By Ruth Ellen Gruber
If you are in Europe -- in virtually any country in Europe -- next weekend, you will be able to experience the European Day of Jewish Culture, an annual continent-wide festival of Jewish heritage and history that is celebrating its 16th edition this year.
Each year events revolve around a common theme -- this year it is “Bridges” — and many events stress aspects of dialogue and inter-religious and other cooperation, while others highlight "spiritual" bridges and other meanings of the concept: anything that "joins or connects."
Events are scheduled in more than 30 countries, and while there are only a couple of events in some countries, in other countries the “day” has become “days” or even a full week of events.
Italy, whose Jewish history goes back more than 2000 years, is one of the main countries taking part in the EDJC — this year events are scheduled in some 72 locales up and down the peninsula, with Florence the focus of central observances. (There are Jewish communities in only about 20 towns and cities in Italy, with total membership in Jewish communities under 25,000 people.)
Highlights include everything from the opening of a Jewish bookstore in Rome, to conferences to book launches to concerts to round-table discussions, to guided tours of historic Jewish quarters; the ancient synagogue in Ostia Antica; Jewish catacombs; the medieval mikvah in Siracusa, Sicily; synagogues and Jewish cemeteries.
See full Italian program here (in Italian)
Spain also has a very rich program, coordinated by the 24-member Network of Jewish Quarters.
See the full Spain program
And Britain, too, has a very full schedule of events, stretching over several days -- see the full UK program here.
All told, all over Europe there are hundreds of individual events to choose from – lectures, concerts, food-tastings, book fairs, and more — plus many guided tours and informal visits to Jewish heritage sites that are generally closed to the public or limited in access.
Events are geared primarily for local people — Jews, but also, in some cases overwhelmingly, non-Jews: the Day is aimed at education as well as tourism.
You can access some programs in participating countries at the website of the AEPJ -- European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage. (Unfortunately the program search does not always function correctly.)