Hundreds of tanned young Jews dancing to LMFAO’s "Party Rock Anthem" is enough to make you forget — at least momentarily — about the stew of pressures facing European Jewry.
If you watch the line of ten men and women lock arms and begin a raucous quasi-hora to the bouzoukia tune being played by an old Greek man, the intermarriage crisis suddenly doesn’t seem to loom so large.
This isn’t a conference. This is a celebration.
See, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect when I signed up to attend Summer U, the annual weeklong seminar coordinated by the European Union of Jewish Students.
At first, I thought the event was being held in Thessaloniki, formerly known as the "Jerusalem of the Balkans," which has about 1 million people and is Greece’s second-largest city. When I learned the week was actually based in a speck of a beach village in a location I cannot disclose during the conference for security reasons, I was even less sure of what I was getting myself into.
But after a long taxi ride from Thessaloniki international airport, it was easy to see what drew 518 young Jews from across Europe and around the world to this remote place.
Serious seminars like "September 11 and the Jewish People: A Torah Perspective" are interspersed with more relaxed options — like a Cuban salsa class and a planned Friday-morning lip dub. And every night there’s a wild theme party, like Facebook and Oscar Night.
And despite some small complaints — the French and Belgian students I met on my trip to the beach last night said last year’s hotel in Bulgaria was nicer — it’s clear that everyone’s happy to be here. In the central courtyard of the week’s main hotel, country flags from Turkey to Moldova hang proudly from the balconies alongside a big EUJS banner.
Lining up in the hotel’s restaurant or walking around a town with these hundreds of young Jews, it’s difficult to remember that constant refrain about European Jewry — that it’s dead, or at least dying.
Here, representatives from huge Jewish populations like Israel and France sit alongside members of mid-sized Jewish communities like South Africa’s, with 55,000 members, or Estonia’s, which has just under 2,000 people.
It’s not about the numbers here. It’s about the energy.
That’s a nice change of pace from all the well-intentioned doom and gloom.
At an event like Summer U, it feels like the whole world is Jewish — and it’s easy to believe that a vibrant future is something of a guarantee.