JDC Europe chief doesn’t foresee Jewish mass emigration

“What we hear from community leaders and what we can validate from statistics is that people are not leaving Europe in masses.”

Jews in Europe are facing increasing hostility motivated by anti-Semitism. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jews in Europe are facing increasing hostility motivated by anti-Semitism.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
While Jewish emigration from Europe in the face of economic malaise and growing anti-Semitism is indeed on the rise it does not mean that the continental Jewish population will shrink dramatically, according to a senior official at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
Though European Jews have expressed concern regarding growing populism and anti-Semitism, “what we hear from community leaders and what we can validate from statistics is that people are not leaving Europe in masses,” said Diego Ornique, the JDC’s director for Europe.
The JDC provides emergency relief, social services and community organizational services to Jewish communities around the world.
According to Ornique, who took over responsibility for the organization’s European operations last year after a decade in various leadership roles on the continent, at “the same time while there are concerns about the living conditions for the Jewish people in Europe there is a determination for the leadership and most importantly for most of the members to stay here.”
“We are dedicated to strengthening communities in that regard,” he said.
Some of the JDC’s highest profile work is in the field of social services in the former Soviet Union, with its chain of Hesed welfare centers providing a social safety net not available for many in the FSU. However, the organization has also placed a large focus on community building, training community leaders and “building infrastructure,” he said.
“We have a long history of supporting western Europe with the same approach for many years,” he explained, stating that across the continent his organization has worked at “capacity building” such as incorporating Jewish communal organizations and teaching fund-raising best practices.
Among the areas in which he says his organization has been focusing, especially as the majority of Jewish residents will not be going anywhere, are providing the “right training in leadership development, building infrastructure [and] nurturing leaders.”
“We focused on many years on building communities and now that these communities in central Europe are built and are more sufficient we are focusing on the grassroots center,” he said.
Late last month Ornique convened a conference of European Jewish leaders in Barcelona “aimed at strengthening Jewish community resilience in the face of adversity.”
“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,” he said in a statement at the time. “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.”
“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,” said Rabbi Michael Melchior, the chief rabbi of Norway and a former Israeli cabinet minister in a statement issued by JDC. “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.”
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post, Ornique said he believes “people in general stay and the numbers of immigration are very low” compared to the overall Jewish populations in European countries and that current difficulties may even provide “an opportunity” for bringing people closer to Jewish communities.
“We see more people coming back or turning back after the disconnection from Jewish life and communities can capture this opportunity,” he said.
“In demographic terms we don’t see a big shift and indeed this is an opportunity to create more receiving communities because people are turning back. [There are] Jewish people who turn back to the communities.
In some cases its out of fear, but in some other cases they say ‘I want to live in a place and I want to have an active role in my Jewish community by being part of this.’”