After a whirlwind tour of Jewish communities in four European countries, Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind says local leaders are convinced they have no future there.
“It’s scary,” said Hikind, a Democrat whose district includes Borough Park and part of Flatbush. “Is it 1938 again? No, it’s not, but there sure is a very dangerous situation that exists there for Jews. One of the universal things we heard was there is no future, it’s only a question of time.”
Over five days in England, France, Belgium and Germany, Hikind met with rabbis, security officials, leaders of Hillel, Chabad, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and other Jewish organizations, as well as the mother of Ilan Halimi, the young French man murdered last year by kidnappers.
Hikind made the trip with his son, Yoni, 26, and a friend, Wolf Sender. After hearing continuous reports of rising anti-Semitic attitudes and crime in Europe, Hikind wanted to meet with leaders there and see what they were experiencing firsthand. He found synagogues and yeshivas that had no Jewish markings outside, people afraid to wear yarmulkes in public, hired Israeli guards protecting some buildings and parents who wouldn’t let their kids play outside.
Reports of verbal harassment were widespread. “There was hardly a Jew we met that hadn’t been called ‘something Jew’ on the street, and many thought that was not a big deal, thank God it was nothing worse,” he said.
Hate hit close to home when a photographer traveling with Hikind, Mordy Balsam, was greeted by youths on a train from Germany to France with a Nazi “seig heil” salute, which is illegal in Germany.
Balsam was not wearing a yarmulke at the time, but was seen with Hikind, who was.
Hikind said many observant Jews, especially in France, told him they would not wear a yarmulke in public.
Many of the leaders told him that pressure from the United States on European governments, or increased attention to the problem among Americans, might have an impact there.
“We were told by many people that governments say all the right things,” Hikind added. “Anti-Semitism is very politically incorrect. The question is how far do they go to deal with the issue. It is not followed up by real action.”
Hikind’s visit came within days of an international conference in Bucharest, Romania, of the Organizations for Security and Cooperation in Europe that dealt with anti-Semitism. Earlier this month, Human Rights First, an international lawyers’ group, released a comprehensive overview of hate crimes that found that anti-Israel politics was fueling anti-Semitism, and that governments were doing little about it. The report found that anti-Semitic acts rose dramatically in the United Kingdom in 2006, reaching a high not seen since 1984.
“Every report that has come out of Europe in the past couple of months has been about record numbers in terms of anti-Semitism,” said Hikind. [You have] “the extreme left where people hate Israel and the extreme right neo-Nazis. … In between you have a growing Muslim population, particularly in France.”
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Hikind said he was particularly saddened when he visited a major Paris synagogue, Mishkanot Israel, which had no outward Jewish symbols.
“If I had walked by that shul 1,000 times I never would have been able to identify it,” he said. “If I hadn’t been taken there I never would have been able to find it. You would never find an American synagogue that didn’t identify itself.”
Hikind said he had no sense of elected officials championing Jewish causes. He was told that in France, students unable to take university exams because of Jewish holidays are failed. “There is no such thing as a make-up test,” he said. “People are afraid to rock the boat. They do not recognize anyone’s religious rights because of the growing Muslim population. They don’t want to give Jews any rights because Muslims will demand the same thing.”
Being in Germany was a chilling experience for the son of Czechoslovakian Holocaust survivors, and Hikind limited his visit there to nine hours.
“It’s something I hope to never have to do again,” says Hikind, who will not allow German-made products into his home. “I was shivering, literally, the whole time.
“Germany was the architect of the Final Solution … It’s a sad commentary 60-plus years after the Holocaust people are being attacked verbally on the street and there is concern about new anti-Semitism.”
Hikind said that French Jews approached him and asked if anything could be done to grant them refugee status in America. “We’re talking about a democracy in Europe, not some third world country … There is no doubt in my mind that thousands would leave.” Indeed, he said many people in their 20s and 30s are already leaving for Israel or other countries or trying to come to America.
Upon returning to the U.S., his son, Yoni, who recently completed a degree in social work, said “thank God we are living in America,” Hikind related.
Hikind said the timing of the trip, as the Assembly was winding down the legislative session in Albany, was necessitated by the schedules of the people he met in Europe.