Could Spreading European Anti-Semitism Drive Jews From Homelands?
As the gnashing of teeth about the fate of American Jewry in the wake of the Pew Research Center survey continues, a newer and far more troublesome study of European Jewry ought to keep the supposed problem of defining Jewishness by the food you eat and the jokes you tell in some sort of perspective.
Conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, known as the FRA, “Discrimination and hate crime against Jews in E.U. Member States: experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism” surveyed 5,847 individuals 16 years old and over who considered themselves Jewish, residing in Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
The headline figures were frightening enough. Across Europe, 66% of Jewish people see anti-Semitism as a problem in their respective countries today — as high as 90% in Hungary and 85% in France. The perception, moreover, is that over the past five years, the level of anti-Semitism has increased, with 76% of respondents saying it had gone up a lot or a little.
Where this increase has taken place might be surprising. But first, some more numbers.
Thirty-eight percent of Jews now avoid, all the time or frequently, wearing, carrying or displaying things that might help people identify them as Jews in public; 60% of Swedish Jews and 51% of French Jews act this way. Forty-eight percent of Jews in Hungary and 46% in France have considered emigrating because they do not feel safe living in those countries as Jews, with 90% of French Jews stating that the Arab-Israeli conflict affects their feelings of safety.
Immediately discernible from the statistics, though, is that the number of people who fear becoming a victim of anti-Semitism is greater than those who have experienced it as verbal insults, harassment or a physical attack. While 21% have been the actual victim of an anti-Semitic incident in the past 12 months, 46% worry about the possibility of such an assault.
There is also tremendous regional variation between fear and experience. In France, for example, an astonishing 70% fear becoming the victim of a hate crime. In the United Kingdom, however, the fear is not as heightened, with 28% of respondents worrying about becoming a victim of verbal assault, and 17% the victim of a physical assault — still high numbers, to be sure.
The reason for this disparity between perception and experience, however, is not groundless panic or hysteria; it comes because of new manifestations of anti-Semitism, principally dissemination via the Internet and new media.
Why ‘Funny Girl’ Is as Important as ‘Fiddler’
The publication of Alisa Solomon’s “Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof” has seemed to reassert the prominence of “Fiddler” as the Jewish musical to end all Jewish musicals. “Fiddler,” Eileen Reynolds wrote in herreview of Solomon’s book, “has achieved something like folklore status in the American imagination, and grapples, as any history of this musical must, with fundamental questions about Jewish identity.”
The same year that “Fiddler” premiered on Broadway, however, another American musical brought not only Jewish themes and narratives to forefront but also a new star to the stage. That was “Funny Girl,” a fast-and-loose biographical telling of the life of entertainer Fanny Brice, played by Barbra Streisand. But unlike “Fiddler,” “Funny Girl” remains undervalued, and is not generally considered to be as important a musical.
In “Fiddler on the Roof,” the American Jewish audience was able see something of itself. This not only had to do with the musical’s presentation of shtetl life, with the spectre of expulsion and pogrom looming over everything, but also with the struggle between tradition and modernity. New political and cultural ideas like Marxism and intermarriage challenge longstanding belief and Tevye, as the embodiment of this antagonism between past and present, seeks to preserve his relationships with his wife and daughters as the shtetl disintegrates around him.
At “Fiddler’s” conclusion, Tevye and Golde depart for America, and from here “Funny Girl” could and should be seen as a continuation of this narrative, the next phase in the Jewish American story. Moving forward to the interwar years, the life of Fanny Brice (and indeed the story of Streisand) is one in which a kooky and ostensibly unglamorous young girl from the Lower East Side ascends to become one of the most famous people in the United States by virtue of her talent and perseverance.
The shtetl has been superseded by Brooklyn and Henry Street, the desire for Broadway fame is the aspiration to leave the shtetl behind. The clash between the past and future is seen in the challenge to the family structure. In this case it is the mother who is afraid that “now she belongs to the ages, my work is done” — “I lost a daughter but I gained a star.” But even if the celebrity aspect gives “Funny Girl” some remove, to see Streisand and Brice, their triumphs and their tribulations, is to see something of the 20th-century American Jewish experience.
Israel Won’t Legalize Gay Marriage. Here’s Why.
"A Gay City Deserves a Gay Mayor," proclaimed an ad for candidate Nitzan Horowitz during Tel Aviv’s most recent mayoral election in October. "One Vote That Sends Five Gays to the Council," said another, referring to the Meretz Party list. In this contest between challenger Horowitz and popular incumbent Ron Huldai (which Huldai won), the candidates were said to be trying to “out-pink” each other, both “promising to increase budgets for the gay community and social services for gay youth in distress,” Ha’aretz’s Avshalom Halutz reported.
Does that mean Israel is a beacon of LGBTQ rights in a region generally hostile to them? Not quite.
As the Tel Aviv election illustrates, gay Israelis have made significant legal and cultural strides throughout the last few decades. The ban on homosexual sodomy was repealed in 1988; an ENDA-style LGBTQ employment-discrimination ban passed in 1992; and gays have been able to serve openly in the military since 1993. Tel Aviv has become something of a haven for gay Israelis, even playing host to one of the world’s largest Pride festivals, blessed by Mayor Huldai and other national political figures.
The gains are great—but so are the challenges. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel concludes that the LGBTQ community “still faces various forms of discrimination by government authorities and in the private sector.” In terms of societal attitudes, a recent Israel Democracy Institute survey revealed that it would bother 30.5 percent of Israeli Jews and 46.2 percent of Israeli Arabs to have a homosexual couple as neighbours, including 68.4 percent of ultra-Orthodox and 48.4 percent of religious Zionist Jews.
Enter the marriage conundrum. In Israel, all valid marriages conducted abroad are recognized by the state, and foreign same-sex marriages are recorded for statistical purposes. That means a gay couple that weds in, say, the Netherlands remains wed in Israel. But that doesn’t mean a gay couple in Tel Aviv can walk down to city hall and procure a marriage license. Marriage is an exclusively religious institution in Israel, with separate religious authorities for Jews and Muslims, Christians and Druze. For Israeli Jews, marriage policy is dictated by the Chief Rabbinate, which is under the exclusive control of the Orthodox—and firmly opposed to gay marriage. Since the country has no civil marriage, gay couples seeking to marry within the borders of Israel are out of luck (as are any Jewish Israelis seeking a non-Orthodox marriage ceremony).
Here we go again. I shall be away next week, since on Sunday I am going to Paris in order to visit family, tour the city, meet new friends, and maybe get a little work done — we’ll see. In the spirit of taking a little break from some forms of social media — if not all — I have no new posts coming, though expect new posts and further news the week after. Till then.