Heritage Day Coordinators meet in Luxembourg

BBUK Culture and Heritage

Report by Valerie Bello


This was the first time a representative from BBUK had attended the AGM of the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage, (AEPJ), which was celebrating its 20th anniversary in the beautiful city of Luxembourg (through which people normally just drive!). Throughout the weekend meetings were held in a magnificently restored former ‘Abbaye’, now the home of the European Institute of Cultural Routes, this year celebrating its 30th anniversary.   The choice of venue was very appropriate as already in 2005, the European Route of Jewish Heritage, then in its infancy, was awarded the status of Major European Cultural Route by the Institute which comes under the aegis of the Council of Europe.

The proceedings opened with a ceremony marking the inclusion of the Sentier Godchaux in the European Route of Jewish Heritage, commemorating the establishment of one of the first factories during the Industrial Revolution by the Godchaux family, who were not only commercially very successful but who also pioneered the provision of housing and welfare for their employees as well as being active in the wider community.

Attended by coordinators from all over Europe, this was a truly international occasion. There was a strong representation from Eastern Europe, where the EDJC is often supported by the Cultural Ministry of the individual countries and there were also several non-Jewish professionals present. The only other British participants than myself, were Michael Mail, who has been responsible for the increase of European Jewish Heritage Routes from 3 to 19 (!) and Marcus Roberts of JTrails.

The Conference began with the Coordinators’ AGM, giving us scarcely enough time to arrive for a joyful Erev Shabbat service at the Luxembourg Synagogue, rebuilt in 1952, having been destroyed during the Second World War. The Friday Night Dinner in the synagogue’s communal hall gave us the opportunity to meet some of the local Jewish community. In conversation with its President, also the President of their Consistoire (Board of Deputies), I learnt that there were 5000 Jews in Luxembourg, represented by 300+ members of its Consistoire!

After lunch on Shabbat, also at the synagogue, a few of us gathered round Francois Moyse (Chairman of the AEPJ) to learn about the history of the Jews of Luxembourg, dating from the 13th century, suffering periods of persecution and expulsion, with occasional royal or governmental protection, and freedom, until its almost total annihilation during the Shoah. Today the Jewish population is greater than before the War and has made an important contribution to the retail business in the country, as well as in the professions.

On the Saturday evening, we were the guests at a reception given by the AEPJ at a very exclusive restaurant, in the presence of the Luxembourg Minister of Culture, the Director of the Institute of European Cultural Routes and various other local dignitaries.

The General Meeting on Sunday was opened by Francois Moyse and Madame Colette Flesh, President of the European Institute. Davide Saponaro, Coordinator of the EDJC, reported that in 2016, 170,000 participants in 33 countries had presented 900 activities in 324 European cities and rapidly showed by video the brochure page of each country’s events.

Enhancing the scope of the EDJC, the AEPJ is very proud of the partnership it has recently formed with the National Library of Israel, to which several countries turned for information on last year’s theme, ‘Jewish Languages’. It was seen that the huge resources of the Library, with its veritable treasure of knowledge of world Jewry and Judaism could be used to provide material for every city when organising their programme for Heritage Days – hence this year’s theme ‘The Diaspora’.

To further illustrate the potential, Caron Sethill, the Library’s Programme Manager and her colleague, Olga Lempert, showed a video of the NLI’s truly impressive collection.

A whole session was devoted to the choice of poster and next year’s theme. Our request for the poster to be designed earlier was mentioned several times! A poster was duly selected by vote from a number of designs and the themes voted for the next three years are:

2018 – Storytelling

2019 – Innovation

2020 – Life Cycle (possibly to be reconsidered at the next Coordinators Meeting)

Michael Mail, spoke about the development of the European Route of Jewish Heritage, which is one of 32 such Routes. It is intended to develop an app, partly to attract the attention of younger people as well as to encourage cultural tourism.

Communication is also expected to play a far greater role and a part-time professional has been employed for this purpose. He interviewed all the Coordinators personally, including myself, together with Marcus Roberts. The most immediate challenge will be to build a quality image.

The final session was devoted to fund-raising and what European funds might be available for grants. Certain protocols should be observed when applying, including the use of corporate logos and other technical aspects.

This was an extremely well organised Conference and I was also impressed by the warmth and friendliness of the other coordinators, combined with a very real commitment to the presentation of Jewish Heritage beyond our own community.

AEPJ Luxembourg photo