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TURNING THE KALEIDOSCOPE: PERSPECTIVES ON EUROPEAN JEWRY Edited by Sandra Lustig and Ian Leveson

April 13, 2017

Sandra Lustig and Ian Leveson are European Jews (based, respectively, in Germany and England). This edited collection builds on the premise that the world has changed, particularly the European world. We now have the EU (for the time being, anyway), an international currency, and low barriers between countries. These open borders, the new common language of English, and the widespread use of Internet communication have created opportunities for a Jewish revolution of sorts in Europe. It is time, argue Lustig and Leveson, to assert a new identity, not as a Czech, German or Swedish Jew, but as a European Jew.

They believe that European Jewry can serve as a bridge between the two Jewish superpowers—Israel and the United States. Rather than conceiving of these two giants as vacuum cleaners sucking up all the Jews, we should recognize the existence of vibrant, growing Diaspora communities, each with unique features. The contributors have another important idea to share: The old organizations are tired and meaningless. Younger people want—need—to create new Jewish organizations to deal with a new reality. They see themselves as being outside the mainstream.

Two of Kaleidoscope‘s eleven chapters deal with women. They were asked were asked to addressx “Do we feel safe?” and “What are we seeking?” As the women explain, Orthodox restrictions on women’s participation in prayer services inspired the creation of Rosh Hodesh groups—which, however, were found to have deficiencies of their own. Jewish women in Europe began striving for “something new.” Andrea Peto started the “Esther’s Bag” (EszterTáska) Foundation, a Jewish women’s group and website based in Hungary. Jael Geis’s shows how protest against Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon mobilized the first non-mainstream Jewish organization in Europe. She describes the conflict within the Jewish community, torn by its attitudes toward Israel. The women describe their personal experiences (deciding about brit milah, trying to define a spiritual life, reacting to news of suicide bombings in Israel) and their burning questions.

The book ends with a discussion of a rather obscure speech.

Quotations:

The kaleidoscope metaphor conveys a positive, colourful, ever-changing image, as the pieces inside move, mirror, and bounce off each other, representing the diversity of European Jews’ customs, traditions, languages, and so on, as well as the variety of their interactions. One might even discuss whether the force that makes the kaleidoscope turn is a deity, or the actions of human beings, or simply the passing of time. Judaism allows room for all these interpretations. The kaleidoscope metaphor applies to this book as well, in several ways. A kaleidoscope of topics is discussed, most of them with a pan-European view of a particular issue.

The reasons for not joining the local Jewish community may vary, for example: a self-identification as being Jewish, but not in the religious sense; the absence of a rabbi of one’s own persuasion; a dislike of the politics within the Jewish community; a fear of having one’s name on a list of Jews, in case Jews are persecuted again; or the cost of membership, which may be fairly high.

Many of Europe’s Jewish communities face a common issue: continuity. This is partly an issue of sheer numbers: the birth rate is often far lower than the death rate in communities small and large. Especially those countries with a small Jewish population cannot ‘provide’ marriage partners for all those Jews wishing to marry Jews, and in close-knit communities, people may be reluctant to marry someone they met in kindergarten. Here, too, diversity complicates things. Not only are the numbers of potential partners small, but singles who live their Judaism in very different ways, for example, as secular Jews and as devout Jews, are unlikely to make good matches. This is one reason why intermarriage is a common phenomenon. Bernard Wasserstein considers the demographic development of post-war Jewry in Europe to be so threatening that he titled his book on the subject Vanishing Diaspora

Love certainly can flower across religious, ethnic, and/or cultural boundaries; intermarried couples need to find ways to deal with the issues that arise. How the Jewish communities respond is critical for Jewish continuity. Are the non-Jewish spouses required to convert? Are they welcomed into the Jewish community in some way, whether or not they convert? Ar their children welcomed? Or are they not recognised as proper Jews and discriminated against for that reason?

What complicates the issue further is that many German Gentiles seem to have — unknowingly — redefined anti-Semitism as denoting only the murder of Jews in concentration camps. Anyone who did not personally murder a Jew in the Shoah is not considered an anti-Semite by this unspoken, but widely used, redefinition.’ Most people in Germany agree that anti-Semitism is unacceptable, even evil. But since most people do not consider themselves evil, they do not believe they are anti-Semitic, even if they hold views that clearly are anti-Semitic. They would feel insulted to be called anti-Semitic, responding as though they had been wrongly accused of murder.

European Jewry today bears little resemblance to what it was before the Shoah. With just a few exceptions, it is still in a state of recovery from the destruction wrought in the Shoah and /or the suppression by the state socialist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe. Rebuilding Jewish life in all its variety and vitality, and with all its religious and secular institutions, will remain a major task for some generations to come. The rebuilding of Jewish communities and institutions in Central and Eastern Europe will change the orientation of Jewry in Europe from Western European to pan-European, whereby the enlargement of the European Union may foster this process.

Diversity is the defining characteristic of European Jewry. The great variety of Jews scattered across Europe indeed forms a kaleidoscope, with the colourful glass chips inside representing the varied traditions of us practice, culture, place of origin, and so on, tumbling and g ever new patterns over time as the kaleidoscope turns. How this ity will develop in coming decades is an open question. Continuity Jewish life is a common concern as much in larger communities as in ones; it is also a prerequisite for productive exchange with the non-h world. European Jewry also needs to develop the self-confidence necesto take its rightful place alongside other Europeans, whether belong to large nations or smaller minorities, in determining Europe’s future. European Jewry is just beginning to explore its collective European dimion.

It may come to pass that Jewish traditions coalesce in Europe while they stand separate in the U.S. and Israel. European Jewry’s future may involve crossover between Jewish traditions which remain distinct in the U.S. and Israel. This might happen if Jews of different traditions decide that Jewish continuity depends on their uniting to ensure their existence into the next generation. Alternatively, the traditions may remain distinct, with networks between like-minded communities across Europe providing mutual support for small communities. For the often tiny populations of Jews with a particular tradition in any one place, connection to like-minded Jews elsewhere in Europe is of vital importance. Yet the small communities, for whom networks are most important, each need a critical mass of active members (especially in the absence of paid staff) to sustain themselves individually, to join in piecing together networks, and to maintain their participation in them. A third possibility is that neither of these two scenarios will come about. Then, outside Europe’s major Jewish population centres, the few Jews left will be unable to maintain self-sustaining Jewish communities.

Never in Europe’s millennial history have Jews on this continent lived in such individual and collective freedom and well-being as today.

Jewish Europe is emerging from a set of four unprecedented al circumstances which have come to the fore since the late 1980s:

fall of the Berlin Wall, marking the end of the Cold War divide and inaugurating the opening up of the European continent to the values of democratic pluralism and human rights.

The intensification of Christian-Jewish dialogue culminating in the Vatican recognition of the State of Israel and in the acknowledgement of the role of the Churches in the anti-Semitism that led to the Shoah.

The political and cultural transformation of the Shoah itself from a source of private Jewish grief to the motor of new national and European self-understanding, with its correlate, the creation of an ever more vibrant, future-oriented Jewish Space.

Finally, Israel’s coming of age as a fully responsible international actor at a time when democratic pluralism and human rights have become the twin pillars of a positive European identity and the cornerstone of Jewish life in Europe.

The result is that Christians now think of Jews increasingly as their ‘older brothers’ and of Judaism as a faith with a universal message. The challenge for Jews, and European Jews in particular, is immense, for they must project themselves positively and creatively as opposed to defensively in a newly open and pluralist agora of spirituality.

Pursuing a qualitatively new inter-faith dialogue, not just with the Christians, but also with the Muslims of Europe.

For some Jews around the world such a cohabitation, especially in Germany, remains scandalous. One can instead argue that Jews should be in Europe because a ‘judenrein’ Europe was precisely what Hitler had wanted to achieve.

Jewish reconciliation with Europe can take place all the more easily because there has been a European rapprochement with Israel. Unlike in the 1970s, one cannot speak of Europe today as being anti-Zionist or latently anti-Semitic, as was the case previously in terms of foreign policy interests linked to Middle Eastern oil. The risk today is that Europeans will become potentially anti-Israeli because Israel itself is not measuring up to the democratic, human rights, and pluralist standards which Jews have come to expect of their European countries. To prevent such an ironic tragedy, Jews in Europe, qua Jews and qua Europeans, should work actively to pursue the peace process and encourage all forms of Israeli‑Arab dialogue, benefiting from the fact that Jews and Muslims share the same minority and pluralist concerns inside European societies.

. Now that the Shoah is becoming a page of collective European memory, it is important for all to understand that the Eastern European Jews at the end of the war in Displaced Persons camps, I not to mention the Jewish ‘boat people’ whom the British authorities pre­vented from reaching Palestine, were closer in terms of objective condi­tions to current day Gypsies, Tutsis, and Kurds than to their contemporary European counterparts. Such an awareness should condition Jewish positions with respect to Europe’s treatment of refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants.

I shall argue that the prevailing model of how to be a Jew in North America is essentially personal, individual — what I call ‘privatised’ ­while in Israel the model is ‘nationalised’, that is, managed and defined by the State.

Contrary to the ‘Oy vey’ school of Jewish historical thought, m rulers of both Christian and Muslim lands have been enlightened (for time) and generous to the Jews. A good few interpreted as generously possible the theological leeway allowed for Jews either as dhimmi Islam or, under Christianity, as wrong-headed but still the Chosen P of God. We can speculate as to the warmth of their motives, or the s calculation of self-interest, but the outcomes were sometimes to a Jews privileges which the ordinary downtrodden folk of the time have only dreamed of.

those European Jews who decided to sit it out were simply using proper historical knowledge. Sitting out oppression had proved to be a good strategy over the last thousand years. Despite our retrospective view of European Jewish history as being an endless catalogue of massacre, pogrom and expulsion, the reality on a day-to-day basis experienced by Jews — bearing in mind that nobody much, except a small and privileged elite, was having a good time in Europe for the last thousand years — was that life went on pretty ordinarily for a hundred years or so, and then it was disrupted perhaps for a decade until it settled back down.

‘One rabbi fits all’ is not a useful policy and each community should have regard to growing its own leadership, both in the lay and the professional field.

To do that, we need a more discerning lay leadership that can recognise when it is being offered something unsuitable for its own clientele.

While not wanting to decry the preservation of significant sites of historical interest, this is as much the business of the State authorities as it is of the Jewish community in particular. If the site is of genuine historical interest, local Jews should strive to persuade the State to take respon­sibility for it and include it in its tourist trails and so on. If the State will not take it on, it may well be that we are either failing to ensure that the country as a whole recognises the history of the Jewish community as an intrinsic part of the history of the country, or we are being unnecessarily sentimental about something that has little intrinsic worth. Either way, the challenge is to get our past into perspective for our own sake and then learn to move on. We certainly already have enough memorials and cemeteries to commemorate the past; we do not really need more for their own sake.

 It is probably only the diffidence of European governments post-Shoah that prevents them from feeling able, indeed duty-bound, to decide ‘who is a Jew’, at least in reference to the ability to be a recipient of monies raised for Jews. When/if that comes about, that would surely be a strange mirroring of the Israeli problem.

the notion that, like seeds, those once scattered can take root and continue to thrive amid foreign flora — this meaning is increasingly foreclosed in prophetic literature by the replacement of the term ‘t’futsoth’ (scatterings, ‘diaspora’) with the more strongly negative term ‘galut’ (exile).

it may be redemptive only if Jews respond to it with the proper action, known as ‘teshuvah’ ­often translated as ‘repentance’ or ‘return’. Appropriate teshuvah has been interpreted variously in Jewish history as prayer, social justice work, mysticism, national liberation struggle, or most frequently, the multitude of daily acts defined in the halakhah, the Jewish code of daily ritual observance. The mere fact of suffering, without an appropriate active response, does not guarantee redemption.

America’s ‘difference’ is usually justified by pointing to the relative absence of systematic persecution, and, concomitantly, to the many freedoms American Jews enjoy. Since the colonial period, American Jewish intellectuals have maintained that this New Jerusalem (as the Puritans called it) was a place of promise — a Promised Land — unlike any other.

If American Jewish writers have longed to return to any Zion, it is not to Jerusalem but to Bialystok. For many, the Old World is the American Jewish homeland. To be sure, it is an imaginary homeland, not remembered in its particularities, a homeland sentimentalised as a quaint and timeless place of Jewish wholeness, a seamless Yiddishkeit.

In selective choosing and combination among the customs one often ches new subjective meanings to these practices, meanings socially ant to the individual in contemporary society.

‘In place of homeland I place the transformation of the world’

‘Secularised Lutheranism’ as a cosmology. Although Sweden is a country in which most of the citizens by tradition belong to the recently abolished Lutheran State church (now the ‘Swedish Church’), Christianity as a religion does not characterise the life of any large segment of the popu­lation. Nevertheless, most Swedes’ everyday world view and daily life ethics are profoundly coloured by certain Christian or rather Lutheran values: the Protestant ethic (cf. Weber 1904) of hard work and diligence, combined with a particularly rational way of handling human affairs. In the formation of the modern Swedish welfare state, this is amalga­mated into a ‘higher’ cosmological unity that for want of a better label could be described as secularised Lutheranism. In this cosmology, vir­tually everything is measured according to its utility, nothing is really ‘holy’, and religiosity is a question of private inner beliefs. The very categories by which one organises and evaluates social affairs in Sweden are tinted by the tacit values and viewpoints of secular Lutheran cosmology.

Everywhere we may people from various ‘digital diasporas’, as we may call them. At the time, those who wish may enclose themselves in the ‘global ghettos’ internet.

according to a Jewish saying, it took forty years for Moses to take the Jews out of Egypt because he needed a generation ‘to take Egypt [i.e., the mentality of slavery] out of the Jews’.

There is a Chassidic story which goes like this: ‘An old Ch profoundly absorbed in prayer and thought, lost his way in the f After a week of starvation and privation, he met a weatherbeaten, leather clad man of the forest making his way through the undergrowth. Radiant with joy, the Chassid went over to him to ask him the way. “I have good news and bad news”, the forester replied. “The bad news is that I am also a Chassid lost in the forest. The good news is that after ten years I know of a great many ways which do not lead home.”‘

Slowly I found Jewish friends in small secular groups, in support groups of Jewish Social Welfare, I met people at music events, exhibitions, and lectures of Jewish interest, all of them landmarks of a revival of Jewish life in Amsterdam and some other cities in Holland in the 1980s and 1990s.

We have so many possibilities, so many alternatives within our Judaism, only we aren’t really familiar with them. We must first learn all about this Judaism that we have and use it, before we create something new on top of it. Because when we know it well, then we will see with our contemporary mentality that we have a wealth of possibilities.

if we want to raise children a Jewish consciousness, and maybe even with a little bit of Jewish education, then we have to send them back to the ghetto, in a way.

Why was this world eliminated by 1950? The first factor was the Communist takeover. They destroyed the Jewish women’s organisations for two reasons. The first is religion: they identified these organisations as religious organisations and banned them, together with the Catholic, Protestant, and other organisations. The other reason is related to the anti­capitalist tendencies of the Communists, because it was the affluent upper middle-class Jewish women who took part in the Jewish women’s organisations; consequently they were labelled as ‘class enemies’. So after they returned from the concentration camps, they were deported within Hungary to other internment camps.

The Shoah, however, suffocated the uninhibited spirit of this new departure. After 1945, Jewish self-confidence was shaken to such a degree t the survivors rigidly clung to handed down clichés of an ideal world a la Orthodox shtetl.

 In East Germany, too, Jewish life was focused on preserving handed down tradition. In the shrinking communities with small congregain’ atio composed mostly of survivors and returning emigres, simply ma int a minimum of Jewishness proved to be a major effort. They were more less cut off from the rest of the Jewish world.

 the participants discussed alternative models of the family that extend beyond biological relations, and the responsibility that the Jewish community has to integrate them as well. The second conference brought to the fore that historically speaking, Judaism is by no means exclusively family-oriented: institutions such as the minyan or the seder demand that one feels responsible for the entire community.

In the 1990s, commemoration of the 1938 November pogrom was combined with opposition to xenophobia and racism, seen as analogous current-day phenomena that were to be opposed. Some of the commemorative events featured upbeat entertain­ment appropriate for getting people excited about opposing racism, but inappropriate for mourning the Shoah. In other words, where common commemoration has been attempted, Jewish themes and Jewish pro­tagonists have sometimes been pushed aside. Where this occurs, the Shoah seems to provide merely the backdrop before which commemorative events take place, events whose thrust is in the direction of national identity formation or opposition to xenophobic violence — not primarily commemor­ation of the crime of the Shoah. Linking current neo-Nazism to the Shoah is legitimate, of course; it is a matter of emphasis, of whether the focus on cur­rent issues clouds the painful commemoration of the Shoah. At other times, Jewish leaders do play a prominent role in public commemoration events. In these situations, it is particularly the Jews who take on — and are given — the responsibility for keeping memory of the Shoah alive and exhorting the public not to commit such a crime again. In these cases, Bodemann calls the role ascribed to Jews ‘labourers of memory’

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