York Liberal Jewish Community: May 2021

4th May 2021

As we move towards developing design ideas for the new public spaces a crucial issue to consider is how to remember the 1190 massacre of York’s Jewish community.

Throughout the My Castle Gateway project – in order to inform the masterplan and the new public spaces – a number of meetings have been held with York Liberal Jewish Community. These have included: 19th August 2017, 21st September 2019, 18th October 2019, 23rd October 2019, Shannon Kirshner from York Liberal Jewish Community also ran a very well attended walking tour and discussion about Clifford’s Tower as part of a public event on 7th December 2019 10am-4pm

Arising from these discussions the following was included in the new public spaces Open Brief on the Castle Car Park page:

Thinking, praying, saying the Mourner’s Kaddish and ‘facing the history of 1190’ in a place that is spatially connected to Clifford’s Towers and, like the plaque that is currently at the base of the motte, visually references Jewish history and faith. #GatheringPlace #GatheringHeritage

Visitors to the Castle and Eye of York area understand the significance of Clifford’s Tower – including the significance of the daffodils. A crucial message visitors leave with is that 1190 was not the end of York’s Jewish Community and that it continues to thrive to this day. #GatheringPlace #GatheringHeritage

To create a place for thought, reflection, prayer and saying Kaddish which connects to the histories of the place and especially the massacre of York’s Jewish community in 1190 while still being clearly being a living part of present-day York. It should be distinct from, while connecting with and sitting well within, the other landscaping in the area, including harder landscaping and movement routes and might be inspired by different traditions of gardens and outside spaces in the Jewish faith.

And on the Clifford’s Tower Area page:

People read an information board which interprets the stories of the English Heritage site so as that many people as possible understand the significance of Clifford’s Tower – including the significance of the daffodils.  #GatheringPlace #GatheringHeritage

A need to create a sense of arriving into a different space as you walk up the hill from Tower Street, for the area to feel a bit quieter and for people to be encouraged to slow down.

Meeting on 4th May

On 4th May 2021 York Liberal Jewish Community met with the designers from BDP to explore the Open Brief elements in more depth.

The key issues raised were:

Respecting the Motte as a place that may contain human remains

  • The most important element is that the mound is not disturbed as there could be Jewish remains beneath. Eating picnics there would not be appropriate.  If the rest is hard space, then people will gravitate to the motte to picnic.  Therefore encourage more soft space so they can picnic elsewhere away from motte.  Space around motte needs to be reflective space.

Circling the motte as an act of ritual

  • The motte is circular. There was a positive feeling about the idea of following the curve around the Tower and feeling close to the mound/ connected to the past. Walking, circumnavigating the motte, reflection.
  • Incantation ritual. The idea of ritual walk circling around motte. Road traffic noise is not conducive to act of memorial. There could be installations, artwork, poetry, prayer, sounds to explore as you move around the motte, create a slow space to learn and reflect.  It could feel like putting an arm around the motte/ space.  Planting could create a safe space for movement around.
  • Concerns were raised about how this circular path could work with English Heritage plans for the front entrance. Would this block the flow of the path?
  • Support idea of water/ links to river as a resident, but concerned about water features encouraging play in inappropriate locations. Like concept of water play as a parent, but not close to Tower as this would diminish the historical significance.
  • Would like to explore unifying delivery of history with English Heritage, not just learning inside the Tower, but also within the exterior setting. Clifford’s Tower is the remnant of a castle, people do not understand the history.  Not everyone will pay to enter the Tower to learn the historical context.  Need to marry up interior and exterior experience of the history of the Tower/ re-envision what the current memorial plaque does (which people often walk right by).

Reflective space – connected to the motte and on the Foss side of the motte

  • Being able to say Kaddish, visibly bring alive commemoration
  • Symbolic protection from road, safe space to reflect.
  • Tower Street is noisy. Need to quiet side to be preserved, emphasise quiet reflective space.
  • Encircle motte with a long granite curving bench, with Hebrew inscription. Perhaps a keyhole space to gather, with a plaque saying the Mourner’s Kaddish beside mound.

Need to enable the act of laying stones

  • The act of laying stones is important to people as an act of memorial, placing a token on a gravestone to remember.
  • YLJC: ‘The Jewish practice of placing stones on a grave is really ancient. Jews place stones (rather than flowers) on graves to indicate it has been visited and the deceased not forgotten. Also stones last forever, as we would like our loved ones to be remembered forever’.

Visibly Jewish

  • Important to be able to walk all of the way around, enhance setting. Access to use the quieter side will be important as Tower Street will always be busy. ‘Keyhole’ place to meet could use the shape of the star of David in the ground to attract attention and provide link to Jewish background.  Agree that people will come to York and want to place stones there.  The current star of David on the ipod walking tour looking out at Jewbury car park is too small and doesn’t get noticed.
  • Visibly Jewish, cues from star of David or inclusion of Hebrew

Initial design thoughts in response – as discussed in the meeting:

  • Soft planting pallet could be designed to deter people from sitting on motte.
  • Water might provide sound backdrop to screen busy background noise, so you can hear water but not necessarily see it or encourage play, if appropriate.
    • Water has a separate benefit/ meaning to Jewish people as an important source of life. Not for play, but inclusion of water in some form is a reasonable thought.
  • Walking circle/ journey could be achieved with a pathway. Are there days when a there may be a larger congregation of people?  If so, where could they meet if there is a potential conflict of space with Tower entrance and unaware people walk through commemoration?
    • 16th March is annual commemoration, takes place in evening so is usually dark and place is quiet.
    • Sometimes tours come, maximum of 2 bus loads.
    • Circle is a big part of my Jewish life, star of David often has a circle around it, drawings in Kabbalah include circles, experience of dancing in circles.
    • Circling as a ritual is part of Jewish weddings, bride circles groom, join souls, tying self to someone else, nearness, drawing in.
  • Q: Proximity versus views to motte
    • Preference to be close to motte, in a setting that gives visibility of living Jewish community in York today, to show continuation/ vibrancy.
    • Proximity to motte is important and would want the reflective space to be close to mound.
    • Needs to be in a space near to where we lost people, reflection somewhere else wouldn’t work.
    • Plaque at entrance could be a conflict, but isn’t a big problem.
  • Q: Quietness versus visibility, living sense of commemoration
    • Prefer to be more visible than quiet, for educational reasons

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