Tuesday, November 26, 2013

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.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

CST and our partners at Maccabi GB have never stated that Spurs fans should be criminalised or given banning orders for using the Y-word. We have consistently said that Spurs fans’ use of the Y-word does not remotely compare with, nor in any way legitimise, the vile and unacceptable antisemitic abuse that is all too often heard from opposing fans.

Nevertheless, although the way that Spurs fans usually use the Y-word does not justify prosecution, it remains an offensive word that can upset many Jews both inside and outside the football context. Ultimately, ridding football of antisemitism needs to involve Spurs fans voluntarily dropping the Y-word from their songbook.

This is basically my position on the use of the Y-word.

Its use by Tottenham Hotspur is as an expression of solidarity, a badge of honour, a defence mechanism against opposition who would use the Y-word in a derogatory manner, against those who view Spurs’ association with the local Jewish community negatively. By extension, it is for Spurs and their supporters to decide whether or not using the Y-word in this defensive manner is useful anymore, if it only perpetuates its use in whatever context.

(Source: blog.thecst.org.uk)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Simon Schama explores the bright, hopeful moment when Enlightenment thinkers and revolutionary armies brought ghetto walls crashing down - allowing Jews to weave their wisdom, creativity and energies into the very fabric of modern life in Europe.

One of the most of fruitful branches of this Jewish renaissance was in music and the stellar careers of Giacomo Meyerbeer and Felix Mendelssohn established the enduring tradition for Jewish musical prodigies. However, the remarkably successful integration of Jewish talent into the mainstream of European culture and commerce stirred up the ghosts of ancient prejudice, decked out in the new clothes of romantic nationalism and the pseudo-science of anti-semitism. The road to the hell of the Holocaust was paved by the diatribes of Richard Wagner, while the trial of Alfred Dreyfus led Theodor Herzl to conclude that without a homeland of their own, Jews would never be free of the millennia-old persecution.

Notwithstanding my concern that the ‘story of the Jews’, as the title would have it, is too large a subject to be contained in five one-hour episodes, something which I think was evident in the first two, this most recent episode of Simon Schama’s series was really as good a piece of television as I’ve seen. It was helped by its presentation of a clear narrative, elucidated by its focus on a handful of key historical figures from Spinoza to Herzl, to display the relationships between Judaism and the Enlightenment, the Enlightenment and emancipation, emancipation and anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism and nationalism, nationalism and Zionism.

(Source: BBC)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jewish Jocks

Anthony Clavane’s accomplished and engaging work “Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?” now out in paperback, is not about what Jews have given to English soccer, so much as what soccer has given to English Jews.

This is not to minimize the contribution Jews have made to the game, particularly off-the-field. Clavane highlights the role of Willy Meisl, an Austrian sports journalist who not only bequeathed new ideas and tactics to the stodgy, long-ball English soccer of the 1950s, but also imparted a more cerebral, less oafish manner of discussing and analysing the game. Meisl spoke eloquently about soccer from the perspective “of the discerning outsider looking in, expressing a passion for, but still not quite becoming part of, English soccer.”

In the boardroom, during the 1980s and ‘90s, Irving Scholar of Tottenham Hotspur and David Dein at Arsenal imported ideas from the United States about match days being an experience of their own. They sought to improve stadia to make them more family-friendly and to appeal to the middle class, as well as to exploit revenue streams such as merchandising. In laying the groundwork for what would become the Premier League, Scholar and Dein helped revolutionize English soccer by turning it into a product.

But for English Jewry as a community, these accomplishments are representative of the opportunities soccer has presented to become part of the whole. Clavane writes:

English football has, for the past century, been a vehicle for Anglicisation, a space where ethnic identity has connected, even become intertwined, with national identity; an arena where Jews have fought the notion that they were invaders who needed to be fended off, newcomers who did not belong.

The foundation and emergence of soccer in England at the end of the 19th century coincided with a great wave of Jewish immigration from Russia, which increased the Anglo-Jewish population from 46,000 in 1880 to around 250,000 by 1919. Contrasting with the assimilated, bourgeois ways of the Jewish establishment, these Yiddish-speaking Ostjuden were perceived as a threat to the order of things, a kind of embarrassment:

The middle-class leaders were horrified by the old-world religious practices of the new arrivals. Having intensely pursued Englishness for the best part of two centuries, they suddenly saw all their good work being undermined by this invasion of ill-kempt foreigners, who were both conspicuous in their appearance and indecorous in their worship.

The answer of Jewish leaders to this mass immigration was “to adopt a policy of radical assimilation,” to erase the “foreignness of the newcomers.” At Jewish schools where “children were taught English literature, the glories of the Empire, and songs celebrating the bulldog spirit,” they were also encouraged to play English sports. The Jewish establishment wanted to produce, to use Colonel Albert Goldsmid’s words, good “Englishmen of the Mosaic persuasion” — Englishmen more English than the English:

The sight of a sturdy, athletic footballer heading a football into a net world, it was argued, go a long way to undermining the image of the devout, long-bearded ghetto-dweller draped in a yarmulke and prayer shawl.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013 Friday, July 5, 2013

Among the Tombstones, a History of Czech Jewry

PRAGUE, Czech Republic – The history of Prague’s Jewish community, today numbering only around 4,000, is to be found among the tombstones of the city’s two main Jewish cemeteries.

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Permanent settlement of Ashkenazi Jews in Bohemia began in the tenth century under the protection of the Duke where, barred from land ownership and the professions, they worked largely as moneylenders. It was not until the aftermath of the First Crusade in 1096, when Czech Jews were subject to violent attacks and forced conversions, that they were forcefully confined to a walled ghetto in the district known today as Josefov – the Jewish Quarter.

Within these confines, the Old Jewish Cemetery was established on a small plot between two synagogues in the first half of the fifteenth century, the oldest tombstone being that of the poet and scholar Avigdor Karo from 1439. The contours of the cemetery, as well as the cramped alignment of the headstones, are indicative of centuries of ghettoisation. Unable to procure additional land under which to bury the deceased, Prague’s Jews took to piling new soil upon the old while uprooting the gravestones, bunching them together. Within the small site, it is estimated that around 100,000 burials have occurred, and where the earth is at its highest, ten to twelve people are layered one atop the other.

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

In Kosovo, Searching for a Jewish Mosque

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I knew the name of the town, Shqiponjë, in which the mosque was located. What I did not know was where Shqiponjë in fact was, nor how to get there. Indeed, it turns out that I might not even have known the name of the town at all. It might be called Jabllanicë, or perhaps Jabllanicë-Shqiponjë. Subsequent investigation has yet to throw up the right answer.

I wanted to get there by bus. Not being among the seven million or so speakers of Albanian, I did what any good traveller would do in such circumstances: write the name down upon a piece of paper, and then randomly hold it up to people at the bus station until someone was foolish enough to aide me. And indeed, I was persuaded onto a bus by someone who, after first doing a lap of the depot to find the right platform, said simply, “Come with me.” I obliged.

This bus wasn’t going to Shqiponjë. First, I was to get off at Deçan, but then it was decided that this wouldn’t be a good idea. My guide subsequently passed me a note. “Listen,” it started. “You should go to Gjakovë and the driver and my friend that is sitting with me, they will help you to find a bus or taxi to go to Shqiponjë. I explain them how to help you. If the taxi so much expensive, they will find for you a bus. Are you agree?” How could I not?

I was handed a fresh piece of paper. On the back it said, “This is write in Albanian and show this to people. It writes that you will go to Shqiponjë, stay one hour and come back to Gjakovë.” As must be evident by now, without these notes and that young lady’s help, I would’ve still been in Peja, stuck in the bus depot with my little slip that said, “Shqiponjë,” and nothing more.

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In Kosovo’s Tiny ‘Jerusalem,’ a Struggle To Sustain Jewish Life in Corner of Balkans

PRIZREN, Kosovo – Votim Demiri, President of the Jewish Community of Kosovo, took me to his house in Marash district of Prizren, located at a bend in the Prizrenska Bistrica river, an area of narrow streets and low, sloped red-tiled roofs. In his office, he showed photographs of his family meeting figures of great significance including Shimon Peres. He pointed towards a calendar given to him by the American Jewish Joint Jewish Distribution Committee, about whose work in Kosovo Demiri could not speak highly enough.

Demiri also noted that his house – “the Jewish house,” as he referred to it – forms one point of a triangle in his neighbourhood with two Islamic holy places. Later, he took me into the historic centre of Prizren centred around the old stone bridge that crosses the Prizrenska Bistrica, and noted that the Sinan Pasha Mosque sits within walking distance of a Serb Orthodox church and a Catholic school. “This is our Jerusalem,” he said.

Prizren is more like Jerusalem that one might think. Although it was spared the worst of the Kosovo War’s excesses, Serb forces did systemically clear some Albanian areas of the city, while during Albanian-led riots in 2004 Serbs were burnt out of their homes. “While the town is lovely, animated, and hospitable,” Stephen Schwartz, Executive Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, told The Forward, “Albanians and Serbs do not get along there.” Yet still, “Albanian Sunnis, Sunni Sufis, Catholics, and Jews enjoy a warm sense of common municipal identity in Prizren.”

And it is within this mixture that the Kosovo’s Jewish community resides, who today number 56 in total. Kosovo’s Jews “have not been a significant presence in public life for a long time,” Dr Noel Malcolm, Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, explained to The Forward, their number having diminished even from the 360 or so who survived the Second World War. And yet in Prizren and Kosovo more widely, Jews have enjoyed “a real history of positive coexistence and mutual acceptance in what was a predominantly Muslim society.”

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Monday, July 1, 2013

Last week, I spoke with Josh Nathan-Kazis for The Jewish Daily Forward's Reporters' Roundtable podcast about the Jews of Kosovo, a community of 56 living in Prizren in the south of the country. We discussed the origins and history of the community, including how they fit into Kosovo's greater patchwork, as well as the state of the community today.

(Source: The Forward)