her grandparents gradually become part of written history. For a moment Dalia 'froze' the time that has passed.

In my work, "History of the Jews", I tried to find out where it all started. Did the Diasporas started with the command "Get thee out of thy country.. ", and since then we knew not how to stop. contrary to Dubnow teachings, I do not believe that the world is open for us, and I believe that the cradle of our essence and our place is here in Israel, despite all the hardships.

Mirjam Bruck-Cohen
Written in Haifa, Israel
end of August, 2001.