The European Days of Jewish Culture 2022 are an opportunity to celebrate in Lorraine, as reflected in the theme of Renewal chosen this year, the past and the present in a spirit of sharing and enthusiasm. A very varied program in its partnerships its content (Benjamin Fondane exhibition, Tsuzamen concert, plays by Hanokh Levin and J-C Grumberg, events in support of Ukraine …) Here’s our interview with Désirée Mayer, President of EDJC-Lorraine.
Jguideeurope: What event will open the Festival in Lorraine?
Désirée Mayer: We have never perceived the European Days of Jewish Culture as a festival. There are several reasons for this. First of all, because European Jewish history is not a “festival” and the Jewish culture that we wish to share through our programs must reflect this history: tragic, but also constructive, generous and resilient. Metz has had an intense Jewish past: from Rav Gershon Meor Hagolah in the Middle Ages to the first major Yeshiva in France in the 19th century. The idea was therefore not to limit this moment to a festival or a day, but to make this cultural sharing part of the existence of our fellow citizens through a long-term artistic and cultural program. We therefore propose an annual cultural season, over a period of four months, or even five months for the 2022 edition.
The first event, as a preview to the European launch on September 4, will be a double exhibition dedicated to the poet and philosopher Benjamin Fondane, which will take place at the Municipal Archives of Metz, in the superb Cloître des Récollets. In this approach, the Renewal (theme 2022 of the EDJC), is a bit like “repair”. The Fondane exhibition at the Shoah Memorial and especially the pictorial works of the artist Marina Haccoun-Levikoff, which illustrate Fondane’s poems, give new life – if not to the man exterminated in Auschwitz – at least to his work. Entitled “At the Edge of Time,” this exhibition is organized in close collaboration with the Société d’études Benjamin Fondane.
What other events are planned?
In order to share Jewish culture, we are not content with a visit to the Synagogues, a concert, a conference or a symposium. Our program, which is deliberately very varied, takes place in different spaces (sometimes 40 different places in Metz and its surroundings alone) and gives great priority to institutional and associative partnerships. Thus, on September 4, the day of the European launch, with the support of the City of Metz, we offer the public a festive inter-associative event. Still in the Récollets, in order to enliven our exhibitions, a dozen associations and institutions will offer theater, music, workshops, a recording studio, films, a little Jewish food and a lot of conviviality … Whether the radio RCF Jerico Moselle, Cinéart, the Cercle Lyrique, municipal libraries and others who will be present, we target a diversification of audiences and activities. The rest of the annual program is also based on partnerships. This allows us – among other things – to offer some very prestigious events. Among them, the Tsuzamen concert by the Sirba Octet (02/10) at the Arsenal, with the Metz Cathedral Choir, the annual colloquium at the City Hall, in partnership with the National Academy of Metz (27/11), the Naoni Orchestra from Ukraine, a beautiful film festival, a play by Hanokh Levin, or “The Most Precious Commodity”, by J. C. Grumberg, at the Opera-Theatre of Metz… In short, five months of artistic and cultural sharing!
Ukraine will also be honored, it seems.
In March 2022, in the middle of the war, Czernowitz and Metz were twinned. When our Mayor, Mr. Grosdidier, went to sign the twinning, Ukrainian journalists recalled that Czernowitz was once called “the little Jerusalem of the East”. Several thousand kilometers away, in a territory of war, they mentioned the EDJC-Lorraine and asked if partnerships could take place at that level too. Honored by this notoriety, we are partners today. We are going to bring a musical ensemble from Czernowitz, the Naoni concert, with about 40 folk instruments that will play Jewish and Ukrainian music, in the presence of the mayor of Czernowitz. On September 29, this concert will take place in the prestigious Arsenal hall, in the musical city of Metz. Many events will take place with the support of the city of Metz, the Eurometropole of Metz and the association Échanges Lorraine Ukraine (ELU). On November 24, the European deputy, Raphaël Glucksmann, a specialist on Ukraine, will give a conference in this context.
With this year’s theme of renewal, are you seeing a renewed interest in Jewish cultural heritage in places where it had been forgotten or a resettlement of Jews in certain cities?
Both. The city of Metz, which has the privilege of having a Jewish school and a college, has encouraged the arrival of people or families wishing to settle in a city where life is very gentle and intercommunity or intercultural relations are particularly peaceful. The Moselle Consistory and the Jewish community of Metz have made efforts in this direction, with some success. This is true for settlement or resettlement.
As for the interest of our fellow citizens in Jewish heritage, two years ago we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the EDJC. The activities in the various places of Metz, such as the synagogues, are always full. With the visits, conferences, concerts, we welcome annually more than 1000 visitors on the national heritage day.
Cultural and not religious, very open to the city, our association is recognized and supported by the DRAC, the Grand Est Region, the Moselle Department, the Eurometropole, the City of Metz… and also by patrons and organizations that appreciate our work of social harmonization. We have been asked by neighboring towns, such as Forbach in Moselle, to offer Jewish cultural events. Crossing borders, we have been asked by the Saarland Region, in Germany, to lend us a very beautiful exhibition “Salon Judaïca”, conceived by the EDJC-Lorraine and created by the artist Jean-Christophe Roelens. The opening of this exhibition will take place on September 21st in the Saarland regional hotel, in Germany, as part of actions against anti-Semitism.
The interest in Jewish cultural heritage is also evident in other cities in the region. Verdun has been able to rebuild its Florentine-style synagogue, thanks to a grant from the Heritage Foundation. Its community is small but dynamic. In Nancy, the community center organizes many events, particularly during the EDJC. In Sarreguemines, in the Vosges and elsewhere, Jewish culture comes to bring a little of its multi-millennial treasures to our fellow citizens
We can therefore say that the European Days of Jewish Culture have contributed to a revival of cultural vitality and openness to others in the region, and have allowed us to reconsider the Jewish cultural heritage from another angle. Our job is to share it, to explain to everyone what Madame Trautmann said so beautifully when she was Minister of Culture, namely that “Jewish cultural heritage does not belong only to Jews, but to everyone who is interested in cultural heritage and culture in general.