If your budget, work schedule or other circumstances have put a damper on that bike trip on the continent, a great sightseeing holiday is not out of the question for anybody these days. Jewish history in all its glory comes to you via three websites reviewed below.
Sponsored by the Council of Europe under the umbrella of its “Cultural Routes” program, (www.AEPJ.org), the website of The European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage is supported by a consortium of 21 organizations, including B’nai B’rith Europe. Claude Bloch, B’nai B’rith Strasbourg and historian of the Jewish community of Alsace, who founded the association and developed its annual European Day of Jewish Culture, is now its honorary president; its current president is B’nai B’rith leader Françoise Moyse. Visitors to its pages are able to hop from country to country, exploring both restored and unrestored synagogue landmarks housed in an ever-growing group of European countries, from the United Kingdom to Turkey; the journey is augmented by three themed sections charting modernist currents (spanning Art Nouveau and Art Deco through Expressionism), surveying the construction of Polish wooden synagogue buildings and locating places where important Jewish women left their mark. Through their beautiful and detailed photos, even those who possess an expertise in subject matter connected to 19th and 20th century art and history will come away with new insights that recontextualize Judaism’s significant contribution to, and inspiration from, the evolution of European culture.
Far from stagnant, the AEPJ website is continually introducing and developing new methods for expansion and education through its “incubator” pages, recent additions to the site that outline opportunities for those who wish to create, develop, learn or teach. Innovations in technology meld the past with the present on a sister website, Parallel Traces: a new lens on Jewish heritage, (https://paralleltraces.eu/), where award-winning entries of cutting edge multi-media works and pictures shining the light on Jewish life and history by European artists and photographers can be viewed. Through this site, those interested can also download three apps devoted to different aspects of Jewish heritage.
AEPJ has recently entered into a collaboration with Ruth Ellen Gruber, coordinator of Jewish Heritage Europe (https://jewish-heritage-europe.eu/), a site sponsored by the Rothschild Foundation, which includes the latest news about resources for restoration support and recently opened heritage sites. Here, a series of exhibits describe and document imagery and symbolism specific to Jewish architecture, liturgical objects and decoration, folk art and monuments, including gravestones, located throughout the continent. Similar to the presentation on the AEPJ site, a series of photo galleries are devoted to the art and architecture of specific countries. This joining of forces will surely foster the continued appreciation and renewed understanding of such important and literally eye-opening subject matter. To be sure, there is much that remains unexamined.
For those inclined to venture closer to home, but who still want to thrill to some amazing sights, the website of The Shapell Collection (https://www.shapell.org) has much to offer. There, everyone can see and learn about actual letters written by Jewish Civil War Soldiers or tour curated exhibits which spotlight Jewish legends like Albert Einstein or investigate the lives of President Abraham Lincoln and the writer Mark Twain, historic figures impacted by their encounters with the Jewish community here and abroad, all presented in the letters and manuscripts they left behind.
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.
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