10 Commandments of Jewish Heritage – Part 4

by Sally Berkovic

08 Sep 10 Commandments of Jewish Heritage – Part 4

Read Parts 1, 2, and 3

8. Thou shalt acknowledge and support the selfless individuals caring for Jewish heritage

Throughout Europe, we owe a debt of hakarot hatov (gratitude) to the people who are the stewards of Jewish heritage, many of whom are not Jewish. The old man in a small village with the only key to the Jewish cemetery, the enthusiastic archivist toiling in a dusty basement, the museum curators dedicating their professional interests to explaining Jewish life to their visitors, the historians gathering oral testimonies – they are all helping to ensure that the historical presence of Jewish life is respected. Developing their skills and professional capacity should be a priority on the Jewish heritage agenda. Without a dedicated cadre of trained people, Jewish museums will have poorly identified objects, educational programmes will have gaps in knowledge, libraries will have collections gathering even more dust. Networks of expert mentors, training opportunities and online technology can help to motivate and encourage isolated staff caring for Jewish heritage.


Volunteers from the Atjauta association in Telšiai, Lithuania clean up the local Jewish cemetery


9. Thou shalt integrate a broad understanding Jewish heritage into the contemporary Jewish educational landscape

There is no one European Jewish life. With over 40 countries, Jews live multi-faceted lives in large and small communities in countries as diverse as Belarus, Holland, Bulgaria and Germany. Some communities are under internal threat from assimilation and emigration, while others face external threats from anti-Semitism and Islamic fundamentalism. Some communities have a strong communal and religious infrastructure, while others are barely functioning. All however, face the challenges of providing a comprehensive Jewish education that meets the need of its various constituencies.

Against this backdrop, the challenges of Jewish heritage are a valuable educational tool that can be creatively used to as a bridge between the religious and secular groups, between the engaged and unaffiliated within a Jewish community. Synagogues have historical, cultural and artistic value and they also have spiritual and religious values – the Place can be used as a tool for developing educational programmes that place relationships between people and an understanding of Jewish practice at the centre. Jewish community centres can help members of the community to learn more about their own local Jewish heritage by developing walking tours, engaging in oral history projects or learning from archival material. The use of Jewish heritage to engage young Jewish people is only limited by imagination.

CWBW9E Group of Jewish boys with their teacher in Samarkand, ca. 1910. Samarkand's Jews lived under Muslim rule until the late 18th

Jewish boys with their teacher in Samarkand


10. Thou shalt stay informed, think big, centralise information and embrace the digital age

Finally, Jewish heritage needs a global strategy defining an agreed set of priorities and an implementation plan over a designated timeframe. Within such a framework, obviously each country will have its own set of challenges including legal requirements, available funds, government attitudes and competent leadership.

Global Jewish heritage needs a central repository and an international database of experts who can be called on to assist where no local experts exist. The digital age presents wonderful opportunities for capturing images of Jewish heritage and the long term preservation of Jewish related data. Co-ordination is crucial and duplication must be avoided.

Yad Hanadiv, the Rothschild family foundation in Israel, is spearheading the building of a new National Library in Jerusalem, and its misson, as decreed by the Knesset in 2007 is to “collect, preserve, cultivate and endow treasures of knowledge, heritage and culture, with an emphasis on the Land of Israel, the State of Israel and the Jewish people.” As part of our contribution to developing a platform for global Jewish heritage, the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe, together with the Library, created Gesher L’Europa, (literally, a Bridge to Europe) to provide opportunities for exchange and enrichment between the National Library of Israel and European scholars, library and museum professionals, and educators working within Jewish settings.

Further, with backing from our Foundation, Ruth Ellen Gruber, veteran journalist and commentator on Jewish heritage, has consolidated Jewish Heritage Europe as the go-to portal for news and features on so many facets of Jewish heritage in Europe. The projects noted in this article are just a very small sample of the hundreds of heritage projects happening across Europe which can be found on the website.

It’s hard to keep the commandments – whether it be the original ones, or these suggested alternatives. But this Shavuot, perhaps you can reflect on what aspect of Jewish heritage interests you, invite a few friends to share some traditional cheesecake fare, and share ideas to ensure that your personal heritage and your community’s heritage is not forgotten and not lost.

View from the West (Ruppin Blvd)

Simulation of the National Library’s new building


Sally Berkovic is the CEO of the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe

The essay was first published in eJewish Philanthropy.

The opening image is a detail of a porcelain Seder plate (mid-18th century) from the collection of the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives.