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2019 Annual Assessment

Anti-Semitic incidents have an impact on the entire realm of Jewish activity. They affect the desire of Jews to engage with the community and with the Jewish people, to identify as Jews, to give their children a Jewish education, and so on. Such incidents also, of course, affect the image of Jews in their own eyes, and in the eyes of those around them (see the Integrated Anti-Semitism Index in this report). Troubling anti-Semitic incidents, including physical attacks on Jews, were also reported over the last year in other parts of the world (Argentina, home to nearly 200,000 Jews, is one example).

Germany’s Jewish community, this year, had to face the question of whether and to what extent Jews should publicly display their Jewishness. More specifically: Should Germany’s Jews wear kippot in public, thereby identifying themselves as Jews? Discussion of this issue began when Germany’s Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Anti-Semitism, Dr. Felix Klein, publicly announced that he had reversed his earlier position, and would now be recommending that Jews not wear kippot outside of their homes and synagogues.

“I can no longer recommend Jews wear a kippah at every time and place in Germany,” said Dr. Klein. This statement generated a wave of protest and sympathy, with the US Ambassador to Germany himself appearing publicly with a kippah on his head, and Bild, a popular German newspaper published a cut-out kippah along with the editor-in-chief’s entreaty that Germans wear kippot in the streets in solidarity with German Jews. These reactions gratified the organized community and caused the government to publicly change its position. However, Klein’s warning still resonates, and Jews in Germany understand that their government cannot ensure their safety and that they will likely continue to be subjected to harassment by the extreme right, by Muslim immigrants, and others.
The kippah issue is, of course, emblematic of the larger question regarding the ability of a Jewish community to exist in a modern setting where anti-Semitic elements are growing ever bolder. Half the Jews in France feel that the status of French Jewry has worsened in the past year (AJC survey), yet most of them (60 percent) also believe that Jews have a future in France. On the other hand, nearly a third of French Jews (29 percent) say that Jews should leave the country as soon as possible. This belief is shared by Israeli Jews. While more than half of French Jewry and three quarters of American Jews feel that Jews do have a future in Europe, most Israeli Jews who have an opinion on the matter (46 percent) say that Jews should leave as soon as they can. In any case, there is a certain duality in the views of Israeli Jews, and in the statements of some of their leaders: On the one hand, concern and harsh condemnation of anti-Semitism worldwide. On the other hand, an implicit assumption that Jews have nothing to look forward to in Europe.

Obviously, the question of whether Jews have a future in Europe (or in other countries where anti-Semitism is on the rise) raises secondary questions, such as: How many Jews are required in order to say there’s a “future?” Does “future” presuppose the possibility of a full and public Jewish life? Jews have lived in many different countries and time periods, in conditions where they were obliged to limit their interactions with non-Jewish populations and were often forced to maintain a low profile within the broader public. So, we have to ask not only whether Jews in Germany can place lighted Hanukkah menorahs in their windows without fear of reprisal, but also whether a situation where one cannot do this is tolerable, and whether such a situation will cause him or her to refrain from lighting the menorah altogether, or simply hide it from the eyes of non-Jews. In many countries this kind of discussion still seems premature or alarmist, but not in all countries. In certain Jewish communities the situation is reaching the point where such questions will need to be asked. For example, in places where kosher slaughter has been prohibited (in the Flanders region of Belgium, kosher slaughter was outlawed early this year), or where efforts are underway to ban circumcision.

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