Chanan Babacsayv 390.
(photo credit: Alexandra Hahlweg)
VIENNA – His heart is in Israel. But his feet are firmly planted in
Chanan Babacsayv, the Jerusalem-born vice president of Austria’s
Bukharan Jewish community, wants to give a shot in the arm to the small but
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, he
said the Bukharan Jewish community has grown from 20 to 30 families in the 1970s
to 2,500 members of the roughly 8,000-strong Austrian Jewry.
Jews have their origin in the Central Asian countries of Uzbekistan,
Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.
Israel has the most Bukharan Jews today,
followed by the United States and then Europe.
Babacsayv, who was born in
1977, left for Austria with his family as a young boy.
Though his first
language is Hebrew, he speaks fluent, accent-free German. “My spiritual home is
Israel” but “I accept Austria as my home,” he said.
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Babacsayv, who is
over 180- cm. (6-feet) tall and is capable of slam dunking on the basketball
court, is part of a younger generation of Austrian Jewish leaders. He along with
the 48-year-old Oskar Deutsch, who is slated to become the next president of
Austria’s Jewish community, plan to continue to increase the membership of a
community that once numbered 200,000 before Austrian Nazis destroyed Jewish
life. Dr. Ariel Muzicant, the long-standing head of the country’s Jewish
community, on Wednesday announced that he was retiring from the post. Muzicant
was born in Haifa in 1952 and is one of Continental Europe’s most dynamic Jewish
leaders. Babacsayv and the Bukharan Jewish faction have aligned themselves with
Deutsch, who has been a vice president under Muzicant for 12
Babacsayv works in real estate. He advocates education and
openness to help breakdown stereotypes and clichés about Jews in
He stresses that getting on your high horse is not the best way
to change non-Jews’ attitudes.
Given that there is little interaction
between Austrian Jews and non-Jews, Babacsayv urges personal contact and
proactive meeting to foster a better understanding of Judaism and Jewish
Babacsayv also seeks to strengthen the feelings of unity within the
complex mosaic of Austrian Jewry. The community is made up of Ashkenazi and
Sephardi Jews from Central Asia, Georgia, Russia, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia,
Romania and Israel.
The first Sephardi synagogue since the destruction of
Austrian Jewry during World War II was built in 1990. There is a Sephardi center
in Vienna and the fivestory building contains prayer rooms for the Georgian
Jewish community and the Central Asian groups.
Babacsayv is a deputy
representative for youth programs in the community. On Thursday, 15 young
Austrian Jews traveled to Israel to participate in a two-week Birthright
When asked about Austrian anti-Semitism, he said that after
Israel Navy commandos seized the Turkish blockaderunner Mavi Marmara in 2010,
there was “a wave of anti-Semitism.” Babacsayv cited examples of taxi drivers
not picking up rabbis, attacks on Jewish businesses, and a one-sided anti-Israel
He also attributed the sizable outbreak of anti-Semitism to
segments of the Muslim community. An estimated 500,000 Muslims live a country
with a population of a little over 8 million.
Babacsayv criticized the
Vienna City Council for rebuking Israel within 24 hours of the vessel’s
The council members failed to “get the facts,” he
Omar al-Rawi, a Muslim city councilman from the Social Democratic
party, spearheaded the anti-Israel resolution. He spoke at a pro- Hamas rally in
Vienna after the Israel Navy raid.
In contrast to Germany’s working
through its Nazi history, “one feels a sense of lip service” in Austria,
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