Politicians, heritage experts, academics, historians and community leaders from over 30 countries came together in Krakow this month to discuss the future of urban Jewish heritage.
Over 140 participants attended the special event, organised by the Foundation for Jewish Heritage and the University of Birmingham’s Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage, to mark the European Year of Cultural Heritage.
They were joined by European Union Commissioners Tibor Navracsics and Elżbieta Bieńkowska, as well as keynote speaker Professor Daniel Walkowitz, to talk about cultural heritage projects and models and share ideas and issues about the preservation of Jewish heritage sites worldwide.
Chief Executive of the Foundation for Jewish Heritage, Michael Mail, said: “The event was an incredible success, even better than we could have imagined.
“Fittingly, we had the opening session at Krakow’s beautiful and historic Tempel Synagogue, joined by participants from New Zealand, USA, South Korea, Canada, Egypt, Morocco and from countries throughout Europe.
“As well as the various fascinating sessions, covering areas as diverse as the possibilities of Jewish heritage tourism to synagogues in Cairo to Jewish heritage foods; it was also a unique opportunity for participants to network and discuss ways they can support each other.
“Both EU Commissioners Navracsics and Bieńkowska addressed the conference and spoke about European Union support for cultural heritage preservation while recognising the importance and particular challenges facing Jewish heritage.
Addressing the conference, Commissioner Navracsics – in charge of Culture and Education - said: “What we must do together is ensure that cultural heritage, including Jewish cultural heritage, finds its place in people's lives – and in their hearts. This is why I cannot stress enough the importance of reaching out to as many people as possible, and in particular to young people. This is crucial to ensure that they are aware of cultural heritage, that they have opportunities to explore it and share this experience with others.”
EU Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship Elżbieta Bieńkowska referenced the vital role tourism can play in the preservation and enhancement of heritage.
“Krakow is a great example of the Jewish cultural tourism experience,” explained Commissioner Bieńkowska.
“With its Jewish cultural festival, celebrated every summer, Kazimierz has become a major tourist attraction and pilgrimage site for Jews from all around the world.
“United in Diversity” is the motto of the EU – making cultural events accessible through tourism helps citizens value the richness of our diversity.”
The Commissioner also praised the work done by the Foundation for Jewish Heritage and its project to map the historic synagogues of Europe and categorise them in terms of their cultural significance and ‘at risk’ level.
“We should, I think, do even more to support your work by investing more efforts and maybe some money into the restoration and preservation of Jewish culture in Europe.