Can Jews Just Pick Up and Move?
Last Saturday, Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein opened fire during an event on “Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression” at a cultural center in Copenhagen, killing one attendee and wounding three police officers. The following day, he shot and killed Jewish security guard Dan Uzan and wounded a number of policemen outside the Great Synagogue, during a bat mitzvah celebration.
These attacks in Denmark were eerily similar to those that took place in Paris last month. First the terrorist targeted “infidels” who dare offend Muslims by expressing their views freely, and then he went after the Jews.
While the events in Copenhagen were unfolding, a cemetery in France was discovered to have been desecrated days earlier, with some 250 headstones vandalized and overturned.
Across the ocean over the weekend — in Madison, Wisconsin — dozens of Jewish homes were sullied with spray-painted swastikas and antisemitic slurs. This coincided with the release of the annual report by the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council, according to which antisemitic incidents in Wisconsin, such as the harassment of Jewish school children, more than doubled in 2014.
As he did following the Paris attacks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to those in Copenhagen by appealing to Jews everywhere. “To the Jews of Europe and to the Jews of the world I say that Israel is waiting for you with open arms,” he said.
Jewish Agency Chairman and former Prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky — who this week celebrated the 29th anniversary of his own immigration to Israel — welcomed and echoed Netanyahu’s statement.
“There is a strengthening of the Islamist community and the growing hatred of Israel from the direction of the liberal community,” he said. “The two things together make Europe a very uncomfortable place for Jews.”
But he also expressed concern about Israel’s preparedness to absorb a huge wave of aliyah (immigration), already on a steep rise, particularly from France. Indeed, of the 26,500 Jews who immigrated to Israel from all countries in 2014, 7,000 came from France, more than double the figure for 2013. Sharansky’s worry is not that Jews necessarily will stay put in Europe, but that they will opt to relocate to the United States or Canada, rather than Israel.
No kidding. Plenty of Israelis prefer North America as well — and an increasing number of young ones have been flocking to and settling in Berlin, of all places. Go figure that the right to a German passport, earned by their grandparents who perished in or survived the Holocaust, would be viewed as a privilege by those fortunate enough to have been born in the Jewish state.
As someone who moved to Israel at the age of 19 from the US, I should be horrified at the latter and puzzled by the former. But I am neither.
As was true of my own case growing up in New York, Israelis do not experience antisemitism. Seeing Arab terrorism as distinct from the Jew-hatred of the Nazi era, they feel secure in who they are, in spite of incessant war. Their hunger for adventures away from home is a combination of national wander-lust and youthful rootlessness.
As for the Jews of Europe: Rather than viewing them as blind and foolish for not seeing the writing on the wall and fleeing to the state that was established in their biblical homeland — to provide refuge and freedom from the difficulties of the Diaspora — I have come to feel compassion for their plight and dilemma.
Once a person has built a life somewhere, whether or not he was born in that place, the prospect of picking himself up and starting over can be daunting to the point of virtually impossible. In middle age, people have all kinds of weighty considerations that do not burden them when they are young. These include careers, aging parents, children in school, circles of friends and, of course, language fluency.
In the absence of the level of affluence that affords a possibly extended period of employment, flights back and forth to visit loved ones and other financial or emotional expenses involved in shifting one’s entire ecosystem elsewhere, emigration from one’s country can be more terrifying than trying to keep a low profile as a Jew.
I feel blessed to have built my life in Israel, not because my existence as a Jew in America was or would be threatened, but due to Israel’s unique and delicious flavor. I also know that others who do manage to make their way here will be rewarded eventually for having done so. They will certainly be safer and sounder in their Jewish identity.
Still, let’s not kid ourselves about what is involved in the type of exodus that is being both predicted and encouraged.
Following the Copenhagen attacks, the chief rabbi of Denmark, Jair Melchior, said he was “disappointed” by Netanyahu’s appeal to European Jewry. “Terror is not a reason to move to Israel,” he said.
Perhaps not. But antisemitism is as good a reason as any other, and he ought to know that. It remains to be seen, however, whether it is enough of an impetus to embolden people set in their ways to wrest themselves from their comfort zone — no matter how uncomfortable it grows.
Ruthie Blum is the editor of Voice of Israel talk radio (voiceofisrael.com). This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.