Seventh EAJS Congress, Amsterdam, 21st-25th July 2002
Jewish Studies and the European Academic World.
As most EAJS members will know, or should, the quadrennial EAJS congresses are meant to be the high points in the life of the Association. Of course, whether they really are depends on personal experience, and I fully realize that it is futile to speculate on the impact of the seven EAJS congresses organized so far on the life of the individual members and participants. But as an individual with the singular merit of having attended all the congresses the EAJS ever held (including the four Summer colloquia), I feel I have the right, or perhaps the duty, to summarize the facts of the Congress held in the Netherlands in July last year.
When the General Assembly of EAJS members convened in the late afternoon sun of Toledo on 23 July 2998, it was decided that the next Congress would be held in the Netherlands in 2002. The responsibility of its organization was entrusted to the newly elected President and Treasurer of the EAJS, Professors Albert van der Heide (Leiden University) and Wout van Bekkum (University of Groningen).
During the following year, they made a start with implementation of this decree by forming a local Dutch Congress committee, which was joined by Dr Resianne Smidt van Gelder (University of Amsterdam) as Secretary, Dr Emile Schrijver (Menasseh ben Israel Institute) as Treasurer, Professor Pieter van der Horst (University of Utrecht), and Professor Irene Zwiep (University of Amsterdam) as members.
In consultation with the EAJS Executive Committee, it was decided that the Congress theme would be “Jewish Studies and the European Academic World” and that the Congress would be divided into five sections: Languages and Literature; Ancient Judaism; Medieval and Modern History and Social Sciences; Philosophy and Mysticism; and Art, Libraries Archives. The congress would take place in Amsterdam, its venue the Vrije Universiteit.
In 2001, after a period of the usual preparations, Calls for Papers were issued, upon which some 300 proposals for lectures and presentations were received. With the help of section leaders, the first provisional versions of the Congress program were drawn up early in May and published on the EAJS website. In early July, the definitive Program Book was issued, containing the full academic program and the abstracts of the lectures.
On Sunday 21 July 2002, the Congress opened with a reception and registration of the participants in the Jewish Historical Museum, located in the centre of Amsterdam just opposite the Portuguese Synagogue. In this famous building, which on this occasion was crowded with congress participants and special guests, the ceremonial opening session was held, with welcome speeches, a lecture by Professor Yosef Kaplan (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), and a concert of eighteenth-century liturgical and festive music edited and arranged by the Music Research Center of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
During the following days, the Congress participants delivered almost three hundred lectures in the various lecture rooms of the Vrije Universiteit’s main building. This university, the smaller and younger sister of the University of Amsterdam, has its buildings at a campus location just outside the city centre and its very well suited for hosting semi-large meetings of the size of the EAJS congresses. Some 350 participants daily attended an average of ten different sections. Each day opened with a Plenary Lecture on the theme of the Congress. The plenary speakers were Angel Sáenz Badillos, Mauro Perani, Michael Brocke, Irene Zwiep, Rashid Kaplanov, Nicholas de Lange and Diana Pinto. During the day, the central hall of the Vrije Universiteit’s main building offered ample opportunity for meeting and conversation and to inspect the books displayed by a number of publishers and book-sellers.
On Monday and Tuesday evening, there was opportunity to join guided city walks through historical and Jewish Amsterdam.
On Tuesday, the General Assembly of EAJS members was held, where among other things a new Executive Committee was chosen, in conjunction with the decision to have the next EAJS Congress in 2006 in Moscow.
On Wednesday afternoon, some hundred participants joined the excursion to the picturesque historical Portuguese Jewish Cemetery at Ouderkerk aan de Amstel and the University Library of Leiden University. In Leiden, the participants visited an exhibition of Hebrew manuscripts, especially prepared for the occasion. At a reception offered by the Leids Universitair Fonds, a concert of Spanish Jewish songs, sponsored by the Spanish Embassy in the Netherlands, was given.
On Friday, the day after the close of the congress, the staff of the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana of the Amsterdam University Library offered the participants a post-Congress program of guided visits to the library.
For someone like the present writer so closely involved in the preparation and organization of the whole affair, it is difficult to give an impartial evaluation of its success as a scholarly and social event, but there is no denying that conversations were spirited and the atmosphere relaxed. The program of lectures and presentations was very diverse, which is typical for a congress with a loosely defined theme and ample freedom of application. The congress Committee decided to publish the Plenary Lectures, and some diction leaders have announced their intention to publish a selection of the lectures held in their sections. Organizationally, almost everything went smoothly according to plan and schedules, although now and then we too were reminded of the basic fact that nothing is ever perfect. For me personally, a week which I had expected would be tough and tiring turned out to be an unforgettable experience, with many pleasant meetings and talks with colleagues old and new. Only afterwards did I realize how many attractive lectures I had missed.
Albert van der Heide
President of the EAJS, 1998-2002
Note: The Proceedings of the Seventh EAJS Congress have now been published as: Albert van der Heide and Irene E. Zwiep (Editors) Jewish Studies and the European Academic World. Plenary Lectures read at the VIIth Congress of the European Association for Jewish Studies (EAJS) Amsterdam, July 2002. Collection de la Revue des Études juives dirigée par Simon C. Mimouni en Gérard Nahon. Peeters, Paris-Louvain, 2005 ISBN 90-429-1616-8 / 2-87723-871-7