Is there a future for the Jewish communities of Europe?
Two-thirds of a century after the Second World War, this question remains a troubling one–above all to many Jews who live there. It is examined in depth in a brilliant new article entitled “You Only Live Twice” by Michel Gurfinkiel in Mosaic, the invaluable web site dealing with Jewish life, thought, and religion. Gurfinkiel is a French journalist and writer who for some years edited the conservative journal Valeurs Actuelles, is the founder and president of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, and serves on the board of governors of the Consistoire, the organization representing France’s Jewish communities.
“Despite all their success and achievement, the majority of European Jews, seconded by many Jewish and non-Jewish experts, insist that catastrophe may lie ahead,” Gurfinkiel writes. Polls show remarkable levels of anti-Semitism and widespread acts of violence against Jews. As Gurfinkiel notes,
Like Israelis, but unlike most American Jews, today’s European Jews are survivors, or children of survivors, either of the Holocaust or of the near-complete expulsion of Jews from Islamic countries that took place in the second half of the 20th century. They know, from personal experience or from the testimony of direct and irrefutable witnesses, how things unfolded in the not too distant past, and how a seemingly normal Jewish life could be destroyed overnight. When anti-Semitic incidents or other problems accumulate, they can’t help asking whether history is repeating itself.
To contemporary European Jews…. today’s anxieties thus also recall the crucial choice they or their parents made some 30 or 50 or 70 years ago when, having survived the Holocaust, they resolved to stay in Europe—more accurately, in Western Europe, under the American umbrella—or, having been forced out of Islamic countries, to flee to Europe. Was this the right choice, after all?
The article is too rich to summarize here in its discussion not only of the Jewish communities, but of what their fate tells us about Europe itself and its own future. Gurfinkiel argues that there was a golden age for European Jews after the Second World War when Europe lived under the American umbrella, but now a different Europe is developing. And he quotes a leading scholar:
even so sober an analyst as Robert Wistrich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, author of definitive works on the history and dynamics of anti-Semitism, has concluded that although the final endpoint of European Jewry may be decades in coming, “any clear-sighted and sensible Jew who has a sense of history would understand that this is the time to get out.”
This article will provoke controversy and its conclusions will be resisted. But its explanation and evocation of Jewish history in Europe and of the conditions of the present day make it an article that must be read–and then re-read.