When I took a look at the Jewish festival calendar for 2017, I couldn’t help but notice the preponderance of 25th anniversaries. Sometime in the 1980s and 1990s, a movement to explore and celebrate the Jewish experience began to gather steam, both in America and overseas.
The timing is probably not coincidence. In Europe, decades after the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust, a new generation rediscovered cultures largely lost. At home, as assimilation pressure and institutional bias against Jews receded from its 20th-century zenith, Jewish communities felt more comfortable celebrating their contributions, and their neighbors were more receptive as well.
In 2017, Jewish festivals have become not only larger, more numerous and more diverse, but also more participatory — offering excellent opportunities for Jewish travelers to engage with locals. What began, in many cases, as a few nights of film screenings or a weekend of concerts has grown to encompass dinners and cocktail parties, folk dancing and wine tastings. And since many Jewish festivals take place from late winter through early fall, now is the time to start planning.
In the retirement and vacation meccas of America’s Sun Belt, Jewish film festivals are a highlight of the late-winter calendar, bringing Western communities together in the drought between holidays. February highlights include the 27th edition of San Diego’s Jewish Film Festival, as well as the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival, with social and arts events at venues across both counties. And for klezmer enthusiasts, Albuquerque is the place to be over President’s Day weekend for the Southwest’s premier Jewish music festival, KlezmerQuerque.
Across the Pond, intellectual debate bristles at the annual London Jewish Book Week (Feb. 25-March 5); this year’s author talks, musical interludes and intellectual debates also feature “Moonglow” author Michael Chabon and British Vogue editor Alexandra Schulman. In Switzerland, late March brings Jewish film festivals to Geneva and, as of last year, Zurich — two international cities rich with Jewish heritage.
Also in March, visitors to the International Klezmer Festival in Fürth, Germany, will find more than just music to enjoy in this picturesque medieval town. From March 10-12, concerts will feature musicians from America’s Klezmatics to Colombian, Dutch and Italian groups. You can also join fellow Jewish culture lovers for walking tours of Fürth’s Jewish Museum and Hebrew cemetery, and sample Jewish cuisine at a klezmer brunch.
The snow will have subsided by the time Toronto gears up for its month of Jewish culture. May welcomes Canada’s largest and most prestigious Jewish film festival, which marks its own 25th anniversary this year, promising Canadian and world premieres at landmark theaters around Toronto. Later that month, Toronto’s Jewish Music Week is an annual celebration that’s typically Canadian in its diversity — everything from Cuban jazz and French cabaret to a cappella and Broadway, all with a youthful Jewish lilt.
Back overseas, Boskovice, a picturesque, hilly town north of Brno in Czechia, celebrates the 25th edition of its Jewish Festival from July 6-9. With its blend of live performance and local history, the event is a perfect hook for a Central European sojourn. Boskovice is worth a visit for its Jewish heritage regardless; this picturesque, historic town boasts a well-preserved synagogue in the antique Jewish quarter, a crumbling Gothic castle, a lavish chateau and a cobblestoned city center.
The loveliest time of year to be in Denmark is June, which brings long days, sunshine and Copenhagen’s annual Jewish Festival. It’s only the fourth year for this event, but Copenhagen is making up for lost time with nine days (June 2-10) and a program designed to get Jews, non-Jews, locals and visitors alike interacting. There’s kosher wine tasting, participatory klezmer dancing, Jewish theater, concerts of Jewish classical composers and guided tours of Copenhagen’s Jewish quarter.
One of the largest and most joyous Jewish events on the Continent is the Jewish Culture Festival of Krakow, which takes place from June 24 to July 2 in Poland’s loveliest and most historic big city. Now in its 27th year, the festival has become a linchpin of the Polish-Jewish cultural renaissance and will feature a “Jerusalem” theme for the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War.
If you have the time and interest, you can apply to be a “macher” festival volunteer. You’ll need to submit an application, pass an in-person or Skype interview and commit to spending the week in Krakow; in exchange, you’ll get free admission and concert tickets for yourself and a friend, along with possible internship credit, a certificate and immersion in the European Jewish community.