Jewish Studies Center in Sweden Opens with a Conference on Exile

Fulfilling a pledge that Sweden’s prime minister made a year and a half ago, a Jewish college has been inaugurated in Sweden.

Paideia, the European Institute for Jewish Studies, opened its doors here over the weekend with an academic conference, filling in another piece of the puzzle of contemporary Jewish life in Europe.

The institute, which will offer nondegree programs ranging from one week to one year, stemmed from a Holocaust education conference held in Sweden’s capital in January 2000.

At the time, Swedish Prime Minster Goran Persson declared that his government would support research on World War II-era Swedish history, and pledged some $5 million to promote Jewish culture, identity and history.

The theme of Paideia’s inaugural conference was “Exile, The Jewish People and Reflections on the European Context.”

In his opening remarks, professor Moshe Halbertal of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem emphasized that the concept of “exile” carries two meanings for Jews, as the antonyms of both “home” and “redemption.”

Speakers at the conference, sponsored by Sweden’s Annika Urwitz Foundation, explored theological, ethical, political, European and Jewish dimensions of exile.

A lively debate arose over the complex relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jews.

Just a year and a half in the planning, Paideia already has received 50 applications for 16 one-year fellowships.

The institute has received support from Sweden’s government and its business and Jewish communities, along with the World Jewish Congress. Persson is expected to attend the institute’s official inauguration on Sept. 4.

The institute’s name means “culture and learning” in Greek, and is very close to the Hebrew “poh deyah,” which means “here is knowledge,” noted Israeli Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, who serves on Paideia’s board of trustees.

The name fits the purpose, Director Barbara Spectre said.

“Paideia’s mission is twofold — to give nourishment and be part of the regeneration of European Jewish culture, and to act as an avenue of discussion of Jewish and European culture,” Spectre told JTA.

According to the institute’s newsletter, Paideia is “dedicated to the renewal of Jewish cultural life in Europe,” and to serving “as an intellectual and academic base for European cultural renewal.” The institute has a Web site, www.paideia.eu.com.

Sweden’s Jewish community numbers 15,000.

“Paideia will also be an ‘einheitsgemeinde’ ” — German for “united community” — “in the sense that there will be no ideological or denominational bias imposed upon the students other than the survival and vitality of the Jewish people,” the institute’s Chairman, Gabriel Urwitz, wrote in its newsletter.

Paideia will offer three programs in its first academic year. The one-year Wallenberg fellowship, named after the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II, provides an intensive course in Jewish studies.

The “Month of the Arts” program for Europeans in the creative arts features the study of film, text interpretation, music, art, architecture and memory.

The “Week of Discovery” is designed as an introduction to Jewish sources for the general public.

Halbertal chairs Paideia’s 13-member academic committee, which will oversee teaching.

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