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Three European Jewish Leaders Express Concern About Their Vulnerable Jewish Communities

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While noting that Western European Jewry was reviving its heritage and identity, three European Jewish leaders also expressed concern for their vulnerable Jewish communities at a session of the American Jewish Committee’s 79th annual meeting, which concluded yesterday at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

The leaders, Dr. Ady Steg of Paris, president of the Alliance Israelite Universelle (France); Tullia Zevi of Rome, president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Italy; and Samuel Toledano of Madrid, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain, agreed that issues and events such as domestic politics, Israel and their European roots had affected European Jewry today.

In examining French Jewry, Steg, former president of CRIF, the central French Jewish coordinating body, said: “The major event in the history of the French Jewish community in the last 40 years was the massive arrival in 1962 of Jews from North Africa. As a result, the Jewish population doubled and Sephardized. The contribution of Jews from North Africa constituted a transfusion for Jewish life as our community became more dynamic, more visible, and even more religious.”

He continued: “The Ashkenazi-Sephardi encounter has brought about an unprecedented renewal of Jewish cultural activity in France. For the past 15 years and especially after the election of President Mitterrand, Jews have become more involved in the country’s political life, both individually and as a community.”

But, Steg added: “The majority of Jews do not participate in Jewish community life and there is no external restraint or curb to assimilation.” Concluding on a hopeful note, he pointed out that “Israel constitutes the most solid bond for the Jewish community, and for the first time a generation of young Jews are more Jewish than their parents.”

SPAIN AND ISRAEL

The strong bond with Israel also affects Spain’s Jewish community and its interaction with the government, said Toledano. Citing the absence of diplomatic relations between Spain and Israel, he said: “This is an aberration that should not be sustained for long.”

He called on the U.S. government and friendly European governments to use their influence to help establish this relationship, adding: “The recent re-establishment of Jewish life in Spain meant adding a new page to a glorious book which was thought to be closed five centuries ago. Restoring Judaism had to be done with dignity and pride.”

While the blossoming of Jewish life is encouraging, Toledano expressed concern about the anti-Semitism and racial hatreds that, he said, are on the rise in most of Europe. He continued: “Leaving behind outdated religious prejudice of past anti-Semitism, it is now the result of an unnatural combination of extremism of the Left and the Right abetted by Islamic fanaticism that leads to an increase in violent action.”

PAST MEMORIES AFFECT ITALIAN JEWS

Memories of the past have also affected the situation of the Italian Jewish community and their perspective of Europe, according to Zevi, who added: “Memory also guides us in facing present problems. It sharpens the antennae with which we pick up danger signals even when these are not directly aimed at us.

“Memory of our own past migrations places us in Europe on the side of today’s immigrant. We know by instinct that the future of our communities depends on the democratic future of the countries where we live.”

The Italian Jewish leader concluded: “Our Jewish roots are still deep in European soil. In the 1980’s Europe’s Jews of the first and second generation have learned to co-exist with their Holocaust-syndrome.”

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