Con­ti­nen­tal shift in pop­u­la­tion

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - Jonathan Boyd THE VIEW FROM THE DATA

THE HEAD of the Ser­vice de Pro­tec­tion de la Com­mu­nauté Juive — the French equiv­a­lent of the CST — doesn’t use her sur­name in pub­lic. She has been ad­vised not to; it is sim­ply too dan­ger­ous. The an­ti­semitic threat there is all too real and, while most French Jews are stay­ing put, many are leav­ing. Close to 22,000 have made aliyah in the past five years, al­most five per cent of the whole.

The direc­tor of the Jewish com­mu­nity of Athens is strug­gling with the eco­nomic cri­sis in Greece. A key source of com­mu­nal in­come has typ­i­cally come from real es­tate but that has seen a dra­matic drop. And, with un­em­ploy­ment ris­ing, tax in­creases and cap­i­tal con­trols, the com­mu­nity is be­com­ing ever more re­liant on fi­nan­cial aid from in­ter­na­tional Jewish or­gan­i­sa­tions based in Is­rael or the United States.

In Is­tan­bul, the lead­ers of “Gen­er­a­tion Next” are try­ing to re­main up­beat in the af­ter­math of last year’s coup and 4[MXĔKW´\ RWû[NK\RWPUā K^]QX[R]K[RKW poli­cies. They con­tinue to run ac­tiv­i­ties for young adults, but many are look­ing for ways out — per­haps to Is­rael, although Spain looks like a vi­able op­tion for some.

A leader of Lis­bon’s small Jewish commu- nity laughs de­spair­ingly at philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions about how to strengthen young peo­ple’s Jewish iden­ti­ties. He’s more con­cerned about the fun­da­men­tal com­mu­nity in­fra­struc­ture — keep­ing the sy­n­a­gogue open, main­tain­ing the chevra kadisha and gain­ing ac­cess to kosher food.

At­tend­ing sev­eral con­fer­ences of Euro­pean Jewish lead­ers re­cently — in Rome, Barcelona and Frank­furt — these are some of the anec­dotes that have stayed with me. The at­mos­phere is of­ten jovial and re­laxed, but dig a lit­tle un­der the sur­face and you soon start to see how dif­fi­cult things re­ally are, and how much we take for granted about Jewish life in the UK. I keep com­ing away from these events ask­ing my­self one key ques­tion: what re­spon­si­bil­ity do we have, as Bri­tish Jews, to sup­port Jewish life else­where in Europe?

It’s ironic re­ally. Bri­tish Jewry has never had a great track record of sup­port­ing Euro­pean Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in the first place, and now, just as the UK trig­gers Ar­ti­cle 50 and be­gins the process of ex­tri­cat­ing it­self from the Euro­pean Union, it seems to me that Euro­pean Jewry needs UK Jewish sup­port more than at any time since the War.

Euro­pean Jewish de­mo­graph­ics are strik­ing; 150 years ago, only about 10 per cent of world Jewry did not live in Europe. To­day, only about 10 per cent of world Jewry re­mains there. The trans­for­ma­tion, caused chiefly by the Shoah, two enor­mous waves of mi­gra­tion from Rus­sia and the FSU at the end of the 19th and 20th cen­turies to the US and Is­rael, in­ter­mar­riage and as­sim­i­la­tion, driven par­tic­u­larly by the op­pres­sive anti-re­li­gious poli­cies of com­mu­nist regimes, and the long-term ef­fects of age­ing and low fer­til­ity, has left much of Jewish Europe a mere shadow of what it once was. While the UK and France still have size­able com­mu­ni­ties with Germany and Hun­gary fol­low­ing be­hind, no other coun­try in the Euro­pean Union has more than 30,000 Jews left and in most cases the num­bers are much smaller.

More­over, de­mo­graphic pro­jec­tions make grim read­ing. While the UK Jewish pop­u­la­tion is largely sta­ble, de­cline can be seen more or less ev­ery­where else, fu­elled by age­ing, low fer­til­ity, mi­gra­tion and as­sim­i­la­tion. Even in Germany, where an in­flux of Jews from the FSU in the 1990s dra­mat­i­cally en­larged the Jewish pop­u­la­tion, and where ex­pat Is­raelis help to bol­ster num­bers, the long-term pro­jec­tions based on age dis­tri­bu­tions are dire. And while there are cases of as­sim­i­lated Jews redis­cov­er­ing their roots in former com­mu­nist coun­tries, I have seen no ev­i­dence to sug­gest that this phe­nom­e­non will in any way off­set the po­tency of de­mo­graphic de­cline.

So what is our re­spon­si­bil­ity? Will we stand idly by while Euro­pean Jewry slowly fades away? Does the con­tin­ued ex­is­tence of mul­ti­ple Jewish com­mu­ni­ties on the Euro­pean con­ti­nent re­ally mat­ter, given that other his­tor­i­cal Jewish com­mu­ni­ties have also long since dis­ap­peared? I don’t know.

But I do know that there are still more than a mil­lion Jews liv­ing in Europe who have much to con­trib­ute to the Jewish and wider worlds, and that we will be more suc­cess­ful if we all find ways to pool re­sources and sup­port one another. Brexit prob­a­bly makes that task harder, but “Brex­o­dus” — fur­ther Bri­tish Jewish dis­en­gage­ment from Jewish Europe — must be re­sisted.

As the UK leaves the EU, Jews there need our help

Jonathan Boyd is Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor of the In­sti­tute for Jewish Pol­icy Re­search

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