Museums, Jewish quarters and synagogues throughout the whole of Europe opened their doors to visitors on Sunday to celebrate the European Day of Jewish Culture. More than twenty five countries organized events in order to pay tribute to this year's theme: Jewish Heritage and Nature.
Music, history, lectures, photography, literature and above all, great gastronomic treats helped celebrate the undeniable Jewish past of these European countries.
The project was originally launched in 1996 in Alsace (France) by B’nai B’rith Hirschler and in 1999 it was extended to Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Spain.
The next year, eleven new countries joined the association contributing to turning it into a truly pan-European event, which then became the European Day of Jewish Culture.
Finally, in 2004 the AEPJ (European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage) was created in order to co-ordinate the project on a European level. AEPJ is formed by the British B’nai B’rith Europe, the Spanish Red de Juderías de España - Caminos de Sefarad and, since last year, the European Council of Jewish Communities.
In 2012, nearly 170,000 visitors attended some 700 different activities in 24 European countries. This year’s event had to be postponed from the first Sunday of the month to the 29th due to the High Holidays.
This year Naples was chosen as the most important city among the seventy that participated in Italy. After their expulsion in 1504, the Jews were allowed to return to the city in 1735, but it wasn’t until 1841, when the Rothschild family acquired the Villa Pignatelli that the community was re-established.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano attended the opening ceremony held in Villa Piagnatelli where chief rabbi of the Naples community, Scialom Bahbout, made a speech about the “nature of Judaism.” There were a number of activities including the projection of a short movie on the history of Jews in Italy and a presentation by the Italian novelist, translator and poet Erri de Luca.
Coinciding with theme of “Nature,” the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow, Poland, offered a field trip. Designed as a journey in time, the participants walked through the remains of small villages, Jewish cemeteries and synagogues punished by history and now forgotten.
In Spain this year twenty four cities participated in the event that offered guided night tours in Calahorra (La Rioja), an inside view of the Jewish call (quarter) of Girona, one of the main historic centers of Kabbalah. In Seville, the participants enjoyed a long tour of the most emblematic Jewish centers of the city and after which got to taste Sephardic sweets and a glass of wine, including the Sephadic Ice, a Jewish inspired honey based ice cream. Meanwhile, in Barcelona, Catalonia, a hike was organized to the mountain of Montjuïc- the name speaks for itself.
In Britain activities started sooner, giving the opportunity for synagogues to open up their succas to the public. Events were held in places such as the Wiener Library, the Ben Uri Art Gallery, the Jewish Historical Society of England and a visit to the walled garden at Lambeth Palace.
Involving more and more participants and countries this year the event was considered a great success.