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A New Exodus? The Reality of Being Jewish in Europe Today

SFI Blog image, Rabbi Olivier Fitoussi

Already this year, anti-Semitic attacks have occurred all over Europe – in France, in Belgium, and elsewhere. The Guardian reports that the Jewish hatred rampant across the continent has caused many European Jews to question what the future holds, with seven of them providing firsthand accounts from France to Turkey:

Jean-Francois Bensahel, 51, Paris, president of the Israeli Reform Union at the synagogue in Paris where in October 1980 a bomb exploded, killing four people

The rise in antisemitism is a European phenomenon, but it was in France that the assassins’ bullets started. The strong republican state that imposes shared values cements our society, but over the past 40 years secularism and assimilation have given way to multiculturalism and ghettoisation, and we are suffering the consequences.

The Charlie Hebdo attacks in January showed that the “Jewish question” is also the “French question”. Now lots of people are saying they have to leave because it’s too dangerous in France, and they’re afraid of being attacked in the street for wearing a kippah or a Star of David. More and more people believe their identity can be summed up by their religion.

The French didn’t react to antisemitic killings in the past, and for the past 30 to 40 years they have made excuses about the radicalisation of Muslims, blaming their social and economic situation and seeing it as an extension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…

Dalia Golda, 33, Bucharest, founder of Gan Eden Kindergarten, a Jewish kindergarten and after-school center in the Romanian capital, where Jews are a tiny majority of the population

There are very few Jews in the whole of Romania – officially 7,000. We were wiped out [during the Second World War]. It is important to have places like the Holocaust Memorial, which opened in 2009, in order to remember, but we also need to educate. When I used to work for the Jewish Cultural Centre I received hundreds of phone calls in the middle of the night saying: “You Jew!” It didn’t stop me.

My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor. After the war, Jews lived two different lives: one in normal society, the other with your family. Romanians were not allowed to have religion in communist times…

Karen Sarhon, 56, Istanbul, linguist and academic who founded Turkey’s first Sephardic music group

The atmosphere for Jews in Turkey is very negative. Every day you see right-wing newspapers writing lots of [expletive]. “The flies are flying sideways – it’s because of the Jews”, that sort of thing. People ask about my name – Karen is not a Turkish name – so I say I’m Jewish and they say: “Oh – you don’t look Jewish.” My husband, who’s in the business world, has experienced more antisemitism than me. After Gaza [last summer], he sold some beauty salon machines and the first question was: “Where do they come from? If they come from Israel we won’t buy them.”

Animosity on social media is growing as people are being fed lies all the time by the media – especially by fundamentalist writers and preachers, who say we are the cursed people. Most of the Jewish community’s budget is spent on security, because we have to have guards and metal detectors everywhere – at synagogues, the Jewish museum, the Jewish school. It didn’t used to be like that 20 years ago, but it’s becoming worse, with the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, criticising Israel so openly. The government kindles the animosity.

Tags: Anti-Semitism , Europe

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