Jewish Heritage Europe

Jewish Heritage Tourism in the Digital Age, Oct. 23-25, 2017

The conference Jewish Heritage Tourism in the Digital Age, which took place in Venice Oct. 23-25, gathered around 90 participants from all over Europe, as well as Israel and the United States. The more than 30 speakers ranged from academics and analysts, to tour guides and other tourism professionals, to museum personnel, Jewish community representatives, and other experts and stakeholders.

NOTE: we have posted videos of all the presentations in a dedicated YouTube channel, where they are organized in separate playlists for each conference panel.

Organized by Jewish Heritage Europe along with the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe and Beit Venezia, the conference was a specialized follow-up to the working seminar on managing Jewish built heritage held in Krakow in April 2013, and the cross-disciplinary conference on Jewish cemeteries in Europe held in October 2015 in Vilnius.

We organizers wanted the widest possible range of speakers — both geographically and thematically — and it was not an easy task to narrow down a choice of invited speakers. We were therefore delighted that so many other stakeholders and interested individuals registered to attend.

Participants in the Venice Jewish Heritage Tourism conference

Sessions were hosted at the Venice Jewish Community’s function room, Sala Montefiore, and also at the Ghimel Garden kosher restaurant on the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo.

Key areas of discussion were the challenges and opportunities posed by Jewish heritage tourism and travel in Europe, both in places where there is an active local Jewish population and in places where there are sites of Jewish heritage but no organized Jewish community.

Tourists in the Scuola Spagnola, Venice

Speakers addressed the growing diversity and energy of Jewish and Jewish-themed tourism in Europe, both for Jews and for others. Some addressed specifics regarding, for example, how to manage tourists, or the creation and viability of Jewish heritage routes and itineraries. There was also discussion of new technology such as mobile apps, interactive museums, web sites, and the like.

Signage at the ruin of the synagogue in Brody, Ukraine

Specific sessions at the conference focused on:

— The Interpretation of Jewish heritage sites

— Marketing Jewish Heritage

— Mapping, Trails, and Virtual Tourism

— Managing Visitors

— Tourism as Education

— Festival Judaism — Jewish Cultural Festivals

— Jewish Quarters/Networks of Jewish Sites

The first night of the conference saw Jewish Heritage Europe Coordinator Ruth Ellen Gruber in conversation with Prof. Shaul Bassi, the co-founder of Beit Venezia, to celebrate 25 years since the first edition of her book Jewish Heritage Travel and 15 years since her book Virtually Jewish were published.

Ruth Ellen Gruber and Shaul Bassi, at the Venice Jewish Heritage Tourism conference

Discussion was lively, intense, and provocative, both during the formal sessions and at coffee breaks and meals.

Participants also had the opportunity to take part in a Jewish heritage tourism experience: a guided tour of the Venice Jewish Museum (and tour of three of the five synagogues in the Ghetto) and/or a visit to the ancient Jewish cemetery, on the Lido, which dates back to the 14th century. Here they were taken around the cemetery by Aldo Izzo, a retired sea captain in his 80s who has cared for the cemetery for more than 30 years.

The conference concluded with a  wide-ranging roundtable on the challenges of being a tourist attraction in three cities where mass tourism is reality: Venice, Krakow, and Amsterdam.

“One of the points in the thought provoking final roundtable […] was exactly the human aspect of heritage and the preservation of the memory in regards to the people and the fragile nature of this human ‘monuments,'” SeeVenice Guided Tours by Luisella Romeo wrote on their Facebook page.  “Aldo Izzo gave a lesson to everyone. First, as a person that worked to preserve memory against oblivion and second, as a person that remembers people…”

Tourists in the Klausen synagogue, part of the Prague Jewish Museum