NEW YORK – The leader of the Hungarian Jewish community told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that European Jewry will endure despite predictions by Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky that “we are seeing the beginning of the end of Jewish history in Europe.”
In a lengthy article in London’s Jewish Chronicle, Sharansky recently questioned the sustainability of Europe’s Jewish communities.
The former refusenik said that Europe had become “very intolerant of identities in a multicultural and post-nationalist environment” and that “apart from the ultra-Orthodox who will keep their identities, all other Jews who don’t have that connection to Israel will assimilate.”
According to a recent study by the Anti-Defamation League, 45 percent of Europeans see Jews as more loyal to Israel than to their countries of residence.
Citing the recent intensification in anti-Semitism, the emergence of the far Right as a significant political force and an “intellectual atmosphere which asks Jews to choose between their loyalty to Israel and their loyalty to Europe,” he added that there was now an “impossible situation for Jews.”
Sharansky was not alone in his gloomy prognosis of European Jewry.
In April, against the backdrop of an increasing number of Jews indicating that they were uncomfortable with publicly displaying any overt signs of their religious identity, European Congress president Moshe Kantor told reporters in Tel Aviv that “normative Jewish life in Europe is unsustainable” unless the fear in which Jews live could be substantially mitigated.
Others have responded in a more alarmist vein. Vladimir Sloutsker, a former president of the Russian Jewish Congress and current head of the Israeli Jewish Congress, warned MKs that “we are potentially looking at the beginning of another Holocaust now.”
However, Jewish leaders in Europe are split regarding the severity of what many see as a growing crisis.
“I agree with Mr. Natan Sharansky that the situation for European Jews is very hard nowadays,” Andras Heisler, the President of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary (Mazsihisz), told the Post by email on Tuesday.
“However we all know that the European Diaspora has never ceased existing even among much harder conditions during history.”
Despite the loss of six million Jews during the Holocaust, he explained, “in Europe there are flourishing Jewish communities living and working.”
“We know that we couldn’t get over the losses, we couldn’t replace the murdered people.
Today’s European Jewry is not the same than before the Holocaust.
Certainly the European Jewish communities will be changed after the current crisis but as a local leader I believe and I work for the European Diaspora that shall remain a valuable and useful part of world Jewry and for ourselves.”
Heisler was not the only one to question the dire warnings of some leaders regarding the cessation of thousands of years of European Jewish life, even as he acknowledged the issues facing his community.
“London is not Paris, Malmö is not Antwerp, and Amsterdam is not Budapest, but it is obvious that current trends are all headed in the wrong direction,” said Mark Gardner, spokesman for the Community Security Trust, an organization that protects British Jewry.
“There are two components: the anti-Semitism and the Jewish reaction to it,” he explained. “The anti-Semitism shows no sign of slowing and each eruption now falls upon a previous outbreak, making the overall impact even worse each time. This is the crush of trigger events and critical incidents from 2000 to July 2014. Of course, France is now the critical case in continental Europe. In Britain we are asking if we are the exception, or not.”
In comments to the Post last week, Ukrainian chief rabbi, Ya’acov Bleich, said that while “many predicted that European Jewry would not survive the Holocaust, we see today that quite a large Jewish Community still exists in Europe.”
“It is shocking but true. So I think that the Jews are a stubborn nation. And even though hundreds of thousands have made aliya in these 70 years I think that there will remain a Jewish community in Europe.”