Interview with Désirée Mayer

On this occasion, we have the great pleasure of interviewing Desiree Mayer, president of JECPJ-France, an institution that brings together municipalities, associations and institutions to promote Jewish heritage in France. In this sense, it coordinates at the national level the European Days of Jewish Culture in France, a country that is one of the pillars of this project in relation to the great participation and historical journey of this project.

Désirée, how you would define the historical overview of the European Cultural Days in France?
Just as human organs respond to specific functions, important human initiatives are justified by the coherence of meaning. This meaning can be found and vindicated in different fields: historical, anthropological, philosophical, economic, etc. But when the meaning and its coherence are verified in several fields, a reinforced dynamic validates its usefulness. Such is the case of the "European Days of Jewish Culture", whose aims and values goes through and irrigate all these fields at once.
Concerning history, it is obvious. The Jewish presence in France has a long and prestigious history, which our "Days" allow - not only to recall or make known - but also to bring to life again. Because they endeavor to shed light on the specificities and singularity of Judaism, as well as on its universal character, these "Days" bear a philosophy which expands and operates right into the fields of anthropology or sociology. An economic side of our action appears through the organization and financing of our "Days", as well as in the cultural tourism projects that we try to develop, by the cultural itineraries that are set up and which, in the long term, should benefit our cities, our regions and our country as a whole.
We are therefore at the same time acting on the level of ideas and on that of realities. Strongly anchored in our environment, our gaze on the past nourishes the present to better breed the future. These are some of the reasons we think we deserve to be successful.

What is the role that plays as a window to the French Jewish heritage and history?
My answer is spontaneous: these Days are bridges, genuine bridges, magnificent and indispensable! Those who limit themselves to postcards, content themselves with admiring them as works of art. But those who know the necessity, build, borrow, cross and maintain them, know that these bridges advance humanity.

Last year, during the European Days of Jewish Culture, just in France, involved 55 cities with a participation of 41,000 people. These are huge figures for a cultural project. What are your future perspectives on the Day, is there room for further growth? Do you think that there is a need to establish strategies at European level or is it very difficult to take into account the diversity of different national realities?
Let us be precise and modest, as it should be. These excellent results are not achieved in one day, but over periods which, depending on the city and region, range from one day to four months of programming. The basis of this programming is the material heritage: synagogues, museums, places of memory, cemeteries, etc. But the intangible heritage - exhibitions, conferences, symposiums, concerts, shows and other encounters - reaches even wider audiences.
As for our possible development: the potential is immense, for two very good reasons. The first is that we do not envisage it purely statistically and quantitatively, but on other criteria, notably, of sharing. Indeed, what we are seeking is diversification; diversification of the public, and diversification of the bearers of our cultural projects. As you mentioned, the JECPJ-France association is honored by the presence in its midst of communities in France. Thus, we encourage some cities to build their own program, others strongly support local or regional programming. But it remains to motivate many French communities, for this "sharing" of a heritage that is also theirs. There is a real reservoir of participants and a major stake in society. In addition, some regional coordinators obtain various partnerships: associations, academics, cultural institutions, etc., where others are only beginning to work on these interesting and promising weaves.
As far as European strategies are concerned, meetings and conferences seem very useful to me. If we can not impose too much unitary approaches or theoretical patterns, precisely because of the great diversity of national lands, it is nevertheless essential to pool our experiences so that each one comes to draw ideas and adaptable techniques from them, capable of helping it to progress, with a view to European growth, absolutely necessary for our actions, even local ones.

Speaking in European terms, how do you value the state of European Jewish culture? Do you think we can talk about a revival after its almost annihilation in the Holocaust? Is it soon to make a statement like this??
It is interesting to note that in France, the importance of the "Days" is largely correlated with history and geography. When you live in Strasbourg, Metz, Bayonne, Marseille or Nice, yesterday?s enemy now today's friend, helps you turn history into awareness. With the noteworthy exception of Paris, the cities that have been and still are the most involved in the JECPJ, are mainly the border towns. And it?s only natural : the European history of the Jews happens to be the history of their taking roots, their expulsions, their peregrinations, their attachments, their affliction and their happiness, which appears more clearly at the borders. Whether we think of Yiddish, born in our countries, or of Sephardic contributions from the south, who could define Jewish identity in static terms? And what better example of the fruitfulness of Diasphoric Judaism than European Judaism?
As for the question of the rebirth of European Judaism, we call upon it with all our wishes and the accomplishment of each of our actions. Working in this direction does not express the will to redeem a painful past. There is no redeeming for the past. The point is rather, to restore to its former sumptuousness the rise of civilization which has always been demanding with itself, not with others, proud of its values and profoundly respectful of those of others, practicing study and not violence, advocating gratitude where others advocate hatred. In short, a culture with paradigmatic virtues, for those who wish to build the future of a pluralistic and fraternal Europe.
Jews, Christians, Muslims, lay people, many of our fellow citizens have understood this, they are working with us in this hopeful rebirth.

Désirée Mayer
Présidente JECPJ-France

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