19 August 2009

Europe: Youth discover Jewish roots, culture

Young Europeans are discovering their roots and learning that Jewishness is about culture, according to a JTA article by Ben Harris.

Founded in 2001, the academic institute Paideia grew out of a Swedish government commission to investigate the country's Holocaust role. Based in Stockholm, it works to promote Jewish culture across Europe, according to the story, and believes those committed to Jewish culture can acquire, through education, a Jewish identity. It is also open to non-Jews interested in Jewish life and Jewish culture.

Its year-long fellowship in Jewish texts immerses students and educates them for activist roles in European Jewish life. A summer 10-day project offers training and networking to social entrepreneurs with projects to stimulate Jewish culture.

The program receives six times as many applicants as it accepts. Most are not raised as identified Jews, some aren't Jewish at all. Paideia is a Greek concept indicating that culture may be transmitted via education rather than blood, and has implications for those in secular communities.

Some participants:

A lapsed Polish Catholic cites the “Jewish sparks in my soul” when explaining his affinity for klezmer and his desire to foster intercultural exchange through Jewish music.

A 25-year-old Hungarian born to intermarried parents and working to create an Israeli cultural center in Budapest says he would not be crushed if his children decide not to engage in Jewish life.

An Armenian Christian wants to start a Judaic studies seminar at an Armenian university that would highlight shared elements of Armenian and Jewish history.

A German Jewish journalist who became interested in Judaism through an ex-girlfriend aims to start an Internet show focusing on the weekly Torah portion and Israeli culture.
Jewish consciousness is rising among both Jews and non-Jews in Jewish Europe in some very secular places. In Sweden, for example, only 3% attend regular religious services, but assimilated Jews want to reassert their identities.
The trend has been in evidence in Central and Eastern Europe since the fall of communism 20 years ago paved the way for many to rediscover Jewish roots. But even in Western Europe, the emergence of the European Union coupled with the growing diversity of the region’s population has prompted a reassertion of national identities, including among Jews.

“With that sort of multiculturalism, and I think with the united Europe, your roots become more important,” said Gabriel Urwitz, a leader of the Stockholm Jewish community and the chairman of Paideia. ...

“So even people that three generations ago were Jewish and knew about it, until quite recently they never said a word about it,” Urwitz said. “Now all of a sudden they feel they can somehow search that root and to some extent promote it and find their own way into it.”
The group's founding director Barbara Spectre says this has a secular quality. Many participants come from small communities with weak to no Jewish communal institutions, few Jewish religious opportunities and the likelihood of high intermarriage.

“They don't have those components and yet they choose to be Jewish,” Spectre said. “The question is, of course, why would one do this? It's a tremendously important question. And I think that they can act as sort of informants to us, the rest of the Jewish world.”
A non-Jewish participant who completed this year's fellowship is klezmer guitarist Piotr Mirski, of Lublin, Poland.

“I realized that I shared somehow the experience of Jewish people in Poland, and it drives me to make something against it, against exclusion,” Mirski told JTA. “My main goal is to build bridges between people.”

The goal of his project (Jazz Midrash-The Hebrew Songbook) is to produce two CDs, including one with original Polish-language songs based on Jewish stories, and to promote the book and CDs with street festivals in Polish towns that once had major Jewish communities.

Read the complete article at the link above.

1 comment:

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