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Days of Jewish Culture in Europe

Every September since 2000, synagogues and other Jewish heritage sites in hundreds of cities across Europe — a continent where Jewish institutions normally stay firmly locked down for security — open to the public for a one-day event aimed at fostering ties between Jewish communities and non-Jewish Europeans.

This year, the European Days of Jewish Culture series undoubtedly will be different because of the coronavirus pandemic. But communities in many cities, including in Spain and Italy, the two countries hit hardest by COVID-19 in Europe, are planning to hold at least some in-person events.In fact, those two nations are increasing their participation: 40 cities in Spain, compared to 30 last year, and 90 in Italy, compared to 88 last year.

Overall, events in the series will take place in 30 countries, from Luxembourg, where a cantor will hold a concert at the synagogue in Luxembourg City, to Slovenia, where a guide will offer tours of the Jewish cemetery in Rozna Dolina, a town near the Italy border, and the celebrities buried there. Along with the in-person events, others will be filmed and streamed live, including during the first eight hours of Sept. 6, the opening day of the series that stretches on throughout the month.

Details on how to view the events will be made available on the website of the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage, which organizes the programming. “This year, due to the terrible health emergency that has overwhelmed the world, we will have an edition that will necessarily be different,” read a statement by organizers at the association, an alliance of 22 groups ranging from B’nai B’rith Europe and Portugal’s network of Jewish historical quarters.

That the project is happening at all this year in Spain and Italy — two former epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic in Europe — demonstrates that “Jewish culture is not only very present, but also shows a great resilience,” the statement said.

Spain and Italy are among only five European countries whose death rate from the virus surpasses the 531 fatalities per million inhabitants in the United States. However, the epidemic erupted in those countries weeks before it began to spread in the U.S., and they have since eased their containment measures, which included full lockdowns. (A second wave is brewing in Spain.) The island of Palma de Mallorca, off of the eastern coast of continental Spain, has a local Jewish community with a unique history.

This year will mark its second time participating in the European Days of Jewish Culture, with a mix of physical and virtual events, said Dani Rotstein, a tour guide and member of the local community.On the ground, the local synagogue will be open to visitors on Sept. 26-27, just ahead of Yom Kippur. An open-air Ladino music concert will be held on Sept. 6, and free guided tours through the former Jewish quarter of the city of Palma will be given each Sunday throughout September and October, courtesy of the municipality.

“I think the commitment to putting on European Days of Jewish Culture this year, after the coronavirus tragedy, shows how Spain as a society is increasingly interested in its Jewish history,” Rotstein said.Additionally, Rotstein this month began giving virtual guided tours in Spanish, Catalan and English on Zoom with a stabilized camera. Viewers can tune in to see him visiting Jewish heritage sites on the streets of Palma and the Jewish museum that opened there in 2015.

In the city of Zaragoza, in northeastern Spain, a Rosh Hashanah dinner for non-Jews will be held on Sept. 19. The event, which will feature experts on Jewish history explaining the Jewish holiday’s customs, was moved to an open-air setting at a public park to reduce the risk of contagion. Moked, the magazine of Italy’s Jewish community, boasted in an article how “Rome, the oldest Jewish community in the Diaspora, is going to be the leading city” in the European Days of Jewish Culture events.

The Rome community will offer virtual tours in synagogues, museums and Jewish neighborhoods, as well as performances, lectures and roundtables, Moked reported.

Cnaan Lipshiz