European Days of Jewish Culture / European Days of Jewish Culture 2023


We spoke to Barbara Haene, Head of Research and Events at the Jewish Museum of Switzerland, about the European Days, the involvement of the city of Basel and the ancient objects of Swiss Jewish cultural heritage currently on display at the museum.

Barbara Haene, Head of research and events at the Jewish Museum of Switzerland
Barbara Haene. Photo by Elena Haschemi Schirazi

Jguideeurope: Which events are planned for the European Days of Jewish Culture?

Barbara Haene: The theme “Memory” involves reflecting on the past from the perspective of the present. At the Swiss Jewish Museum in Basel, there will be a calligraphy workshop where participants can write a Hebrew word on a postcard and send it on. A round table discussion will look at how third and fourth generation Holocaust survivors deal with their family history. The experts will discuss the significance of the Basel dated stone, a fragment of a gravestone from the cemetery of Basel’s first medieval Jewish community that has not yet been excavated. The fragment has long been considered lost, and will be on display at the Jewish Museum from September. Other events in Basel will focus on the theme of “How does Judaism view old age”, and on the memory of the children of Holocaust survivors. There will also be artistic interpretations of the theme in a number of Swiss cities, including a concert in Basel, Endingen and Lengnau, and the “Flow Edition” exhibition in Hegenheim.

How is Basel involved in sharing Jewish cultural heritage?

Basel is proud of its Jewish cultural heritage and supports efforts to preserve and promote Jewish history at several levels. For example, the city is providing CHF 2.8 million for the new building of the Jewish Museum. By creating the Jewish Studies discipline at the University of Basel, Basel has also created favourable conditions for exploring Jewish history. The history of the city of Basel is currently being reprinted in a multi-volume work that also sheds new light on the history of Jews.

Exhibition during the Museumnacht at the museum
Museumsnacht 2022. Photo by Elwira Spychalska

You recently received some objects from the synagogue in Biel/Bienne. Can you tell us more about them?

The donation includes a large number of objects that bear witness to Jewish life in Biel/Bienne in the 19th and 20th centuries. These include not only documents relating to the Jewish community’s relations with other Jewish institutions, such as the Basel Israelite Orphanage, but also many ritual objects, including textiles such as Torah strips and a parokhet, as well as cantor’s garments such as hats, robes and matching ruffs. Also very impressive is a rosette of multicoloured stained glass that reflected the light above the Torah sanctuary.

Have there been any events organised in Basel, such an important city in the history of Zionism, linked to the 75th anniversary of the State of Israel?

As you rightly point out, Basel was the venue for the First Zionist Congress, which celebrated its 125th anniversary last year. At the end of August 2022, the Swiss and Basel governments welcomed the President of the State of Israel, Isaac Herzog, to the Grand Casino in Basel for a ceremony organised by the World Zionist Organisation and the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities. There will be fewer festivities this year.