Opening the doors to Jewish culture

The events aim to arouse interest in Jewish culture and religion Keystone

Seven Swiss cities and communes are on Sunday offering a glimpse of the cultural and historical heritage of Judaism during the European Day of Jewish Culture.

This content was published on September 3, 2006 - 10:14

Visits to synagogues, cemeteries, ritual baths and museums are designed to arouse interest in Jewish culture.

Events are taking place in Basel, Bern, Zurich, Endingen-Lengnau, Geneva, Delémont and La Chaux-de-Fonds. The theme this year is "European Routes of Jewish Heritage".

They include a guided tour of the Jewish cemetery opened in 1673 just across the French border from Basel at Hegenheim in Alsace and a visit of the synagogue of the Israeli community in Basel.

An exhibition entitled "Under the Spotlight" is also being opened at the Jewish Museum of Switzerland in Basel to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

In Zurich, where the majority of Switzerland's 20,000 Jews live, there will be a tour of the city showing several centuries of Jewish history.

"The basic idea is to visit places where Jews have lived and worked and so gain knowledge about them," Swiss coordinator Nadia Guth Biasini, told swissinfo.

Arouse interest

To arouse interest, the synagogues in Basel and Endingen-Lengnau, canton Aargau, will open their doors on the first Sunday of each month. The Jewish Museum of Switzerland will also offer special tours.

Visitors are in Guth Biasini's experience often people who simply want to have a look around a synagogue.

"They often know little about Judaism and Jewish beliefs. I often had the impression during such visits that I had to start my explanations from the beginning."

Guth Biasini said that it was natural that the current situation in the Middle East was also discussed during the tours.

"But in Switzerland most differentiate between the Jewish living here and the state of Israel."


She said that anti-Semitism also existed in Switzerland but was as a rule linked to the state of the economy.

"When times are bad, there is aggression and this is aimed at the traditional cliché of being Jewish."

Guth Biasini said no special security measures were in force in Switzerland to celebrate the day.

"There are always guards in the synagogues and there is a security service at the Jewish Museum." It is normal practice for bags to be searched at the entrance, she said.

"The dangerous people are those that plant bombs. And fortunately Switzerland has been spared this up till now."

swissinfo, Etienne Strebel

Key facts

Seven Swiss cities and communes are active in this year's European Day of Jewish Culture.
Elsewhere in Europe, events are taking place in Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Britain, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and Ukraine.

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In brief

The day has its roots in Alsace in neighbouring France, where in 1996 there were visits to Jewish historical sites in the region.

It was progressively extended and became the European Day of Jewish Culture in 1999.

More than 100,000 people in 26 European countries visited sites and attended activities in 2005. In Switzerland the number was about 3,000.

The voyage of discovery in the Jewish past and present was organised with the aid of Jewish communities, associations, societies, museums and voluntary workers.

One of the long-term aims is to maintain and restore Jewish historical buildings and cultural monuments.

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