2021 Annual Assessment

The COVID-19 pandemic has plagued Jewish communities around the world. The communities have been dramatically affected by the ways in which their home countries have addressed the new challenge. As noted above, Jews in many parts of Latin America (Brazil, which has been hit especially hard, and other countries) have sought refuge and vaccination in the United States. Elsewhere, as in Australia, communities have been tested in terms of their ability to remain connected in the face of prolonged lockdowns (enthusiastic participation in online synagogue activity was reported in Melbourne).

A comprehensive study published early last year found that Europe, Turkey, and Russia are home to 1.3 million people who identify themselves Jews.25 According to this study, the number of Jews in these areas has fallen drastically since the 1970s, due to the large-scale emigration of Jews to Israel and North America after the fall of the Iron Curtain, but not solely for that reason. Even Western European countries witnessed a contraction of their Jewish populations by nearly ten percent. In many communities, such as that of Germany, only elderly Jews (on average) remain, and if these populations are not reinforced substantially over the coming decades, they will continue to dwindle numerically, and inevitably culturally as well.

The European communities are experiencing a continuation of trends familiar from past years, in which Jews self-segregate into their communities. This process includes elements of Jewish exclusion from general society, but it can also bolster the sense of a shared destiny and interdependence in those communities, as well as strong member commitment.26 These trends especially evident as antisemitism erupted in several countries during Operation Guardian of the Walls, but other events called attention to it as well. French Jews were shocked by the light sentence given to a Jewish woman’s murderer. In Belgium, a recent governmental decision translates into less protection for Jewish institutions; Jewish organizations have protested Belgium’s intention of withdrawing the military presence near Jewish public and community buildings. In Poland, the community was forced to witness a bitter confrontation between their government and the Israeli government and major Jewish organizations, in the wake of legislation that makes it very difficult, or even impossible, for Jews to receive compensation for property stolen from them during and after the Holocaust.

A certain change for the better could be discerned in relations between the European governments and the government of Israel. This was the case during the conflict in Gaza, when the IDF was not subjected to harsh condemnation, and after the governmental transition in Israel, when several European capitals showed interest in repairing relations that had earlier been strained. Surveys continue to show that most European Jews do not see a future for their children on the continent, even if their everyday lives are marked by economic prosperity.

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