Paideia Alumni Conference 2013 – Toledo, Spain
In May 2013 the much anticipated Paideia Alumni Conference was held. Each year a symbolic European city is selected in order for the Paideia alumni to meet, converse and share ideas regarding the relevant issues of European Jewish culture and life. The turn of the last year was the historic Castilian city of Toledo, Spain, center of Sepharadic Jewish, as well as European cultural life. This city was selected specifically due to its intense symbolic and historic nature in the dry landscape of Castile, a sharp contrast from last year Alumni conference held in Heidelberg, Germany.
The conference had a clear motif that dominated it: Jewish identity through movement and change. Starting with the icebreaker activities masterfully directed by Anneli Radestad, the alumni were introduced to each other in a cordial and warm environment. To do so, participants had to locate themselves on a virtual relative map based on the origins of their forefathers and themselves, as part of their identity. Likewise, part of the activities included a question rounds based on maps drawn by the participants, expressive of how these geographical movements reflected on the identity they have at the current moment.
After that, the Alumni were presented with the new Paideia Paradigm Program, its 2013 pilot course has finished just before the Alumni Conference itself, by Anneli Radestad and Noa Hermele, who received valuable feedback on the Program and its result. The motif of moving Jewish identity was one of the key aspects of the Kabbalat Shabbat held on Friday night by Piotr Menachem Mirski (Poland) and with the brilliant intervention of Rabbi Michael Paley of UJA-Federation of New York. Fascinating was the study session with Rabbi Paley, where he and the Alumni engaged on a vibrant discussion about the limits of Jewish identity and its challenges in the future.
Presentations of initiatives and projects Paideia Alumni are undertaking in their respective cities and communities marked the beginning of next day since Paideia Conferences aim at promoting networking and cooperation between Alumni of various years of study. This year there were a number of truly brave and intriguing presentations on various themes. Among them: Old Synagogue renovation project in Toledo, creating of progressive Jewish community in Lublin, Research on Jewish part in Soviet labor camps etc.
Second half of the day of Saturday was mostly devoted to the getting closer to the city of Toledo, its remarkable history and architecture. Paideia Alumni were introduced to the Jewish neighborhood of the Toledo city by one of the key organizers and collaborators of the event Carmen Gómez (Spain), and Dr. Jean Passini, an expert on the history and urban development of Toledo. This introduction was a taste of the marvelous landscapes and monuments the alumni visited in the tour of Toledo itself. Carmen and Dr. Passini gave the alumni a glimpse of the last centuries of Jewish life of Toledo, including the countless layers of history and details that are the evidence of the vibrant multicultural civilization that existed in the city for many centuries during the Middle Ages. This included the location of gone synagogues, now in ruins, that give a testimony for the vibrant Jewish civilization that developed there during the Late Middle Ages. The interaction with fascinating historical reality culminated with the textual presentation by Alvina Hovhannisyan (Armenia) on interreligious coexistence between Jews and Muslims, and their implication with the city the alumni got to know during the conference.
“Feldenkreis” – yoga – session by Elisabetta Abate (Italy) was a relaxing enjoyable experience on rooftops of old city of Toledo covered by warm Spanish sun. That was the perfect end of the second day, the day “beyond-the time” acquaintance with the glorious city and unforgettable experiences of participants.
Alumni Association presentation held by Board members Alvina Hovhannisyan (Armenia), Oleksandr Bobrovskyy (Ukraine) and Anne Krainz (Germany) gave an orientation to Associations’ current initiatives and plans gradually rising the discussion on Alumni Association’s perspectives. Common vision Alumni shared is the role of Association as a networking tool and platform for Alumni. Ideas of creating the Alumni blog, conducting frequent local Alumni meetings and Association’s project application assistance to Alumni were articulated and supported by the rest of participants.
It is safe to say that without the very important collaboration of Paideia Institute staff, local Alumni and Alumni Association, such a conference would not be the enjoying and fascinating experience as it was. Special thanks should be given to Barbara Spectre, director of Paideia and tireless promoter of the institution and what it represents. Last but certainly not least, a very warm and special thanks to Diane Wohl and her husband Howard, who sponsored the event and, after “crossing the pond”, as we say in Spain, participated actively in the events held during the conference allowing for an enriching and satisfying experience for all the assistants.
History, mobility, reconstruction of identity, Sepharadi culture and the vitality of the Spanish city of Toledo, in all its layers, surely accompany alumni for the next conference. Certainly leaving its mark as a unique place in European Jewish life, memories of Toledo serve as an inspiration of themes and many aspects of the next conference for which the following European city – magnificent Venice in Italy – is opening its doors in May 2014!
Alexander Bar-Magen (Dona Grazia Fellow, 2012-2013)