Thursday, June 24, 2021

Nine Centuries of Jewish Life in Thuringia

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By Tina Beer, State Secretary for Cultural Affairs of Thuringia, Germany

Jewish life is an indisputable part of Thuringia. The Free State in Central Germany and its state government are proud it exists and flourishes. This is expressed in the current theme year “Nine Centuries of Jewish Life in Thuringia”. Based on an initiative of the two large Christian churches in Thuringia, it was initiated to show the influence of Jewish culture in Thuringia over the centuries, the eventful history of its flourishing, its suppression and its revival, also and especially in the countryside, away from the large metropolises. Above all, however, the theme year is intended to sharpen the view of how enriching Jewish life is for our entire society in the present and the future.

Under the auspices of the Thuringian State Chancellery, stakeholders from science, education, culture, museums, archives, private and public institutions and associations came together in autumn 2019. The result was a programme with over 150 events and projects throughout Thuringia. The main projects – in addition to “Torah is Life” and the three music festivals that have been firmly established in Thuringia for years, “Days of Jewish-Israeli Culture”, “Yiddish Summer Weimar” and “Achava Festival” – are the virtual reconstruction of the Great Synagogue in Erfurt and the MENORA project.

Inside Berkach Synagogue (photo courtesy TSK/Michael Reichel)

The interactive portal MENORA (www.juedisches-leben-thueringen.de), set up and maintained by the Thuringian University and State Library (ThULB) in cooperation with the Association for Jewish-Israeli Culture in Thuringia, provides information about historical testimonies, as well as current events.

The portal functions as an event calendar, a topology of Jewish places in Thuringia and a digital exhibition platform all in one. Thanks to state-of-the-art technology, buildings can also be digitally resurrected and become virtually accessible. Therefore, one of the highlighted projects of the theme year is a “virtual reality” reconstruction of the Great Synagogue of Erfurt, which is being created under the direction of the Historic Museums of the City of Erfurt. The striking building was destroyed in the Pogrom Night of 1938 and later demolished.

“Torah is Life” is another unique project: Over a period of two years in total, a specially authorised sofer (a Jewish scribe) will write a new Torah scroll, which will be ceremoniously brought into Erfurt’s main synagogue on 30 September 2021 as a gift from the two Christian churches to the Thuringian Jewish community. This 30 September originally marked the end of the theme year and, just like its beginning on 1 October 2020, is based on the Jewish calendar.

Old Synagogue Erfurt (photo courtesy TSK/Paul-Philipp Braun)

After the opening event for the theme year on 1 October 2020, which was still possible to hold as a face-to-face event in Erfurt’s Kaisersaal with restrictions due to the pandemic, practically all other projects from November 2020 onwards had to be cancelled or transferred to a digital format. In the digital formats, participants were welcomed from far beyond Thuringia.

In order to be able to hold non-digital formats as well, it was decided to extend the theme year until 31 December 2021. All cancelled events are to be made up as soon as possible, as soon as the pandemic allows – even after 2021, if necessary. Although the digitalisation of event formats has taken a quantum leap forward due to the Corona pandemic, we miss coming together for music, culture, readings, discussions, visiting exhibitions. It will soon be possible again – Thuringia is looking forward to it!

More information can also be found at:

https://www.visit-thuringia.com/travel-hotel-holiday-tour/juedische-kultur-geschichte-160409.html.

Thuringia’s State Secretary for Culture, Tina Beer (photo courtesy Thüringer Staatskanzlei – TSK)

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