Photo of the author, 2000-2005

CHANUKAH


Evgenii Umanskii / Kaliningrad, Russia


Chanukah (sanctification) - an annual Jewish holiday


The Holiday: Jerusalem, Judea, 138 BCE

After a long struggle against the Greek-Syrian armies Jerusalem again became a free Jewish city. The temple was standing desolate, dirty and filthy, and it was sanctified anew. Priests had to light the menorah, but there were no sealed vessels containing either the pure oil for anointing rituals or olive oil. After a long search they found a small jug with the untouched seal of a high priest. The oil was hardly enough for a day, but it would have taken eight days to make new oil. In the end, they decided to light the menorah without any new supplement of oil. And a miracle occurred: the menorah continued to burn for the necessary eight days.

The Action: Kaliningrad, Russia, 2000 CE

On the eve of Chanukah a lot of graffiti appeared on the walls of buildings situated along the main roads of Kaliningrad. They were executed in various artistic ways, varying from traditional graffiti spray paint to flat brush painting. The city was flooded with multicolor, multi-format and multi-style inscriptions consisting of only the single word "Chanukah" and a drawn Star of David. It turns out that this was a hooligan action, carried out either by young members of RNE (Russkoe Natsional'noe Edinstvo - Russian National Unity, an ultra-nationalist organization) or by Orthodox Jews (Where do they come from? While Kaliningrad's population is 500,000, the Jewish community numbers less than 2000). At any rate, this action was provocative. Many defaced building fronts had to be repaired, an expensive task for a city that was short on funds. Who is to blame? From a common point of view, it was certainly the Jews' fault. Even if they didn't write the graffiti, it is still about them. From bad to worse, there is no money for repairs -but members of the above-mentioned nationality have plenty of funds, et cetera. As is well known, they beat people up not according to their passports but according to how their mugs look. By the way, for anybody visiting Kaliningrad these "Chanukahs" function as a calling card, a document, an identity card that provides the city with a definite nationality.

(English editor's note: Until recently both Soviet and Russian passports identified the ethnic nationality of the citizen; Jews were identified as such in their passports.)

The Project: In development.

The idea of this project is to explore the responses of the population to the above-described history of Kaliningrad and the problems associated with it. Among the socially and politically active sector of Kaliningrad, it has long been observed that the city's dwellers express their emotions in response to various events in the form of graffiti texts on walls. In connection with this, the author became interested in the future artistic destiny of the Chanukah inscriptions. Over the course of several years the author has documented the changes happening to these inscriptions, how they are painted to be of the same color spectrum as the wall, just daubed over or experience more radical transformations.


Translation by E.Gladkova