The inaugural three-day e-Summit of Jewish leaders across Europe took place last week as digital connections were made across the continent.
Executives and activists including presidents, board members, volunteers and professionals came together from Jewish communities, federations, foundations and regional organisations in the first such virtual event.
Cultural and sporting association representatives mixed with those from Jewish museums, grassroots groups and innovative ventures, as delegates worked through common problems and possible solutions.
Among the organisations involved were Moishe House, BBYO, Hillel, Our Common Destiny, and Jewish cultural hub JW3, with organisers describing the e-Summit as “a space to discover how many communities used this challenge as an opportunity to change direction, pivot and grow”.
The summit was coordinated by the European Council of Jewish Communities and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and featured an address from Israeli Diaspora Minister Omer Yankelevich.
Highlights included an interview with director Jonathan Jakubowicz, whose new biographical film Resistance starring Jesse Eisenberg was inspired by the life of Marcel Marceau, the mime artist who fought for the French Jewish resistance.
LA-based Jakubowicz was in conversation with Andras Borgula, artistic director of The Golem Theater and Jewish Performing Arts Center, about the film released in the US before coronavirus lockdowns.
On the second day, delegates chose which city to go on a guided “Jewish-interest walking tour”, their options including Venice, Warsaw, Majorca, Prague, Rome, Barcelona and Berlin, while some songs were later performed by Kippalive.
In another high point, prominent Judaica curator Dr Yoel Finkelman showed online delegates some of the treasures from the National Library of Israel.
The Impact of Covid-19
Many sessions were dominated by the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, the e-Summit providing an opportunity to hear how communities around Europe have adapted to the crisis.
Jewish educators from France, Britain and Israel told how the pandemic had hit the classroom, while experts from Belgium and Bulgaria spoke about its impact on mental health.
US-based speakers gave advice about adapting Jewish rituals to “the age of Covid”, including “making sacred space at home”. Others told how the crisis affected relationships.
German speakers introduced a programme aimed at bringing German-Jewish families together during lockdown, while Moishe House explained how members have hosted programmes from their living rooms.
A British panel, including Kisharon’s Hilary Newmark, spoke about the impact on fundraising, while others explored how meditation and mindfulness in Jewish communities were “made better”.
Elsewhere, Dr Jonathan Boyd from the Institute for Jewish Policy Research outlined the demographic trends helping to forecast the future of Europe’s Jews.
Digital Lounges for all
An innovative online set-up for the e-Summit allowed delegates to move between different digital “lounges” based on their interests, preferences
Enchanting options, enticing names, and endearing descriptions included:
• Sarah’s Tent – for women who are in leadership positions
• Benjamin of Tudela – for “eternal travellers, migrants and the foreign-bound”
• Le Pastis – dedicated to those who are Francophones
• Das Lokal – for those who are German speakers
• The Stone Wall – LGBTQ+ lounge – “where there is more fun”
• Studio 27 – “Half of Studio 54 but with great rhythm” – for Jewish communities that are small
• HaPinah Shel Eliezer – for Israelis in Europe and those wanting “an express ulpan”
• The HIP Shed – for the “young and cool who carry their organisation on
• The Oh-No Lounge – for people who are “allergic to Jewish stuff”
With speakers from Europe, Russia, the US and Israel, British voices were front and centre.
Among the most attended segments was a special eulogy on the opening night for the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who died from cancer
earlier this month, and later a conversation with British Jewish historian Sir Simon Schama.
Delegates also heard Susie Gordon, director of the Leeds Jewish Representative Council, talk about how Covid-19 had impacted the city’s community, which was “coming out of this situation stronger, despite having suffered significant losses”.
Elsewhere, conservationist Michael Mail spoke alongside Polish and Spanish peers on the “10 commandments for Jewish heritage”, former Jewish Volunteering Network director Leonie Lewis discussed the impact of the pandemic on interfaith work, and Partnerships for Jewish Schools (PaJeS) director Rabbi David Meyer highlighted how Jewish teachers had adapted to the disruption.
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