The European Day of Jewish Culture has officially matured, at least by Jewish standards: this Sept. 2, it turns 13.
The event — a continent-wide celebration around an annual theme — has grown in both scope and participation over the past dozen years. This year’s theme is “The Spirit of Jewish Humor,” a particularly appealing topic and one rich with material.
When I was a child, I spent every summer in Massachusetts waiting for the blueberries to ripen. Every day my dad and I would take our morning walk through forests thick with berry brambles, and I would inspect the delicate green buds, waiting for that magical day when they would ripen into a juicy, blue-black snack.
It turns out I’m not alone. Throughout Michigan, and especially in the resorts and forests that line its Lake Superior shore, summer crowds eagerly greet the berry crop with festivals, bakeoffs and all manner of pastry.
The eerie spectacle of round-the-clock sunshine has given way to shadowy nights in the Norwegian city of Bergen, but August days are still long and golden.
In midsummer, the quaint harbor area, Bryggen, can feel like an open-air party. Crowds throng the outdoor cafés and fill the quaint medieval alleys; fishmongers haul in their slippery wares as tourists snap pictures of Europe’s most colorful fish market. Against a backdrop of green mountains, the vivid reds and yellows of Bergen’s wood-frame houses are reflected in the North Sea.
From time to time, I like to revisit noteworthy stops along America’s great cross-country Interstates. Many such stops wouldn’t normally come to mind as vacation destinations, which make their offerings all the more serendipitous.
There are certain ideas that New Yorkers take as articles of faith. We think of ourselves as the world’s savviest, able to pinpoint the genuine and bypass the second-rate.
But as I’ve spent more time in Europe over the past several years, my assumptions have been upended, one after another, by the way my Continental friends and relatives actually see their turf. Along the way, I’ve made a mental list of these truisms – a catalog of classic mistakes that New Yorkers (or any well-informed American travelers) make abroad.
Las Vegas is hot in July — really, really hot. That didn’t stop the pioneers, though, or the gold miners, or the railroad investors. And it certainly didn’t stop legendary Jewish mobsters like Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky. They weren’t the types to stop and shvitz when there was good money to be laundered.
It takes patience and a little imagination to explore the narrow, hushed streets of Barcelona’s Jewish District. Deep in the Gothic Quarter, the medieval heart of the city, more than a thousand years of Jewish history reveals itself in tiny fragments here and there, like a scavenger hunt.
Five hundred years after Spain expelled its Jews, it wants them back.
I stepped into the brilliant sunshine of a plaza in Catalonia, and the first thing that caught my eye was a banner — in Hebrew. Above it, in Catalan, read the translation: “Noah’s Ark: A Holiday Exhibition” at the Museum of Miniatures and Microminiatures.