An important mission of BJPC’s is to educate younger generations about the history of Judaism and the Holocaust, with an emphasis on the people of Bardejov, Slovakia.
We do this by providing direct opportunities for students and adults within Bardejov to reconnect to the Jewish heritage of their town. Support for teachers helps ensure that young Bardejovers continue to learn about these elements of local history. Students in Bardejov also have the opportunity to participate in our annual Writing and Art contests, featured below.
Additionally, we offer opportunities for non-Bardejovers to learn about this exceptional story through heritage tours. Most recently we collaborated with MEOR/JRoots to bring a large cohort of young professionals from the USA to Bardejov. Future trips of a similar nature are planned and we are always looking to accommodate new groups who wish to enjoy an immersive learning experience.
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In December 2018, we had the pleasure of welcoming a group of young professionals from JEC MEOR Manhattan for a beautiful tour of the Jewish heritage in Bardejov. They were the very first group of their kind to visit the town— American young adults who have no ancestry connection to the town. The tour was organized by JRoots, which have taken thousands of people on various Jewish Heritage journeys throughout the world, and we were honored to welcome their co-founder, Tzvi Sperber, as well as Rabbi Shmuel Lynn and Rabbi Yoni Spinka from MEOR.
The group was amazed by the tour. They were astonished by the knowledge and information that BJPC’s staff provided and by their passion for the Jewish cause. These young people showed great interest, and the dynamic rhythm of the tour and passionate explanations helped them forget the cold weather. Indeed, as expressed by JRoot leader Tzvi Sperber: “Bardejov gives a different aspect to both our Holocaust education and our possibility to delve deeper into Jewish heritage”.
The organizers of the tour expressed their will to return to Bardejov and extend their stay to explore other Jewish sites in Eastern Slovakia.
Here are a few comments from the group’s participants:
“The shuls we visited gave context to the destruction we witnessed in Poland, reminding us that life and light brimmed in these places now dark.”
“I have to be honest: when I learned we were going to Bardejov, Slovakia I was a little bit confused. I had never heard of the town, but from what I had seen of Tzvi I assumed there was some nugget of history that would be special. But I was completely blown away at what we saw. Seeing the shul, meeting Pavol (Hudak), and learning about the story there moved me to tears, both from joy and sadness. It’s too easy on a trip to Eastern Europe to lose faith in humanity, but it is people like Pavol and the rest of the committee members we met who tirelessly work to actualize the words “Never Forget” that help to remind us of the inextinguishable flame of human goodness. When I posted on social media about the experience a friend of mine from Texas messaged me saying that her family was from Bardejov; it really drove home that there are so many stories of the holocaust we have never heard of that are much closer to us than we could ever imagine. Visiting was a privilege I will never forget about”
“Though the town of Bardejov is not a typical destination on such Holocaust trips, it is a noteworthy example of the diversity of Jewish life in Eastern Europe that flourished for centuries before the Holocaust took place. As evidenced by the town’s Main Square and its several abandoned synagogues, Bardejov thrived in no small part because of its Jewish population. This legacy must be preserved and taught.”
On September 20th, 2018, Bardejov Jewish Preservation Committee, in cooperation with the Youth Parliament of Bardejov and UZZNO, organized a unique event to clean the windows of the Chevra Bikur Cholim synagogue.
This important building, which served Bardejov’s Jewish community since 1929, has remained in its original state since then. It is located on Kláštorská Street in Bardejov. Cyril Bogol, a local Bardejov citizen, and his wife have been the caretakers since 2006, when Mr. Spira—the last Jew in Bardejov and the caretaker of the Synagogue—passed away.
The initiative to voluntarily clean the windows of Bikur Cholim came from the students of Bardejov’s “Private High School”, the chairman of the Young Parliament Jakub Boruv and his colleague Bianka Térjeková. When touring Bikur Cholim Synagogue with their school they noticed the condition of this remarkable monument and the need to improve the state of the synagogue. This was even more apparent after they visited the beautifully restored old synagogue.
Immediately after the Jewish Holiday of Yom Kippur (September 20, 2018), twenty two students arrived at the synagogue, rolled up their sleeves and cleaned the windows as well as the interior of the synagogue.
Two weeks after the event, all the volunteers were invited to attend a lecture that took place in the synagogue. During the lecture, the students learned more about the life and traditions of Bardejov’s Jewish Community and also about Kristallnacht, when the windows of 267 synagogues and 7,000 storefronts of Jewish shops were broken in Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland three weeks after the High Holidays of 1938.
Indeed it was especially symbolic that Bardejov students chose to clean the synagogue’s windows, an act which was the actual opposite of the horrors of Kristallnacht. This younger generation is the hope that the events of Kristallnacht and the Holocaust will never be repeated.
In 2015, the Bardejov Jewish Preservation Committee initiated a yearly Essay Contest on topics related to the Holocaust for local Bardejov high school students. The contest encourages students to explore and learn about the Holocaust and its effects on society and Jewish heritage.
Each year, the BJPC, together with school teachers and the Bardejov Community Foundation, selects two topics and the students choose one of these topics to write an essay of five pages or less. A committee of teachers and community members evaluates the essays and chooses the best three which are then translated to English. This is done so that members of the Bardejov Jewish Preservation Committee may also participate in determining first, second, and third place. The finalists and winners are announced during our annual commemorative event. Each winner is awarded a cash prize and a certificate signed by our founder, Mr. Emil A. Fish. The winning essays are published on our website and in local magazines.
The contest has received a very positive response, and the amount of participants grew significantly from its first year. We plan to continue this activity for many years as it is an interesting and important educational experience for all the students who participate.
In 2016, our Executive Director, Orit Stieglitz, and then Director of Operations in Slovakia, Peter Hudak, attended the Jewish Cultural Heritage Conference in Warsaw, Poland, hosted by the Polin Museum of Jewish Heritage.
Ms. Stieglitz was invited to Chair the session on the meaning and roles of restoration and preservation of Jewish heritage sites in Europe. The session discussed tangible Jewish heritage and covered a variety of heritage buildings and spaces that have been restored or are in the process of being restored, conservation in different countries, and the role of these projects in Jewish and non-Jewish communities today.