“By the time you hear the thunder, it’s to late to build the ark.”
Barcelona, Spain, June 29, 2015 – In a year of growing challenges and threats to European Jewish communities and with immediate concerns over the impact of a potential Greek default, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) concluded a multi-day international conference in Barcelona aimed at strengthening Jewish community resilience in the face of adversity. Dozens of Jewish leaders, experts, and professionals from across the continent took part in the pan-European discussions that focused on bolstering crisis management and response, community security, and streamlining inter-communal cooperation. The conference was co-organized in cooperation with the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation and European Council of Jewish Communities (ECJC).
“As a variety of challenges threaten European Jews, it was critical for us to provide a forum for Jewish community leaders to engage in a healthy, robust conversation on challenges they face and present specific, concrete ways of overcoming them,” Diego Ornique, JDC Regional Director for Europe told eJP. “I’m certain many of the skills and tools will be utilized by community leaders in the immediate future, maintaining the balance between thriving Jewish life and an uncertain European socioeconomic landscape.”
Keynote speaker, renowned French academic Dominique Moisi, delivered an analysis of the current state of Europe – the new normal – and the challenges ahead. In comments directed to Jerusalem as much as to attendees, historian Diana Pinto strongly rebutted the oft-cited argument that the only option for European Jews is to leave the continent. In fact, many communal leaders complained privately of the unhelpful comments by Israel’s Prime Minister and The Jewish Agency’s Chair about the dim future for Jewish life in Europe and the need to make aliya.
“The story of the Jews in Europe isn’t yet ready to be relegated to museums,” said Pinto. “Those who have chosen to leave have [primarily] left for personal, professional, or economic reasons – not for Zionist ones.”
Workshop leaders included David Gidron, a social psychologist and expert in community resilience and crisis management who has worked extensively with JDC.
“The message of responsibility, sustainability and development – that’s the real security,” said Gidron. “That’s been present throughout the conference and it’s the whole story.”
Other speakers included Eric Ghozlan, a psychologist and project manager for the Psychodrama and Resilience Unit, OSE, France, and Taly Levanon of the Israeli Trauma Coalition. Ghozlan talked about lessons learned from the attacks in Paris while Levanon spoke about psycho-social preparedness and building response systems within communities.
“What the JDC is doing here – and I think it’s a wonderful thing – is to bring Jewish leaders together, [where] we can exchange best practices, and help communities build community. It is important to to [create] real coalitions, real partnerships,” said Rabbi Michael Melchior, the chief rabbi of Norway and a former Israeli cabinet minister.” Some of the broader thinking for the preparedness of communities – not just in an emergency situation but in a broader sense of where Europe is going – I’ve learned a lot from that.”
Delegates from dozens of nations participated including Benjamin Albalas of Greece and a leader of the European Council of Jewish Communities (ECJC); Jonathan Arkush, the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews; French academic Dominique Moisi; Peter Kreko, Director of Political Capital Institute in Hungary; Spanish Jewish community leaders David Hatchwell and Uri Benguigui; and Josh Spinner, CEO of the Ronald. S. Lauder Foundation.