BUDAPEST, Sept. 25 (JTA) — This month’s second annual European Day of Jewish Culture drew more than 175,000 visitors in nearly two dozen countries.
“The number of visitors and of visited sites compared to last year were greatly increased,” organizers said in a statement Sunday.
Held Sept. 2 in 23 countries, the event aimed at recognizing Jewish heritage as an integral part of the cultural heritage of Europe, promoting tourism to Jewish heritage sites, and fostering both Jewish pride and a sense of European Jewish identity.
Another goal was to educate the non-Jewish public about Jews and Judaism in order to demystify the Jewish world and foster tolerance.
Hundreds of synagogues, Jewish cemeteries, ritual baths, medieval ghettos and Jewish museums were opened to the public in more than 250 cities, towns and villages.
In addition, there were special exhibitions, concerts and other events — from book fairs to food-tastings — and special brochures, leaflets and other informational material was distributed.
Participating countries included Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and United Kingdom.
Some 16 countries took part in the first Culture Day last year, drawing as many as 150,000 visitors.
The Culture Day was organized by B’nai B’rith Europe, the European Council of Jewish Communities, the Jewish Routes of Spain and the Tourist Development Agency of France’s Alsace region. It was also part of the Council of Europe’s project, “Europe, a Common Heritage.”
Organizers said that despite tensions related to the ongoing Israeli- Palestinian violence and the anti-Semitic rhetoric at the U.N. conference on racism held recently in South Africa, events were not marred by any serious incidents.
“There was a very, very good attendance and good atmosphere,” said Catherine Lehmann of the Alsace tourist Development Agency. “It exceeded our expectations.”
Culture Day activities in France, sponsored by the ministries of culture and of tourism, included 120 events in 60 towns.
More than two dozen sites were on display in Germany, and in Spain, home to 20,000 Jews, about a dozen medieval ghettos in towns including Toledo, Girona, and Tudela were the focus of a variety of events.
Events in Italy, sponsored by the president and the Culture Ministry, took place in 36 towns and cities.
Italy’s undersecretary for culture, Vittorio Sgarbi, and other senior officials took part in an official ceremony in Bologna, a city that is home today to 200 Jews.
“Even without being born Jewish or being of the Jewish religion, we all are or have been Jews in virtue of the dialogue that Jewish civilization has had with Italian civilization, interrupted only in moments of ferocity and barbarism,” Sgarbi said.