Report from Bucharest

June 26, 2019 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Senior professionals representing Jewish communities from more than 50 countries at the forum convened each year by the World Jewish Congress (WJC).

Peter Wertheim at the conference

The First International Meeting of Special Envoys and Co-ordinators from the US and Europe engaged in Combatting Antisemitism was held concurrently with the WJC Forum around the theme: “A future strategy to prevent and fight antisemitism, racism, xenophobia, radicalization and hate speech”.

Held in the Romanian parliament under the patronage and with the participation of the Prime Minister of Romania, in cooperation with the WJC, the speakers included Elan Carr, US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, Dr Felix Klein, Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Antisemitism, Ambassador Georges Santer, Chairman of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, Director of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, and Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU Co-ordinator for Combatting Antisemitism.

Choral Synagogue in Bucharest

“This is the ‘A team’ of US and European officials presently engaged in strategizing to prevent and fight antisemitism”, Wertheim said. “The wealth of knowledge and professional experience around the table ensured the highest quality discussion. It was a unique opportunity for Jewish professionals such as myself, with coal-face experience of antisemitism around the world, to interact directly with the high-level officials who are charged with turning back the resurgence of this ugly phenomenon.  There is no single magic bullet to defeat antisemitism.  Legislation, education and strong and consistent political messaging all have a role to play.  Artificial intelligence is also becoming increasingly important in removing and preventing online antisemitic content.”

In addition to the formal sessions on antisemitism, participants at the WJC Forum shared their knowledge and experience on a wide range of issues including youth engagement and leadership development, celebrating diversity within the Jewish community, communal security, Israel advocacy, protection of religious freedoms and communal governance.

“Every community has unique and valuable insights into our common heritage and destiny and we all have something to teach to, and learn from, each other”, Wertheim said.

Performs at the Yiddish theatre

“It’s also important that we don’t define and organise ourselves around only negative themes, such as combatting antisemitism and BDS and Holocaust remembrance.   The indomitability of the Jewish spirit is built on the positives of Jewish life.  The resilience and commitment of the approximately 6,000 Jews still living in Romania have been truly remarkable, considering that the Jewish population in Greater Romania prior to World War II was about 800,000.  They provided us with several powerful examples of the continuing vibrancy and richness of what it means to be Jewish.”

“We celebrated Shabbat together with the local Jewish community in the stunning 150-year-old Choral Synagogue in Bucharest, where services are held daily, with a magnificent young choir”.

“In addition, the community has maintained a State Yiddish theatre, featuring some of Romania’s finest performers, including the award-winning actress, Maia Morgenstern.  The theatre is located in a jewel of a building, with wonderful acoustics and old-style charm.  We attended a Yiddish musical of astounding energy that had the audience, which included many non-Jews, in raptures.   We ended up dancing in the aisles with the performers.  It would be rare to find anything comparable, even in larger and wealthier communities”.

“The whole experience was a refreshing reminder that being Jewish is not all ‘tsures’”, Wertheim quipped. “The positive meaning, the sense of place and purpose and above all, the joy, are far more important”.

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