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European Days of Jewish Culture

Constantly spearheading exciting projects which bring to life Judaism’s rich cultural heritage and educate the public on its integral role in the development of European civilization, The European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage (AEPJ) is now supported by B’nai B’rith Europe and 13 other organizations that have assumed the mantle of preservation in the aftermath of the tragic destruction resulting from World War II. Its visually impressive website is an enticement to hop a plane to get a look at the actual sites that are partially represented by photos depicting highlights of the 33 cultural routes mapped throughout the continent. Located in countries including Austria, Italy, Poland, Spain and Turkey, they were developed to provide an insider’s view of synagogues and other architectural treasures, some recently restored, and sites of historic interest as well as special exhibits and fine arts collections on view in local museums and archives. Assisted in the realization of its mission by important leaders and arts professionals, the AEPJ continues to revise its horizons.

For the past 19 years, AEPJ has spearheaded the annual “European Days of Jewish Culture” devoted each year to a tradition or broad concept intended to inspire a wide range of creativity, innovation and inclusion throughout the continent. Encompassing folklore and private diaries to biblical legends and Kabbalah, “Storytelling” has been designated as this year’s theme, with Sept. 2 representing the official date but in most places the celebration will commence prior to that day, and extend beyond, with cultural events including concerts, dance programs, screenings, dramatic productions, lectures and discussions produced by local arts ensembles, museums, libraries and academic institutions. For the first time, AEPJ has partnered with the National Library of Israel in the creation of a resource guide and a special touring museum show, among other initiatives.

“To Kill A Mockingbird” Coming to Broadway

After a few glitches with the estate of author Harper Lee, Oscar-winning screenwriter, playwright and movie director Aaron Sorkin is going ahead with his plans to bring his dramatic adaptation of her beloved novel, first published in 1960, “To Kill a Mockingbird” to Broadway’s Shubert Theater, slated to premiere on Nov. 1. Of course many remember the 1962 film adaptation starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, a role for which he won an Academy Award.  

Sorkin, whose successful first play “A Few Good Men” later became an even more celebrated film, is often credited with the creation of iconic television shows — “Sports Night,” with its glib repartee, hidden literary references, and complicated characters, and especially the much praised “The West Wing,” the continuing saga of the idealistic, yet flawed President Bartlett and his equally committed close-knit staff — whose content is sometimes said to reflect the Jewish concern for social justice. One of the show’s two Jewish characters, Toby Ziegler, the White House communications director and the Brooklyn-born son of a Russian Jewish mobster, was among its most memorable.

Trusting Sorkin, who like Lee, had a father who practiced law, the late Southern writer had given her permission to him to write the play, but her estate had judged his treatment of “Mockingbird” to be too far afield from the original book.  Little has been revealed about the changes that were contested, but Sorkin has noted that its protagonist, the dignified attorney Atticus Finch, who bravely defends an African-American man on trial for rape in the Jim Crow South, undergoes a transformation, to ultimately realize and act on his ethical decision, a change from Lee’s reverent, albeit one-dimensional portrayal. Sorkin’s intent in endowing Atticus with more human qualities will provide contemporary audiences with opportunity for empathy.


Cheryl Kempler is an art and music specialist who works in the B’nai B’rith International Curatorial Office and writes about history and Jewish culture for B’nai B’rith Magazine. To view some of her additional content, click here.