A Fresh Look At Israelis in Europe

By Marcelo Dimenstein

As debates about the future of Jews in Europe wade between despair and hope, revival and caution, unexplored trends are influencing the trajectory of Jewish life in the region.

Among these developments is the growing number of Israelis an estimated 100,000 according to some recent data – integrating into European society and Jewish community life and dynamics. It’s therefore critically important to have a better understanding of how they view themselves, their identities, and what they are looking for from one another and the Jewish communities they call home.

In the spring of 2017, we conducted an online survey, in Hebrew, among 890 respondents with Israeli citizenship in 27 European countries. The new study, The Israel-European Diaspora, was produced by us at the JDC-International Center for Community Development (JDC-ICCD) in cooperation with Machon Kehilot, an organization supporting local leaders and activists seeking to establish communal frameworks for Israelis and Hebrew speakers in Europe.

Of critical note – and contrary to prevailing thinking about the interests and passions of Israelis in Europe – was that respondents indicated an eagerness to connect to other Israelis or participate in local Israeli, Hebrew-language educational, cultural, and community activities. They also noted that they wanted to ensure a Hebrew-speaking or Jewish identity among their children.

Queried on their participation in Israeli groups or Jewish life, 54 percent of respondents said they would participate in activities of an organized Israeli community if it existed in their country of residence. The study found that 24 organizations dedicated to Israeli and Hebrew language culture in Europe already exist. 45 percent of respondents indicated they also participate in their local Jewish community or other local Jewish initiatives.

These include Passover Seder nights or Rosh Hashanah dinners (34 percent), cultural events or activities dealing with Jewish topics (32 percent), cultural activities and events at the local Jewish community center (31 percent), Shabbat dinners with friends (31 percent), and dinners and programs at local Chabad Houses (27 percent).

Asked about the importance of fostering Israeli, Hebrew language, and Jewish identity among their children, respondents noted that “to a large degree” or “to a very large degree” they wanted to achieve the following: speak their mother tongue (Hebrew) with their children (85 percent); want their children to read and write in Hebrew (79 percent); transmit Israeli values and culture to their children (68 percent); and transmit Jewish values and culture to their children (60 percent).

The overwhelming majority, 92 percent, said they want to transmit universal and humanistic values and culture to their children as well. This was consistent with the fact that 73% of respondents self identified as “secular,” 59 percent as “Israeli,” and 38 percent as “Jewish.”

The sample consisted of Israelis in more than two-dozen countries, with Germany (21 percent), the Netherlands (14.6 percent), and the United Kingdom (12.8 percent), Switzerland (6.2 percent), Italy (5.9 percent), and Denmark (5.6 percent) among the six most highly represented nations among respondents. Most respondents were married or in a domestic partnership (79.8 percent); more than half of respondents, 57 percent, were women; and the average age among respondents was 40 years old.

In terms of education, close to three-quarters of respondents held academic degrees: 34 percent with a bachelor’s degree, 28 percent with a master’s degree, and 11 percent with a doctorate or equivalent. Regarding employment, the highest concentration of jobs, 46 percent, were in professional, scientific, and technical fields (21.2 percent); health and social work activities (13.4 percent); and education (11.4 percent).

The emphasis by the respondents on Hebrew language familiarity aligned in their personal lives. Hebrew was spoken at home by the majority of respondents (55 percent), while around a third each speak the local language (31 percent) and/or English (35 percent). A tenth of the respondents (10 percent) reported speaking a mixture of languages in their home.

As Jewish communities in Europe, and organizations that partner with them, plot out directions for the coming years, we hope that this research will contribute to a better understanding of who comes to constitute the Jewish community. Understanding the the invaluable contribution, and opportunities, that Israelis, and other Jewish populations groups like young adults offer to the multi-faceted, ever-changing face of European Jewish identity is more critical than ever before.

Marcelo Dimenstein is the Operations Director of the JDC-ICCD.