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National Geographic Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe Paperback – Bargain Price, March 20, 2007

17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Ruth Ellen Gruber an American writer based in Europe, has published and lectured widely on contemporary Jewish issues in Europe and has traveled extensively throughout east and central Europe documenting Jewish heritage sites. She writes a regular Jewish travel column for and contributes to many publications. A foreign correspondent with UPI for more than a decade, Gruber has won two Simon Rockover awards for excellence in Jewish journalism. Currently, she divides her time between a farmhouse in Umbria and an apartment in Budapest.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic (March 20, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1426200463
  • ASIN: B0046LUTW8
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,289,862 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Award-winning American writer, editor and photographer Ruth Ellen Gruber has chronicled European Jewish issues for more than two decades and works on cultural topics including an ongoing project called "Sauerkraut Cowboys" documenting how Europeans embrace the mythology of the American Wild West. She is the coordinator of the web site and in 2011 was awarded Poland's Knight's Cross of the Order of Merit, one of Poland's highest honors for foreign citizens.

Ruth coined the term "Virtually Jewish" to describe the way the so-called "Jewish space" in Europe is often filled by non-Jews: klezmer music, culture festivals, museums, tourism, and kitsch as well as serious and sensitive study and involvement.

Her books include National Geographic Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe, (2007), Letters from Europe (and Elsewhere) (2008), Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe (2002), and Upon the Doorposts of Thy House: Jewish Life in East-Central Europe, Yesterday and Today (1994).

A former correspondent in Eastern Europe for United Press International, she is Senior European correspondent for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency JTA. Her articles have appeared in the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, Tablet Magazine, The Forward, Hadassah Magazine, the New Leader, the London Independent and many other publications. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Hadassah Brandeis Institute, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, the Autry National Center/Institute for the Study of the American West, and others.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By DiamondQueen on June 8, 2007
Format: Paperback
Wow! This book is no mere travel guide! I had intended only to riffle through the pages. Instead, I read the entire book, unable to resist being carried along on a most remarkable tour. Jewish Heritage Travel is rich with information about the geography, culture, religions, architecture, and thousands of years of history in a part of the world that has deep significance for the human story. For, let's face it, shockingly horrible things happened here. While the book is organized like a travel guide, its dramatic impact is unmistakable and resonates with the reader long after the book has been set down.

Ruth Ellen Gruber is a most compelling guide. Her descriptions of specific towns, synagogues, cemeteries, and "evocative remnants of shtetls" are not warmed-over fifth-hand accounts. She is forever scrambling over walls, swimming through weed grown fields, tramping through shin deep snow, knocking on doors, crawling through holes in ruined walls, and striking up conversations with strangers. One trusts her reports utterly. And she knows everything. Why Jews were invited into this area, or driven from that one, and when, and by whom, and who these people were, how they worshiped, how they differed from one another, and what their destiny became. She tells us about their land, their history, their architecture, their persecutors, their champions. She finds their cemeteries, describes their headstones, and reads us the inscriptions. If people were taken by the thousands into the woods outside their towns, shot and dropped into ditches, she tells us that too.

Gruber's narrative style is intriguing. The prose is always crisp and objective with a reportorial attention to detail and an allegiance to fact, but sometimes it rises to pure lyricism.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Sarah on May 15, 2007
Format: Paperback
Ruth Ellen Gruber's new guide gives readers the best of both worlds--interesting and accurate histories of the places covered and extensive practical information to help both more experienced and new travellers.

Her introductions to each chapter (the book is organized by country) give readable narratives of each country's history, covering both general history and specifically Jewish history. She is great about giving multiple place names, a particularly useful addition in countries formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Unlike general travel guides (and some Jewish ones as well), which often only list official synagogues in main cities, Gruber lists unaffiliated and independant organizations, giving as much contact information as possible. It's obvious that through her experience as a journalist, she made many contacts with people actually working in the communities listed.

She also lists many sites that are no longer functioning in their original capacity--unused synagogues (or those that now serve different functions), out-of-the-way cemetaries, and former houses and businesses of local notables. Gruber seems especially interested in architecture, and points out particularly interesting examples of synagogue design and decoration.

I especially appreciated Gruber's emphasis on visiting communities that are active and vibrant today. While the Holocaust did irreperable damage to once-thriving Jewish life, and while it can seem that Europe is full of remnants of the Jewish past, this book gives due time to the Jewish present.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Marcia Milose on November 16, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I wish I had found this book earlier. In the last few years we have been to several Eastern European countries doing our own Jewish Heritage tours. The amount of information in this book condenses what took me hours to find for previous trips plus more. As we read the sections devoted to those countries, we were able to relive our previous experiences and learn even more about particular communities and synagogues. We are embarking on another journey and thanks to this fabulous book, our entire itinerary with a wealth of information is before us. This is a very special book for anyone interested in the subject matter whether they plan to travel or are just interested in Jewish history.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jan Peczkis on April 7, 2012
Format: Paperback
Once thought to be virtually barren of all things Jewish in the wake of the German-made Holocaust and decades of Communist rule, nations such as Poland have experienced a considerable revival of interest in Jewishness. Gruber realizes that many local Jews do not identify with Jewishness, so there are more Jews left in these nations than commonly recognized. Upon reading this guide, the reader may be astonished how many Jewish cultural objects still exist in the nations in question, even if neglected or put to other uses.

To her credit, Gruber keeps local anti-Semitism in perspective, as she writes: "Anti-Semitic incidents are reported from time to time in all countries included in this book, but the region has been little affected by the violent attacks on synagogues, Jewish institutions, and individuals that have taken place in Western Europe in the wake of the Israel-Palestine conflict." (p. 14).

Each nation's entry in this single volume contains a few-page history of the Jews of that nation, as well as a list of books and websites for further study. The cities and town are listed, with descriptions, in regional alphabetical order within each nation. This makes it easy to locate the city or town, but the reader does not get a full sense of the geographic continuity of one location to another. A comprehensive index, with fine print, lists all of the localities mentioned in this book.

Instead of repeating other reviewers, I limit my review to Poland and to areas that had been part of Poland before WWII and the Soviet confiscation of eastern Poland. Poland itself is featured on 50 pages (pp. 14-64) out of the total of 338 pages in this book. Major Polish cities featured in this book include Warsaw, Lodz, Krakow, Wroclaw, and Lublin.
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