Can the European Crisis be an Opportunity for Europe’s Young Jews?
While the Israeli government, through The Jewish Agency, massively invests in motivating candidates for Aliyah, a good number of innovative projects that aim to reinforce young European Jewry find themselves with little funding and support to develop and maintain their initiatives.
by Alain Granat
During the weekend of the 24th of May 2014, several events took place in Europe that may seem alarming to observers. Coincidence had it that they both happened in Brussels, the heart of Europe: one affected European Jews, while the other all Europeans.
The massacre at the Jewish Museum of Brussels has once again awakened the specter of anti-Semitism. What is certain however is that a tidal wave has struck the sleepy Belgian capital, a place where until recent events, several thousand Jews lived peacefully. These same Belgian Jews must now face the reality of an assault that has been identified as “the first anti-Jewish attack in Brussels since the end of World War II.”
The extreme right’s impressive scores during the weekend’s European parliamentary elections are another reason for concern. But we cannot qualify this as a surprise – it is quite simply the result of an ever growing disconnect between European citizens and their representatives. In fact European Jewry is not exempt from this phenomenon, as it is also tempted by a kind of “ghettoization” that is so characteristic of our globalized era.
Faced with these questions of identity, young European Jews are however finding alternative answers that do not necessarily make headlines. Almost everywhere across the continent, many of them take up the challenge with optimistic brio, through a great number of political, social and cultural initiatives and by launching their own start-ups – usually in the tech industry – not unlike what we see in Israel. The same weekend in fact, in Paris, a couple hundred kilometers away, 2 events were held, flagship examples of this optimism and hope. First Junction, a JDC-supported program where about 200 young up and coming Jews from Europe, the US and Israel came together to network and exchange in an entrepreneurial spirit, voluntarily tackling the issues of their generation, their identity and their economic future. Second, and not far from this venue another event called “An Offbeat Pilgrimage” (Pèlerinage en décalage in French) was held, the first Israeli-Palestinian cultural festival in Paris, completely independent of any political structure and party, created by two young 24-year old women (one Jewish, one Muslim) and with the participation of artists from both sides.
Today’s young European Jews, especially in France, are not looking for solutions. In fact, they are more interested in new structures and approaches. They are faced with community institutions that are either in crisis or sclerotic, that cannot truly represent the non-affiliated (the majority of Jews in France). Yet answers must be found – urgently – for those that represent the future of the European Jewish diaspora. Is one of these solutions Aliyah? Today in France, this phenomenon is proportionately seven times more relevant than in the US. And even if Aliyah is essential for the future of the State of Israel, a strong, creative and well-structured European Jewry is just as important.
The recent dramatic events in Brussels only serve to increase the feeling of a massive wave of anti-Semitism across Europe, reinforced by opinion polls with wide media coverage, that often use questionable empirical and scientific methods regardless of whether they are produced for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) or the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA). It is relevant to point out that every single time that anti-Semitism is polled and evaluated, these studies take the form of “perception” analysis, whereas with delicate issues such as racism, xenophobia or hate crimes, the norm is to study facts and figures. The FRA study for example, is entitled “Jewish people’s experiences of discrimination and hate crime in European Member States.”
By pointing this out, I am not trying to minimize a truly alarming situation that manifests itself through an increase in violent anti-Semitic acts and the “liberation” of hateful discourse that has been hidden away in shame for so long. This is an objective representation, a portrait if you will, of a Europe in an economic and social crisis that leaves the question of the role of young Jews unanswered. While the Israeli government, through The Jewish Agency, massively invests in motivating candidates for Aliyah, a good number of innovative projects that aim to reinforce young European Jewry find themselves with little funding and support to develop and maintain their initiatives. The short-term consequence of this portrait is the perspective of Jewish communities on the “verge of extinction.” In order to face this pessimistic vision, we prefer by far to consider this crisis as an opportunity. It is our joint responsibility to offer to this young generation – filled with vitality, attached to their Judaism, their countries and their heritage – the means and chance to face the European Jewish diaspora’s challenges.
Faced with the noise and fury of a Europe with arms outstretched against one another, our pioneers and founding fathers responded with arms outstretched towards one another. History has taught us that tomorrow’s pioneers are today’s optimists.
Alain Granat is Director of Jewpop – a French-speaking website designed primarily for an audience between 18 and 35, mostly non-affiliated.