Jews in Europe haven’t had a particularly easy time of it over the past few years. French Jewry has suffered perhaps more than most, leading to an unprecedented wave of aliya [migration to Israel] in recent years amid real concerns within the community. France, however, is also the source of one of the most positive initiatives to deal with the place of Jews in modern-day Europe. The European Day of Jewish Culture began life in Alsace-Lorraine, and this year marks the milestone 20th edition.
In a typically European way, whilst everyone agrees on the general need for such a day, nobody can agree on the exact details. That’s why, despite the official date in the calendar being set for today, September 4th, in actual fact events are spread out over the next few weeks (and in some cases, exhibitions that are set to last for months). I had a look round the internet, and have compiled some background to Jewish communities, and a few events that are worth checking out if you find yourself in any of these areas in the next few weeks:
You knew I was going to start here, didn’t you? Today Italy only has 20 officially recognised Jewish communities, stretching from the tiny community of Merano in the far north to Naples in the ever-so-slightly-south-of-centre. Before the expulsion of the Jews in 1492 (if the year sounds familiar, southern Italy was under Spanish rule at the time, so this was part of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain), there were huge Jewish population centres in the south of the country. After the expulsion they moved northwards, and never really returned. As the years have gone by, many of the small communities in the north have disappeared too, with the residents moving into the bigger population centres of Milan, Venice and Florence. Unless otherwise specified, all events in Italy are on the 18th September.
Puglia – there have been recent (very minor) signs of Jewish revival in this southern region. The Scolanova Synagogue of Trani, a 13th century synagogue, has had a turbulent history. It was seized by the church and consecrated a century after its construction, before finally being returned to the Jewish community in 2006, on condition that a 13th century painting of the Virgin Mary not be removed from it. To mark EDJC, guided tours will be offered of the synagogue by members of the small local community. If you’re in the area, the Jewish Museum of Lecce opened its doors a few months ago, and will be offering guided tours for visitors to mark the day.
Palermo – The biggest city in Sicily is remarkably diverse even without factoring in its no-longer-existent Jewish community. To mark the day there will be a day long program, consisting of a walking tour of Jewish Palermo in the morning, and a discussion of Jewish languages in the afternoon.
Naples – The pick of the events in Naples synagogue is a fascinating look at the only existing translation of King Solomon’s Song of Songs into Neapolitan dialect, although for those of a more culinary persuasion, there is also an event entitled “The Language of the Kitchen: Jewish Linguistic and Culinary Tradition”.
Turin – In northern Italy, Turin is vying for the position of second community (after Milan). It’s a relatively small but buzzing community, and they’re putting on a good spectacle, with a range of events including a synagogue tour, guided walking tour of the Jewish area, kosher food tasting and a Yiddish-Ladino Cabaret show (nope, me neither, sounds interesting though!)
These are only a fraction of the events taking place. For a full list of events in Italy, there is a link here (unfortunately only available in Italian).
Despite the aforementioned migration away from France, it is still home to the second biggest diaspora (after the USA) by a clear distance. This is partly a result of the destruction of other, larger Jewish communities, such as the Polish one, during WWII, and partly the result of an influx of North African Sephardi Jews from former French colonies in the 1950’s and 60’s. Today there are an estimated half a million Jews living in France, mostly in Paris, but also in the south in cities such as Marseilles and Lyon.
Paris – The capital city’s rather splendid all-day offering is “Aki Estamos”, a “Sephardi Circus” with circus acts set to Judeo-Spanish music, and with a Judeo-Spanish buffet to follow. At the “Théâtre de l’Épée de Bois de la Cartoucherie de Vincennes”. 4th September
Marseilles – On the 25th September there will be a film screening on the Judeo-Provençal language, an important historical language which today is unfortunately no more.
Also late to the party will be Nice, Antibes, Cannes and Menton, all of which will have synagogue open days on the 18th September. On the 11th September, Nice will also be hosting a talk on Darius Milhaud, a famous 20th century French-Jewish composer.
UK and IRELAND
Another very well-integrated Jewish community which has had to deal with its fair share of anti-Semitism shaped problems in the past few years, the Jewish community is throwing open the doors of synagogues up and down the country, although it will be staggered over three weekends. To find your nearest one, click here.
London – The point of EDJC is often to discover small, lesser-known Jewish destinations, but London really does have a lot going on. Regent’s Park has an annual “Klezmer in the Park” event, this year on the 11th September, whilst on the 14th, the Jewish Music Institute is hosting the “Sophie Solomon Full Band Show” for an evening at the Jazz Cafe.
Manchester – An audio-visual presentation on pop music sound like your thing? Hosted by “local show business expert” Brian Greene, this talk on the 14th September will focus on the influence of Jews on pop music.
Dublin – The Irish Jewish Museum in Dublin is using the occasion of EDJC to launch an exhibit on Jewish languages which will run until the end of this year, although details are a little scarce beyond that.
My latest Jewish obsession, Denmark too is getting into the spirit of EDJC with a cultural evening on the 12th September in Copenhagen. I’m not sure why they’re doing it midweek either, maybe it’s a Danish thing. Whatever the reason, it promises an evening of Yemenite dance classes with a professional choreographer, followed by an opportunity to put it into practice with a concert of traditional Yemenite women’s music, known as GULAZA. For more information, click here.
Stay tuned as I update with more events from more countries in the next couple of days. For more on this day, I recommend this article by Hilary Danailova with a bit more history and an in-depth look at events in France.
Happy European Day of Jewish Culture everyone!
-The Wandering Jew-