In the face of the repeated anti-Semitic attacks throughout Western Europe, European Jews have been asking themselves whether there still is a place for them in Europe – and rightly so. The list of attacks has been growing longer with Copenhagen being the last item. Such an irony when one thinks of Denmark’s remarkable decision to save its Jewry from the fires of the shoah (Hebrew for the holocaust) during WWII by sending them to Sweden. The rise of anti-Semitism has triggered a prompt response from the State of Israel, whose Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, reminded Europe’s Jews that their home is in Israel, hoping for a potential wave of aliyah (the immigration of Jews from the diaspora to Israel) but mainly also preparing for the parliamentary elections this March.
However, Israel is not any safer for Jews than Europe is. Despite having an equipped, well-financed, and well-trained army, Jews are a common target of terrorists and jihadists even in the Holy Land. To name only few incidents in recent months – four men were killed and several injured in an attack on a Jerusalem synagogue in November last year, a number of passengers were stabbed on a bus in Tel Aviv in January, and last month, a four-year-old girl died of causes related to the injury she suffered as a two-year-old when attackers threw stones on the car her mom was driving. Yes, Israel might be a spiritual, cultural or religious fulfillment for some Jews but no Jew should leave Europe out of fear. As the Danish chief rabbi rightly put it after the attack in Copenhagen, Jews should migrate to Israel “out of love” not “out of fear”.
Yet, Jews who decide to leave Europe are not leaving because they wish to decrease the probability of an attack but because they do not want to hide practicing their faith. Since January, soldiers have guarded Jewish sites throughout France, an elite army is patrolling the Jewish quarter in Antwerp, and basically every Jewish community building in any EU country has some form of protection. But life behind the protected walls is not like the life when one can freely walk in the streets with a kippah (skullcap) on one’s head. Jews are considering leaving because again they have to hide that they are Jews.
Despite all negative things though, Jewish communities in many European cities, and especially in the post-communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe, have started thriving again. Berlin, for instance, has one of the fastest growing Jewish communities in Europe and much of this is happening also thanks to the support of the German government. Many EU governments throughout the block have supported Jewish communities under a variety of programs and it is again easier for Jews to establish Jewish institutions and facilities, eat kosher, do circumcision, and organize ritual slaughter of animals. The last two freedoms – circumcision and ritual slaughter – are truly notable, because these are precisely the two things that joined Jews and Muslims to fight for their religious rights in some EU countries.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that many of Europe’s Jewish communities are experiencing their best times since 1945, Europe should do its utmost to protect its citizens while carefully balancing human rights, multiculturalism, and freedom of speech. Jews have been an integral part of the old continent since the 2nd century BCE and they should not be leaving in the third millennium because of the skewed perceptions of tolerance and humanity.
The Jewish people have a long historical experience with animosity, hatred, and death. Despite the Middle Eastern conflict in which Europe appears to be struggling to be fair and non-judgmental, the old continent must finally understand that jihadists and terrorists are not rational actors with whom a normal dialogue can be led. Their system of “values” is very different from that of the Western society (and also from the society whose values they claim to protect) and it impedes directly on the “my freedom ends where your freedom begins” rule.
After centuries of pogroms that culminated in the holocaust, Europe should finally demonstrate that this sad part of its history is over. And Europe should also demonstrate that it does care about its Jews not only by protecting their houses of prayer but also by reminding them that Europe is their home too. Many of them would surely like to hear that.