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Vienna Waits For You

Until she doesn’t.

Right now, I should be settling into my seat on a train bound for Budapest, plugging in my laptop, and getting to work on that Salons video (coming soon — I promise). Unfortunately, my new friend Yvonne Feiger — who has otherwise been of incalculable help to me these past few days — delivered me to the station 7 minutes late. So instead I’m in the hotel lobby at the Hotel Fuerstenhof, speaking broken German with a very cute 7 year old girl, and taking comfort in the fact that I’ve finally come up with a sensible way to use a Billy Joel song as a blog post headline. 

I first came upon Feiger through the Jewish Salons thing (I said, it’s coming!), but it turns out she has another interesting story. Two years ago, she and a group of pals were sitting around bitching about the state of the community when, almost on a whim, they decided to start a political party and run in elections for the community board. The party, called Gesher (Hebrew for "bridge), won 10 percent of the vote and now Feiger and a colleague have two seats on the board. 

"We’re going to be the future of this community," Feiger told me over beers Monday night. "If we can’t have a voice on this board, who’s going to be deciding what’s right for us in 20 or 30 years?"

Throughout this trip (yes, all two weeks of it), I’ve heard stories of how the European communal structure is rigid and stifling of change. In Germany it wouldn’t give way for the new Russian majority to have a fair share of power and that it’s not supportive enough of innovative ventures, particularly in the cultural sphere. Similar complaints were heard in Vienna, minus the Russian part. 

But what I failed to fully grasp in Germany was why those with gripes didn’t do what Feiger and company did — get their act together and get elected. It’s a recourse I often wish was available back home,where the top community organizations answer not to democratic pressure, but to their wealthy donors. Maybe someday they will.