Jewish history and demography

There are about 6 million Jews in both Israel and in the US, about a million in Western Europe, 300,000 or so in Russia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, and other centers ranging from 30,000 to a few hundred thousand in Canada, Latin America, and Australia

All told, leaving unaswered the knotty question of who is a Jew, there may be 14 million of us,

The Israeli opportunity has been responsible for emptying of Jews from the nasty places of the world. There is no major concentration of Jews left to suffer in places where they cannot leave.

Ukraine is dicey, but its Jews can leave. They are one of the largest group coming recently, along with the French. A dribble of Iranians are emigrating, but others say that they are doing all right.

This is not to say that there are no Jews left who are suffering poverty and/or persecution, or that there are no miserable Jews in better countries. For the most part, however, we're doing well, As a collective, better than at any time in history.

Over my shoulder are the ghosts of Germans saying, "we said the same thing." Those voices won't go away, but things are different. Germany has provided Israel with a half dozen submarines said to be capable of firing nuclear tipped missiles that Israel is said to possess, which should make Iranians think more than twice about attacking. 

Dedicated enemies in Lebanon and Gaza have not finished cleaning the rubble from the last time they provoked the IDF, or--in the case of Gaza--from the time before that.

Our success haunts us. There remains jealously of Jews' wealth and prominence, feeding claims that we control everything. More prominent now, however, are accusation against Israel. That it's a bully, must be brought down to size, and must be made to allow the Palestinians to live in something other than what is called Israel's prison or under the thumb of Israeli occupation. At the extreme are those who say Israel's creation was a historic mistake that should be undone.

Jews wouldn't be Jews if they didn't worry.

Those living well in Western Europe are worrying about growing neighborhoods of Muslims, with indications of what might happen at least as bloody as anything Israelis have experienced. Israel's response to an uptick in Palestinian violence may convince Jews that they'd be safest here, but not all that many are willing to uproot themselves from established livelihoods, language, family and social connections for what might be a marginal improvement in their security. Individuals can live well as Jews in Germany, Russia, and elsewhere in Europe. 

It's not easy probing the impact of Muslim neighborhoods on Europeans. Alongside writing about no-go zones that are beyond the control of national authorities are assertions that the notion is grossly exaggerated, and not yet the kind of chaos ruled by gangs, drugs, and rampant violence that mark American ghettos.

Most Americans who write to me feel secure in the good life. They seem to be, or pretend to be oblivious to wretched conditions not too far from them, but there there are those who are sensitive to the great gaps in their society, and are wondering about the long range security of those doing well.

It's not hard to imagine insecurity among Jews in South Africans and Latin Americans, with each national cluster wondering about the next political or economic crisis, and how it will affect them and others currently protected by walls and private guards.

Migration from chaos and poverty has been with us forever. It brought Jews to America and to Israel from the late 19th century and again after World War II, in waves no less impressive than what is now streaming out of areas torn by war or marked by hopeless poverty. Poor Latin Americans are moving toward the US, Middle Easterners and Africans are trying their luck on the way to Europe. Israel has fences and military patrols against incursions from both directions.

Our politicians are talking about the insecurity of Jews elsewhere, and calling on them to "come home," but many of those here are wondering about traffic jams and affordable housing.

There are also Jews leaving the Promised Land. How many is one of the unanswerable questions. There are substantial communities in the US, Canada, and Germany, along with Russians who have gone back home. Israeli professionals work in an international market, and may spend years with their family wherever individual initiative or an assignment from a multi-national employer sends them. There are also less well equipped Israelis struggling along with many others below the lower middle range of the American and European economies. They are countless insofar as many have not admitted to themselves or others that they are gone for good. Some try time and again to make it in Israel, and spend their lives back and forth. A number have acquired American citizenship or Green Cards entitling them to residence and work. No one knows for sure how many have overstayed their tourist visas, and are working with the same lack of security as people from all over. 

There are Jews who worry about Israelis who leave but it's been going on since our history began. The Promised Land was always too limiting for Jews wanting more. Half or more of Jews may have lived elsewhere from ancient times. There was considerable voluntary movement to established communities throughout the Middle East and Europe, along with prominent expulsions.

Having a second passport is common among Israelis. Some Latin American countries sell their citizenship. Several European countries provide citizenship (and access to work and residence throughout the European Community) to descendants of those who left under pressure. The US makes it easy for citizens who have lived in the US for much of their lives to provide citizenship to their children born elsewhere. Germany is the most generous with respect to Jews, not only among those who can claim a German family member a generation or more ago.

Taxation and other obligations may come along with these citizenships, with variations among countries. Israel is joining an international movement among governments poking more assiduously into the lives of its citizens who have interests elsewhere. Computers and intergovernmental agreements to share information are making more of us subject to supervision from a number of directions.

Those complications are a matter of crying on the way to the bank, much different from those feeling they must leave home, but having trouble finding a place to accept them.

Comments welcome


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem