Brussels, 3 September 2023 – This Sunday afternoon, the AEPJ (European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage) was proud to inaugurate the 24th edition of the European Days of Jewish Culture (EDJC), the annual festival of Jewish heritage and culture, from the Great Synagogue of Europe. This year, the festival is dedicated to the theme of “Memory,” — a profound exploration of the past that shapes our present and guides our future. It is a concept deeply embedded in the history and culture of Judaism, representing both personal recollections and collective commemorations of significant events. The festival provides a platform to explore the multifaceted dimensions of Memory and to reflect on the historical journey of the Jewish people.
The ceremony began, as an ode to the theme of Memory, with a performance in Hebrew of Se’u Sheorim by the synagogue choir. Baron Julien Klener, Honorary President of the Consistoire central israélite de Belgique, provided the public with an introduction to the Ceremony. In his speech, François Moyse, President of the AEPJ, commented on the participation of prominent figures from European institutions in the ceremony, as well as the financial support from the European Union’s CERV program, which testify to the recognition of our association as a central actor combating prejudice across the continent. Alan Schneider, B’nai B’rith World Center Director, expressed his awe at the “sheer scope of activities launching today,” a reflection upon the reputation of the festival all across the European continent.
Following Mr. Moyse’s speech, Marc Sabbah, Roeland Hendrickx and Jan Moyaert played ‘Rumänische Melodie’ (Mélodie Roumaine) from “8 pieces for viola, clarinet and piano, Op. 83 n.5.” Relying upon Jewish melodies, the musicians carried the audience along a journey through different places and periods of European Jewish history. Cantor Israël Muller, along with the organ and choir, performed Mi Sheberah, a Jewish prayer in song. Later, the trio performed Ernest Bloch’s Suite Hébraique B.83 I. Prelude.
Key speakers of the Opening Ceremony shared words on behalf of the institutions that they represented — namely, the European Commission, UNESCO, and the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Ms. Katharina von Schnurbein, European Commission Coordinator on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life, addressed guests with a speech regarding initiatives to promote Jewish culture at the European level and stressed the European Commission’s undertaking to ensure that Jewish life will continue to flourish across the entire continent:
“When it comes to fostering Jewish life, we look to the past and the present. I am delighted to address you in this magnificent synagogue, in which hundreds of believers will gather in about ten days for the celebrations of Tishrei. In these walls will resonate in a few days the sound of the shofar, prayers, wishes and children’s laughter.”
Mr. Sergio Ortega, Head of the Heritage Protection and European Programs Service, Ministry of Culture of Spain, highlighted the essential nature of the festival in the promotion of Jewish culture and safeguarding of Jewish heritage, stressing that
“in a world of uncertainty and growing geopolitical tensions, the EU must remain united. That is why the Member States must continue to advance in terms of integration and develop tools that allow us to face, together, the great challenges of our time. Likewise, we must work for the development of our identity and shared values, and for a new phase of development of the European project. Thus, in the area of culture and historical heritage, it seems to us that it is of the greatest interest to support the project that has brought us together here this afternoon, in this magnificent Great Synagogue of Brussels.”
For the first time this year, UNESCO is providing its patronage to the festival, thus acknowledging the AEPJ’s efforts in promoting culture and heritage. Ms. Louise Haxthausen, Director of the UNESCO Liaison Office in Brussels and UNESCO Representative to the European Union, reiterated that the objectives laid forth by the festival perfectly align with those of UNESCO. Commenting upon this year’s theme, Ms. Haxthausen highlighted that the accent placed on memory in this year’s edition
“prompts us to look at the rich and vibrant cultural heritage of communities destroyed during the Shoah, and of those that were rebuilt in its aftermath.”
The choir performed Adon Olam, a Jewish hymn traditionally recited in the morning. The Chief Rabbi of Brussels, Albert Guigui then led the Blessing for Europe prayer, and violist Marc Sabbah and clarinetist Roeland Hendrickx performed a traditional Klezmer piece, A Nacht in Gan Eden.
The Ceremony came to a close with the European hymn, which included an organ performance by Jan Moyaert, and parting words from Professor Thomas Gergely, Director of the Institut des Études du Judaïsme at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.
During the grand Opening Ceremony, the AEPJ took a momentous opportunity to honor the festival’s esteemed founder, Ms. Claude A. Bloch, in a touching moment attended by all the participants. In gratitude, admiration, and profound thanks for her pioneering spirit and unwavering dedication to the preservation of Jewish heritage,the attendees celebrated her enduring legacy. During the post-ceremony reception, Ms. Bloch received, on behalf of the entire AEPJ team and board, a bouquet of flowers and a commemorative plaque. These tokens of appreciation were presented to her by Mr. François Moyse, President of AEPJ, and Mr. Sergio Ortega, Head of the Heritage Protection and European Programs Service at the Ministry of Culture of Spain.
The Opening Ceremony to the European Days of Jewish Culture 2023 proved to be a remarkable success, bringing together ambassadors and other institutional actors, as well as the general public within the setting of the emblematic Grande Synagogue de l’Europe.
Beginning on the 3rd of September 2023, we collectively embark on a journey to honour and remember, to reflect and engage, and to create meaningful connections between European and Jewish heritage that transcend time and borders. We invite you to be part of this extraordinary edition, where the past converges with the present, shaping a more harmonious and inclusive future.