2016 Annual Assessment

Annual Assessment 2016

Dr. Shlomo Fischer

Avinoam Bar-Yosef, Susanne Cohen-Weisz, Rémi Daniel, Chaya Ekstein, Dan Feferman, Avi Gil, Inbal Hakman, Michael Herzog, Simon Luxemburg, David Landes, Dov Maimon, Steven Popper, Uzi Rebhun, Shmuel Rosner, John Ruskay, Noah Slepkov, Shalom Solomon Wald, Einat Wilf

Barry Geltman
Rami Tal

2016 Annual Assessment

The process of “feeling at home in Vienna” which has been underway since the late 1970s, and increasingly visible since the early 1980s led to changes in the components of Jewish identity Each successive generation accorded diminishing weight to the memory of the Shoah (which had formed a virtual wall between the Jewish and the local population) and to their bonds with the State of Israel (which had served as a substitute for an Austrian identity) in their group identity, developing both a stronger relationship to Austria, and greater self-confidence as Jews in Vienna than the previous generation.

Israel was a utopia for the survivors. For the first postwar generation, it was the symbol for the Jewish survival, and many of those who remained behind in Europe continued to entertain dreams of making Aliyah. Jews generally stood behind Israel unconditionally, irrespective of their objections to Israeli government policies. While the Jewish state occupies an important place in the hearts of the second postwar generation, they openly criticize the Israeli government’s policies – though not the existence of the state. Israel is being largely taken for granted by this generation, and Austrian media, which generally portrays Israel as the aggressor, influences the opinions and attitudes of both the gentiles and the Jews. It needs to be stressed that the State of Israel does not make significant efforts to change these opinions. The Israeli embassy makes only minimal efforts to give the Jewish community an understanding of the social, economic, and political developments in Israel. It does little hasbara among the community members. In the words of a former ambassador: “I am not accredited to the Jewish community, but the Austrian government.” While this is technically true, closer contact between the embassy and the community (not only its leadership) would surely contribute to a strengthening of the centrality of Israel in Jewish group identity, and also provide the Jews with information necessary to fight anti-Zionism and the ignorance concerning Israel in their surroundings.

Both the Shoah memory and the State of Israel had been major binding links between the various groups within the community during the first four decades after World War II. Their declining centrality left a vacuum in Jewish group identity, which was filled by religion. The postwar generation’s contribution to the process of forming Jewish identity was boosting the self-confidence and creating the institutions necessary for a flourishing Jewish life. The second postwar generation is now infusing that process with renewed involvement in Judaism as a religion, a new and broader conception of Jewish identity, and the reinforcement and public expression of Jewish self-confidence. Having grown up in a secure economic environment and in a Jewish community with the required infrastructure, they began to examine their Jewish identity in depth, to promote the study of Judaism, and to encourage youth participation and commitment, as evidenced by the increased number of learning venues and the tendency toward greater personal religiosity. Also those who remain less observant are actively participating in activities organized by the community and the various Jewish organizations in Vienna. These organizations are almost exclusively Orthodox, but heterogeneous in their level of observance. Thus, for example, among the youth organizations there is the secular Zionist Shomer Hatzair, the religious Zionist Bnei Akiva, the Bukhara youth organization Yad BeYad, and the Jewish students’ organization.