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The Real Threat to Europe's Jews

The Real Threat to Europe's Jews

European Jewry is slowly but surely disappearing before our eyes, melting away through a combination of ignorance, assimilation and intermarriage.


The Jews of Europe are once again in grave danger, but the real threat to their future is not quite what you might think.

While the wave of anti-Semitism sweeping the continent is indeed disturbing, there is a far more destructive force at work these days, one that places the continued existence of European Jewry in doubt.

It is the ailment of assimilation and the malady of intermarriage which are truly wreaking havoc in Jewish communities across Europe. And though they may not receive as much attention as an assault on a rabbi in the streets of Paris or the desecration of a cemetery outside Berlin, the blows which they strike are nevertheless more lasting and more painful, as well as more difficult to repair.

The fact of the matter is that with only a few exceptions, the Jewish communities of Europe are gradually shrinking in size, contracting quantitatively as a result of declining birthrates, aging populations and increasing numbers of young people who marry out of the fold.

According to demographer Prof. Sergio Della Pergola of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, there were slightly more than 1 million Jews living in Western Europe at the start of 2002. Of these, nearly 80 percent could be found in France and the United Kingdom, home to Europe's largest and strongest Jewish populations.

Instead of worrying so much about educating Europeans to like their Jews, we need to start educating their Jews to better appreciate their Judaism.

Yet, despite a wealth of Jewish communal institutions and a plethora of Jewish organizations, both French and British Jewry have been steadily in decline.

A December 2002 study by the Jewish Agency's Institute for Jewish People Policy Planning found that the number of Jews in France fell from 535,000 in 1980 to some 500,000 in just two decades, a loss of over 6 percent.

British Jewry fared even worse. According to the Board of Deputies, the representative body for Jews in the UK, there were 430,000 Jews living in Great Britain in 1950, but just 283,000 in 1996. Or, as an item on their web site puts it, "Since the 1950s there has been a steady decrease in numbers so that by the 1990s British Jewry was approximately one-third smaller than it had been in 1950."

If anything, these trends are only likely to accelerate, as the negative factors behind the demographic crisis continue to consolidate. Indeed, in both England and France, the annual number of deaths in the Jewish community already exceeds the number of births.

It is therefore hardly surprising that in a lengthy article appearing in the 2002 edition of the American Jewish Year Book, Della Pergola estimated that, "French Jewry will experience a slow but steady decline from 520,000 in 2000, to 480,000 in 2020, to 380,000 in 2050, and 300,000 in 2080." Meanwhile, across the Channel, he wrote, "The Jewish population in the United Kingdom will decline to 240,000 in 2020, 180,000 in 2050, and 140,000 in 2080."

In effect, this means that within just 75 years or so, French and English Jewry will only be half their current size.

In smaller Jewish communities in Europe, the retrenchment rates have been even more pronounced.

Take, for example, Ireland, where the 1991 census found there to be 1,581 Jews. Today, the number is said to be approximately 1,000, marking a decline of over 50 percent in just a decade.

Soaring intermarriage rates have taken a toll as well, in some cases reaching as high as 80 percent or more, raising further questions about the viability of some European Jewish communities.

And even in countries where the numbers have remained fairly stable, such as Spain or Italy, or which have experienced growth, such as Germany, it is primarily due to an influx of immigrants from the former Soviet states, and not because of any inherent vitality within the local community itself.

This disastrous situation should be raising alarm bells throughout the Jewish world. European Jewry is slowly but surely disappearing before our eyes, melting away through a combination of ignorance, assimilation and intermarriage.

Inexplicably, though, Israel and American Jewish leaders prefer to focus on combating anti-Semitism, rather than Jewish ignorance, even as its victims are increasingly facing religious and ethnic extinction.

The result, of course, is catastrophic, as attention and resources are shifted to fighting a question of bigotry, rather than of survival. Soon enough, there may not be any Jews in Europe left to hate.

Now don't get me wrong -- I am not trying to downplay the severity of European anti-Semitism. But when compared to the threat posed by assimilation, should it really be placed at the top of the agenda?

Instead of worrying so much about educating Europeans to like their Jews, we need to start educating their Jews to better appreciate their Judaism.

There is so much that can and should be done in this regard, from sending more rabbis to serve European Jewish communities to translating more material on Judaism into the various European languages. But all this takes funds and energy and commitment, and there is a limited amount of these to go around.

Only by acknowledging the extent of the problem, and deciding to act, can world Jewry and Israel possibly salvage the situation. The first step in doing so is to recognize that as crucial as it might be to fight Europe's anti-Semites, it pales in comparison with engaging its Jews.

This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

March 6, 2004

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Visitor Comments: 26

(26) John Vermeer, May 12, 2014 5:40 AM

Europe Doesn't Deserve Any Jews

Though beautiful and cultured, Europe is a barbaric place undeserving of the gifts Jews have brought it. When I've seen the memorials throughout Europe to the many murdered Jews, it sickens me, it is up to every Jew to relocate either to Israel or to the United States where there's a semblance of safety to practice Judaism.

(25) Mascatu, February 9, 2009 4:17 AM

Marcel,You're right.It is very difficult to be a jew this days.I m a christian and I know what your people had suffered through ages.Indeed,europeans are still haveing the same opinion about jews like 60 years ago.As you said islamism is growin very fast in Europe.Is like a course to us.Watching the news dayly I started to fell unsafe knowing so much muslims in my country and across Europe.In my country the coroption is at a very high level and the last government protected and ommited to watch over islamic danger.I traveled across Europe and saw many muslims in high social positions and I understood the end is nearby... So all I can do is to pray. God bless jews and all of us.

(24) Eli, August 5, 2008 1:00 AM

Jews must leave Europe as soon as possible. Help them with that. Dont curse, dont fight, just leave. It will bring chaos, collapse of Europe! The best Revenge for our Nation that was so much under danger and pressure. Dumb Europeans with stupid ideological principles. Europeans? What? They are still the same dumbs, living in illusion. Europeans.

(23) David, July 12, 2008 8:08 PM

Marcel, thank you for the interesting comments, I agree fully. There is a certain irony and stupidity to Europe not wanting Jews, but being all too eager to bring in Muslims en masse.

(22) Marcel, May 9, 2007 7:29 AM

Europe: From Judeo-Christian to Islamic-Christian society

To understand the problem of European jewry, one has to understand the circomstances of European life and the changes they've been subjected to since world war 2.

After world war 2, a large percentage of European jewry emigrated to Palestine, or rather the soon to be Israel established in 1947, and the United States, leaving shattered and devastated jewish communities behind. European jewry before the war was usually poor, because it had been kept artificially poor throughout history until at least 30 years before world war 2 started, for example by denying jew higher-paid jobs by law. After the war, Europe saw itself with a large gap. The jews, basically the lower working class of society, had either massively been exterminated or emigrated. In 1947 Europe's nations started 'importing' the first muslims to work in the lower-class sectors to fill the shortage. This import of muslim workers grew to large quantities and continued heavily until in the late 70's, the process of muslim immigration slowed down. These people were brought here to work, but they were not integrated into the countries' national cultures. Here and there small and cheap mosques popped up, but the muslim communities were basically isolated and ignored, and they usually centered themselves in large muslim sections in the larger cities. Halfway through the 80's, Europe's leaders acknowledged this problem and started a sudden and rapid integration process, which only truely took of halfway through the 90's. In those 15 years time, Islam has become very prominent in Europe, and it has a reason. During the approximately 40 years that it was basically ignored and discriminated, it took the natural opportunity to grow and grow in silence. Not just in numbers, but also in pride of ancestry. All of a sudden, muslims were allowed a voice, and logically, they took the chance. Only now, did the magnitude of European Islam show itself. Mosques were raised all over Europe in truely great numbers, natives to Europe had to integrate and learn about Islam, Islamic schools were founded, etc. Islam nowadays is growing closer and closer to being as widely represented as Christianity is. In my town alone there are 5 major mosques near the town center, and those are only the ones I've run into by chance. Of course, this sudden acceptance of all religions and people is a good thing in itself.

But, and here is the key to a great problem; it has become a very hostile environment for jews. I take of my star of david ring at work. Why? An example; I recently read in the papers how a man was beaten nearly to death by a group of young maroccans in my nation's capital. Why? He was wearing a kippah. I don't go through a week without hearing anti-semitic remarks and jokes. Not whispered, but said aloud. Not said to a friend, but publically, at work, while sporting, anywhere. Things that would get you hospitalized if said about a muslim, are said about jews without a single brow raised in the crowd. Almost done working and everyone's beat? "Come on people, 'arbeit macht frei'. Someone broke into your car? 'They're jews man, they're f*cking jews'. You have to clean up your mess after camp? 'I don't wanna do this, this is jew work'.

The list is endless, and that's only stuff said in your presence. The entire atmosphere in Europe feels threatening. I'm afraid to publically come out for my jewish heritage in Europe in fear of being cast aside. In 1971 there were 54.000 muslims in Europe. Now, there are over a million, and their influence is great. National pride in people living in foreign nations is often magnified. It is so in these muslim communities.

I have muslim friends. These friends view every human being as equal. But even they acknowledge that they would not want to be a jew in Europe today.

I, as a child of murdered and fled forefathers, feel left behind and alone in my country. On my continent. I would like to leave, for no small jewish community could bring me the illusion of safety that I would need to live freely in Europe. I've considered America. Maybe one day, I'll take the leap.

Europe is losing its judeo-christian identity. It is trying to box up against America by growing more and more into a multi-cultural environment. But the difference is that the largest racial groups in America, descended from Europeans and Africans. Muslims are taking the role of the latter in Europe, even in pop-culture. But those American groups, despite their historical division and problems, have gone through their national history together. One can not expect muslims to care about the history of Europe's nations. Europe's nations however, do nothing to safeguard it, but focus on the expansion of multicultural life in Europe. Islam is the second-largest religion in Europe now, while 60 years ago, it wasn't even present, and until 15 years ago, not even ackowledged. It's a cultural timebomb, and I don't think I want to be here when it goes off.

European jewry doesn't stand a chance in Europe. It'll decline until it's gone. I don't even know anyone in person, who is jewish. The ones I knew, I knew in my young childhood, and they emigrated to Israel.

Europe has abandoned its jewish communities. It ignored the jews that survived world war 2. Didn't bother to rebuild synagoges after they had all been destroyed by the nazi's, refused to return stolen property and basically left them out in the cold. The nations of Europe didn't want the jews, not before the war, not after the war.

And now Europe's jewish communities should fight for their existence in Europe? I say leave Europe to bury itself through its own cultural boobytraps, and collectively move the communities to nations less hostile. Europe's jewry will find more and more hostility as time moves on. Neither the native nor the immigrant communities of Europe even regard the jews as a community anymore. Openly anti-semitic remarks are not met with any anger what so ever. They are met with laughs. Even in the presence of a jew. The situation resembles a period of time that should have been a warning. If I have my children in Europe, for the sake of their future, it will not be with a jew.

The problem is not intermarriage; it is the environment that forces it upon us, to safeguard our children from a future that is becoming more and more realistic every day.

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