On December 12, 2023, the seminar for the Izmir Jewish Heritage Project took place in the Turkish city of Izmir, where the results obtained and the development of the project from 2020 were presented. This seminar was part of the European-funded project, aiming to develop a new platform of civil society organizations led by İzmir Jewish Community Foundation to sustain the Jewish Heritage within the cultural wealth of İzmir, Turkiye.
In these two years, the project facilitated the establishment of a new platform strengthening Izmir Jewish Community Foundation’s networks and likewise promoted strategic collaboration between Izmir Jewish Community Foundation and other similar civil society organizations in the EU and in Turkiye. This collaboration involved participating in decision-making processes, such as developing city plans of İzmir, and preserving cultural heritage.
It also intended to provide opportunities for individuals and communities to analyze global transformations, enrich the debate on the future of intercultural dialogues, promote new types of cooperation, become more familiar with the heritages of different areas, and contribute to economic and human development.
AEPJ participated in this seminar with its director, Victor Sorenssen, who presented the role of the Izmir Jewish Heritage Route within the framework of the European Jewish Heritage Route.
Here is an excerpt from the director’s presentation:
“Now, I am delighted to present to you today the unique role of the Jewish Heritage Route in Izmir within the broader framework of the European Association for the Promotion of Jewish Heritage (AEPJ). This initiative was not just about preserving the past but using heritage as a gateway to understanding our shared history and embracing the present and future.
At the heart of the European Jewish Heritage Route lay a commitment to using Jewish heritage as a bridge across time. It was a testament to the belief that heritage was not a static relic but a dynamic force that connected the past, present, and future.
In its local facet, the route highlighted the coexistence of diverse communities in Izmir throughout history. It served as a beacon, promoting respect, understanding, and an appreciation for the rich cultural diversity among the residents.
There were many examples of initiatives and activities taking place in Izmir that represented this bridge between traditions and cultures. We saw it in its research facet but also in different forms of artistic expression, such as music or gastronomy.
The way the project fit into the urban landscape is a reference at all levels. Fantastic work had already been done, representing excellent practice in the field of heritage management and its fitting into the most current frameworks and conventions, such as the Faro convention.
Moving beyond our local sphere, the Jewish Heritage Route in Izmir contributes significantly to the broader regional context. In the field of tourism and economic development, as a unique tourism attraction, this route drew visitors from far and wide, not only enriching their cultural experiences but also stimulating economic growth by supporting local businesses, hotels, and the hospitality industry.
Likewise, the route is not just a collection of historical landmarks. It’s a dynamic educational resource, offering programs and guided tours that deepened our understanding of Izmir’s multicultural heritage. It provided a platform for schools and institutions to engage with and learn from our shared history.
In this framework, from the AEPJ, we believe that this project was positioned in the best way to be able to seek an expansion at the regional and national levels. This might be a medium and long-term process, but the experience and expertise of the team allowed us to be ambitious at this level, and for our part, we would try to give all possible support so that this jewel developed in Izmir could shed light on other initiatives in the region so that they could join the project of the Route.
In its European dimension, there are some factors that I would like to highlight. Firstly, linked to cultural exchange. By connecting with other European routes, the Izmir route became part of a broader network, contributing to the mosaic of diverse heritage sites that collectively represented the multicultural identity of our continent.
In this sense, there’s an enormous potential to look for synergies and explore collaborations with other Jewish heritage routes, especially in the Mediterranean area, where there was a very clear fil rouge, such as the Sephardic heritage, which allow us to imagine the creation in the future of a cluster between routes that had similar components. Here we would also try to help because we believe that Izmir had a lot to say in this development.
Finally, I did not want to fail to mention that the route became a catalyst for dialogue at the European level. By showcasing the ongoing evolution of Jewish culture, it encouraged conversations on cultural diversity, respect, and the importance of preserving and promoting our shared heritage.”