New York, April 29th, 2021 – UN diplomats from some forty nations, representing all regional groups of the UN and all the continents, came together on Monday 26th of April to mark Pesach Sheni, the second Passover, in a cultural celebration hosted by the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy (FCD). The celebration featured classical music from the Great Synagogue in Paris and the reading of literary texts by the Special envoys in the combat against anti-Semitism, including the EU Envoy, Katharina von Schnurbein, and the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed.
Commenting on the theme of the event: “Purim of Carpentras”, Chief Rabbi Moshe Sebbag (picture below) of the Great Synagogue in Paris reminded the audience that the Jewish holiday of Purim is not limited to celebrating what happened in Persia some 2400 years ago when Queen Esther saved her people from a plot to annihilate the whole Jewish community, but something which has been repeated over and over again throughout Jewish history in so called “local Purims”, where Jews have come under an existential threat, but have been miraculously saved in a similar way as they were in the Book of Esther around 400 BC. This was also the case in the Purim of Carpentras, which took place during the 17th century in the south of France, in a community which has been referred to as “the Jews of the Pope”, marking the community’s rescue from a blood libel on the eighth day of Passover. Before taking up his position as Chief Rabbi in the Great Synagogue in Paris, Rabbi Sebbag was the Rabbi in Carpentras.
“But also other Jewish communities which faced similar threats like in Carpentras responded by re-enacting the story of the original Purim and by doing so were delivered from these deadly decrees. These stories have then become known as local purims”, FCD Co-Founder Gregory Lafitte explained.
Even in the late 1930s, there had been theatrical performances in Paris of pieces composed by Milhaud and Racine, in the hope that the Jews would be delivered from the Nazi decree and that their story would be another local Purim. But instead, we saw the systematic murder of six million Jews in what has been described as the greatest crime against humanity, the Shoah.
The goal of the cultural events hosted by the FCD is to illustrate how Jewish culture is woven into the fabric of so many of our national cultures and how the international community is indebted to the Jews for their contributions. “By learning to show appreciation of Jewish culture, knitted into our national cultures, we can gradually begin vaccinating ourselves from this deadly pandemic of anti-Semitism, also called the world´s oldest hatred”, Lafitte noted.
At a time when the Jewish community in France is in shock after the acquittal of Kobili Traoré, who in 2017 brutally tortured his neighbour Sarah Halimi while calling her a “dirty Jew”, and finally killed her by throwing her out from her third-floor balcony, CEO David Harris from the American Jewish Committee emphasised how the situation for Jews in France remains a matter of great concern.
Describing himself as “an unwanted child of Europe”, he shared how his father who, despite a promising career in academia, saw his dreams go up in flames in Vienna in the 1930s, simply because he was a Jew. He later managed to flee the country, escaping the Holocaust. “My family suffered great losses during the Shoah but so did most of Europe by having so many of their Jewish communities exterminated instead of letting them contribute to their culture and societies”, he concluded.
Considering that the UN has only recently become involved in the combat against anti-Semitism by appointing a special focal point, the unique approach of the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy to celebrate Jewish life through culture and music as the ultimate antidote to Jew hatred has been well received by the UN community. This was again well illustrated in Monday’s event which featured statements from a diverse group of UN member states comprising Canada, Australia, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Mexico, Georgia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil and Israel, and was attended by senior diplomats from all corners of the world including Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Kyrgyzstan, Senegal, Bahrain and Morocco including many European nations.
In his remarks, the Israeli Ambassador to the UN and the USA, Gilad Erdan, congratulated the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy for “its dedication to preserve and promote Jewish culture and heritage”. The Permanent Representative of Bosnia-Herzegovina to the UN, Sven Alkalaj, called for “more such cultural events at the UN”.
The virtual event was moderated by FCD Co-Founder Tomas Sandell and was the first in a series of cultural events to mark the gradual launch of a Group of Friends of the Jewish Culture at the UN. It featured excerpts of literary texts by Jean Racine, Emile Zola, William Shakespeare and Armand Lunel, as well as music composed by Serge Kaufman, Ernest Bloch, Maurice Ravel, Fromental Halévy, Joseph Acron and Darius Milhaud.