My latest article on JTA is a preview of the European Day of Jewish Culture -- this year Sept. 5 -- highlighting the way it has become a major event on the end-of-summer cultural calendar in Italy. There are 25,000 affiliated Jews in Italy, but Culture Day activities take place this year in 62 towns and cities around the country. And last year's events in Italy drew 62,000 visitors, the overwhelming majority non-Jewish. Culture Day gets lots of media attention and has the support of civic bodies and is under the patronage of Italy's president.
Tourists shop in a store in the former Jewish district that sells kosher wine, matzah, Jewish pastries and souvenirs. (Ruth Ellen Gruber)
Introducing non-Jewish Europeans to Jewish lifeBy Ruth Ellen Gruber · August 31, 2010
PITIGLIANO, Italy (JTA) -- In Italy, where there are only about 25,000 affiliated Jews in a population of 60 million, most Italians have never knowingly met a Jew. "It's unfortunate," said the Italian Jewish activist Sira Fatucci, "but in Italy Jews and the Jewish experience are often mostly known through the Holocaust."
Fatucci is the national coordinator in Italy for the annual European Day of Jewish Culture, an annual transborder celebration of Jewish traditions and creativity that takes place in more than 20 countries on the continent on the first Sunday of September -- this year, Sept. 5.
Synagogues, Jewish museums and even ritual baths and cemeteries are open to the public, and hundreds of seminars, exhibits, lectures, book fairs, art installations, concerts, performances and guided tours are offered.
The main goal is to educate the non-Jewish public about Jews and Judaism in order to demystify the Jewish world and combat anti-Jewish prejudice.
“What we are trying to do is to show the living part of Judaism -- to show life," Fatucci said. "What we want to do is to use culture as an antidote to ignorance and anti-Semitism.”
Some 700 people flock to Culture Day events each year in Pitigliano, a rust-colored hilltown in southern Tuscany that once had such a flourishing Jewish community that it was known as Little Jerusalem.