Hebrew Word of the Week: eroppah

Marine Le Pen. Photo by Charles Platiau/Reuters

Fight against Le Pen must continue

As a young girl who fled Iran, I lived in France for several years during the mid-1980s before coming to the United States. I attended a French public middle school, one of only three Iranian students in the entire school. The tension between “Arab” and “French” people was palpable on a daily basis.

Despite the external challenges, I was enduring my own internal cultural conflicts, or, perhaps I should say, tectonic shifts. I had escaped the tumult of the Islamic Revolution and a country where I was forcibly covered from head to toe on a daily basis, only to find myself now exposed to a new environment where women comfortably walked the beach without even a bikini top! I remember the images of men and women casually socializing, holding hands, even kissing in public.

It was overwhelming , but I cherished the freedom France offered. I was a young girl, liberated from the hijab that covered not only my hair, but also my dignity and identity.

In those years, the National Front movement led by Jean-Marie Le Pen — whose daughter Marine Le Pen succeeded him as head of the party and just lost the French presidential election to Emmanuel Macron — was just beginning to pick up steam. It was particularly gaining popularity among troubled students who I knew. These teens expressed their disenchantment by greeting one another with straight-arm salutes, shaving their heads, donning army attire and boots, and occasionally harassing and spitting at Arab students.
Before too long, they discovered I was an easy target as a young Middle Eastern Jewish girl, barely able to communicate in French and still adjusting to my new surroundings. So they teased and harassed me, yelling “Arab!” at me. I tried to reason with them, explaining that I’m not an Arab, I’m Iranian — Persian! I once said Iranians are of the Aryan race, hoping to score points, but they still saw me as I was — a dark-skinned Middle Eastern girl, a despicable foreigner, “the Other.” The fact that I was Jewish enabled me to seek refuge within Jewish community life, but it proved little more than a liability with the Le Front National.

As a vulnerable teenager, life was hard. Beyond the Jewish community, I never was included in any social activities with peers, never invited to parties, never received phone calls from friends after school. I do recall one time when the phone rang. It was a classmate asking for me. Flattered, I picked up the receiver to hear the voice of Florence, a girl from school. I always thought she was friendly, not too cool or snobby. But as soon as I said hello, Florence said, “Tu es une sal Juive Iranienne — You’re a dirty Iranian Jew — and hung up the phone.

This was a painful but clarifying moment. In an instant, I realized that, no matter how much I boasted about my Iranian (not Arab) culture or my Jewish roots, I still would always be “the Other,” the undesirable threat to their heritage.

It’s undeniable that terrorism and radical Islamists pose real challenges to French society. But white nationalism and neo-fascism are real problems, too. I have experienced this threat firsthand. I know the pain and it causes. I know the anger it breeds and the destructive cycle it sustains.

I’m grateful for my life in the West. I freely can practice my religion, express my opinions and, yes, freely expose my hair and dress however I wish. But I would never align myself with fascists with the false hope that I could preserve these freedoms. Empowering these authoritarians by ignoring and excusing their behavior is immoral, futile and self-defeating.

For those people seeking a quick fix to the decades-long problems of France and the radicalization of elements of its Muslim population, Marine Le Pen’s idea of banning religious attire and head-coverings might have some initial appeal. To Persian-Americans, it might seem reminiscent of Reza Shah’s revolutionary mandate to forcibly remove the hijab from women in an effort to catapult Iran toward rapid secularization. But we live in a vastly different world today.

Ask the majority of French Jews residing in Israel today who voted against Le Pen. They know that Jews — along with other religious minorities, including Muslims and Hindus — all would suffer serious consequences with a ban on the hijab. Despite what the neo-fascists might say, this would not be the end, but rather the beginning, of religious oppression for people of all faiths.

After her defeat, Le Pen apparently is seeking to “rebrand” the National Front party. Such marketing strategies may ameliorate Le Pen’s image, presenting a softer side and a more patriotic mission that may increase her appeal in some quarters. I can imagine that a new generation of voters may develop new impressions of this movement.

Some might be drawn to Le Pen because of a lack of better alternatives, others because their hatred for radical Islamists and foreigners is far stronger than their love for their democratic values and fellow French citizens. And yet, those of us who are familiar with Le Pen must raise our voices. We should not accept such distortions.

Some are saying that Le Pen has lost the battle but the war is yet to come. For this reason, we must be prepared to fight. With our votes and with our voices, we must speak out, because we cannot afford to yield an inch in the fight against fascism. This is a fight for ourselves. ”

MARJAN GREENBLATT is a human rights activist and founder of the Alliance for Rights of All Minorities (ARAM), Iran.

10 reasons Persian Jews support Trump

For many American Jews, #NeverTrump is the only slogan that matters. His shameful, unfiltered words have them running to Hillary Clinton.

For those of us with political honesty, the choice is the lesser of two evils. We are not choosing between Mother Teresa and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Our choice is between a liar who can be bought and a brash, uninformed egomaniac. The question becomes: Whose faults can we forgive?

[A response from Karmel Melamed]

[A response from Susan Esther Barnes]

Although I am not among them, my strong impression is that most Persian Jews in Los Angeles support Donald Trump. My impression is not based on any scientific poll. But while Clinton supporters allege that Trump supporters are all uneducated, I regularly meet doctors, attorneys, engineers, entrepreneurs and highly successful businesspeople whose reasons for supporting Trump I summarize below.  You may agree or disagree with their reasoning, but based on my interactions with Trump supporters, this is how they feel:

1. “The accusations against Trump are overblown by a biased and hostile media that easily forgive Clinton’s criminal investigation but exaggerate Trump’s speech.” In all of his years in business and during his television show, “The Apprentice,” not once was Trump accused of bigotry or misogyny. This political bullying was also used with past Republican candidates, most recently calling George W. Bush “dumb.”

2. “I prefer an ugly truth to a beautiful lie. As a lifetime politician, Clinton sugarcoats her lies, whereas Trump speaks with honesty.” Nixon’s Watergate pales in comparison to Clinton’s email leaks. Former CIA Director David Petraeus was prosecuted for sharing intelligence, while the media and President Barack Obama protect Clinton. Democrats dismiss her WikiLeaks lies because she is well composed when she lies, and they focus on Trump’s harsh and unedited speech because it’s raw.

3. “We ran away from radical Islam and don’t want it to follow us here.” Unlike Europe, Trump will deal with Jihadists head on. Islamist extremists respond only to strength. The left’s political correctness shows Islamists our weakness and helps them thrive. Clinton’s policies led to the rise of ISIS. She led the invasion of Libya. Trump wants to protect the United States and hates terrorists. America can’t become Europe. Look at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s troubles in Germany. Listen to the people of England. Brexit was a vote against radical Islamists entering as refugees from countries known to export terrorists. We need a better vetting process. We need more secure boarders.

4. “Clinton has been fully supported by Arabs.” Palestinian flags flew over the DNC convention and Israeli flags were burned outside by protesters. This was not the case with the GOP convention. It was no coincidence. Clinton owes Arab countries so much that she can’t be trusted. 

5. “All who compare Trump to Hitler are disingenuous and hurtful to the memory of survivors.” We witnessed Democrats give rise to President Jimmy Carter, who despite the dubious Nobel Prize, has blood on his hands. His policies prompted Persian Jews to flee Iran after 2,500 years, led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iranian Muslims in the Iran-Iraq war, the mass persecution and killing of minorities, Christians and Baha’is, and the public hanging of innocent members of the LGBT community. Carter directly caused Iran to become an extremist Islamic country that is now the biggest funder of terrorism around the world and routinely burns the American flag and threatens the destruction of Israel with nuclear weapons. The Democrats may be great speakers, but actions speak louder than words. Obama and Clinton handed monies to the Iranian government via the Iran deal and threw Israel under the bus.

6. “In Iran, people took to the streets to foster a revolution.” In the United States, it’s done through the election process. Obama was an American revolution against Bush. Trump is a revolution against the policies of Obama. The pendulum needs to swing back.

7. “Trump will rebuild our military and protect us against Russia, China, Iran and ISIS. America needs to become stronger again.” The weakness of America through the Obama-Clinton plans have led China, Iran and Saudi Arabia to start negotiations with Russia, turning their backs on the United States.

8. “Trump advocates cutting taxes to 15 percent from current 35 percent.” Clinton wants to raise them. Lower taxes mean more economic stimulus. Under Obama, the rich got richer and poor got poorer. We need smaller government. We entered this country empty-handed and worked hard. Private companies are more competitive and more efficient.

9. “Trump knows how to manage groups and will build teams of excellence.” Trump is independent and will not be bought by any special interest groups. Trump started with some $300 million and turned it into $4.5 billion. He understands capitalism and business.

10. “Trump will repeal Obamacare, which has been disastrous for many patients.” He will replace it with affordable, free-market systems whereby insurance companies can compete across state lines, bringing down premiums.

As I personally, remain torn on my choice of a candidate, I look forward to the debates to shed clarity on these contested issues. I am not with her. I am not with him. I am with America. And I stand with Israel.

Afshine Ash Emrani is assistant clinical professor at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. He blogs at jewishjournal.com. This op-ed was further edited for clarity after posting. 

Israel has had success against ‘lone wolf’ terrorists — here’s how

“Lone wolf” terrorism in Europe is making headlines around the world. But in Israel, the phenomenon of angry or troubled individuals taking up arms is old news.

Since October, Israelis have endured a wave of violence that has been carried out largely by individual Palestinians without backing from terrorist groups — so much so that some have called this the “lone wolf intifada.”

As of the end of June, 38 people had been killed and 298 injured by attackers, according to the Shin Bet security service.

Yet the violence appears to be winding down, at least for now. In October, when the wave of violence is said to have started, the number of attacks against Israelis spiked to 620. In June, there were 103 attacks, lower than in September, before the wave of violence began.

A large majority of the attacks — some 1,500 out of 2,000 — were in the West Bank, where the Israel Defense Forces is responsible for protecting Israelis. Here are five key methods the army used to turn the tide of violence.

Keep the terrorist groups out of it

The wave of violence may be considered a lone wolf intifada, but that’s because the army has put a lid on the terrorist groups, a senior IDF officer told reporters during a briefing this week. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the nature of his job.

Since the second intifada, the last major Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s, the Israeli army has managed to largely dismantle the networks run by Hamas and other terrorist groups in the West Bank, according to Shlomo Brom, a retired brigadier general and an analyst at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies think tank. 

“Basically the terror networks are dismantled, and basically the security forces are dealing with maintenance,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean terrorist groups have stopped trying to launch attacks against Israelis. In the past three months, the army has thwarted dozens of attempted attacks by Hamas alone in what the senior official called the “old war” against organized terror. 

“We’re still having day-to-day indications of them trying to find people in the West Bank, fund them, give them weapons, give them explosives and tell them to shoot Jews,” he said. “This hasn’t changed.”

Predict the unpredictable

A new war is being waged against the lone wolves. Their attacks started last fall in Jerusalem, sparked by Palestinian fears of Jewish encroachment on the Temple Mount. But the center of the lone wolf intifada quickly shifted to the West Bank city of Hebron, with attacks on soldiers and settlers in the area, as well as across Israel.

Around that time, at the end of last year, the army began building a system to deal with the new threat that was emerging, the senior officer said. The goal was to predict the unpredictable: when, for example, a particular Palestinian youth might grab a knife from his mom’s kitchen and take to the streets to spill Israeli blood. Motives can range from nationalism to family problems, he said.

“Unlike terrorists who belong to Hamas or the Islamic Jihad, if you get to their house the week before the attack, the kid doesn’t know that he’s a terrorist yet,” the senior officer said. “So that’s the main challenge.”

Based on what was known about previous attackers, the army created an alert system that is constantly being tweaked. These days, army analysts feed huge amounts of intelligence information into that system — a combination of “social media, human intelligence, signal intelligence,” according to the senior officer, who declined to provide further details about intelligence gathering. In return, he said, the system produces a small number of alerts about potential future attacks.

“One of the ways you produce an alert is, what are the last actions that a specific individual did,” the senior officer said. “For example, if he’s exposed to incitement and right afterwards he rents a car, maybe an unregistered car, this raises questions.”

In response to an alert, options include arresting a suspect, monitoring his or her actions, intervening through the family or deploying troops to a potential target area. When attackers are arrested or killed without managing to cause carnage, future attackers are thought to be deterred.

“The attacks are decreasing because of their ineffectiveness, because most of them fail,” said Brom, the Institute for National Security Studies analyst. “There is a limit to the number of even frustrated young people who are willing to give their life and to achieve nothing. So it makes sense that over time, the numbers of attacks are fewer and fewer.”

Go after the inciters

Incitement to violence can occur in person, through traditional media or over social media. Hamas is responsible for a large portion of the incitement of Palestinians against Israel, the senior officer said.

“They create some of the memes of the high-level incitement, or the incitement which is very powerful that you see on the web,” he said. “So when you handle most of the Hamas incitement, or when you stop some of the incitement from getting to social media, you also have less incitement by private people that are just sharing a specific post or adding incitement.”

Get guns off the streets 

Despite Israel’s control of the West Bank’s borders, weapons manufacturing in the territory has “increased drastically” in the past couple years, according to the senior officer. He estimated there are hundreds of production centers there.

In recent months, he said, the army has launched an organized crackdown, including closing some 20 locations producing homemade Carl Gustav submachine guns, or “Carlos,” like those used last month by two Hebron-area cousins in a deadly shooting at the upscale Sarona market in Tel Aviv.

“They paid for their suits more than they paid for the weapons,” the officer said of the Sarona shooters, who wore dress suits during the attack. “And our logic is very simple … If not everyone can get a weapon with 2,000 shekels [about $500], the price will go up and they’ll have to make all sorts of arrangements and meet more and more people in order to get the weapon they want, we will see fewer attacks with weapons because people will make more mistakes.”

Israeli soldiers guarding the home where Hallel Yaffa Ariel, 13, was stabbed and killed in a terror attack in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, in the West Bank on June 30, 2016. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Limit blowback

At the same time, the army tries to minimize its footprint on Palestinian society. That starts with trying to arrest rather than kill attackers and would-be attackers, the senior officer said.

According to Brom, the army also pushes to limit collective punishment, like the withholding of taxes that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank, or revoking permits to work in or visit Israel.

“The more you can separate between the public from the perpetrators, the better,” he said.

When the army does implement measures with punitive effects, like refusing to return the bodies of Palestinians killed during attacks or destroying attackers’ homes, it aims only to target the attackers’ supporters, according to Brom.

Col. Ido Mizrachi, the head of engineering in the Central Command, which is responsible for the West Bank, acknowledged in another briefing with reporters that demolishing Palestinian homes causes resentment, but said he thinks the deterrent effect is stronger. To maintain that balance, he said, his engineers work quickly and use techniques to ensure that surrounding homes, or even adjoining apartments, are not damaged.

While the senior officer downplayed the Palestinian Authority’s security cooperation with Israel, Brom said the partnership is one of the main factors that enables the army to limit wider tensions.

“If the Palestinian Authority stopped cooperating, the Israeli security services would be in a situation in which they would have to do themselves what the Palestinian Authority is doing,” he said. “The problem is, that would create much more friction with population at large. And more friction with population at large means more motivation for more youngsters to join terrorist groups.”

Overall, the army believes this combination of tactics has helped to change the mentality of Palestinians in the West Bank, reducing the number of people willing to risk their lives to attack Israelis.

“We saw more and more people not becoming pro-Israeli or pro-Zionist, but understanding that they don’t achieve anything from this escalation, that it hurts them economically, that it doesn’t help the life conditions, that it doesn’t achieve anything on the national level,” the senior officer said.

Judaism as world wisdom

Sandra is in my office because her marriage is falling apart. She is not a member of any synagogue, and doesn’t consider herself religious. But she read some of my insights online and decided that a Jewish perspective might help her figure out her next move. 

Jason is 16 and wrestles with what his life is supposed to mean. He heard me speak, and could use help discovering a meaning for his existence. 

Yusuf writes on my public Facebook page that he’s a Muslim from Saudi Arabia. He doesn’t know any Jews, and I’m his rabbi. Kathy, a Catholic from Maine, writes that she feels the same.

We stand on the precipice of the third great transformation of Jewish life in modern times. It shouldn’t be news to any of us that Judaism has exhibited a dual tendency of retaining the value it inherited from the past and, at the same time, transforming that inheritance to advance the needs of each new age. That trend has accelerated. Judaism is emerging from tribal expression into a stream of world wisdom. 

The bulk of American Jews descend from the great immigration of 1880-1920, when Ashkenazi Jews left the Pale of Settlement for the East Coast of the United States. Most American Jews to this day are related to Ashkenazi Jews from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and the shtetls of Eastern and Central Europe. They fled to the United States, it should be noted, to get away from two repressive dangers: The first (and the one we love to talk about) are the Cossacks and anti-Semitism. But the second oppressive reality they fled was Orthodox rabbinic Judaism. Make no mistake, the learned and the pious stayed in Europe, and they and their descendants were murdered. 

We are the children and grandchildren of the plucky ignoramuses who wouldn’t take no for an answer. They didn’t bother asking their rabbis’ permission to move to New York, they just packed and left. Onboard, they flung their tefillin and their wigs into the turgid Atlantic. They were not only leaving Russian oppression, they were also escaping rabbinic oppression. No surprise that when they came to North America, the prerequisite was to create a safe, comfortable haven where they could be comfortable as they were: fighting the anti-Semitism of the surrounding culture and creating spaces where they didn’t have to feel excessively Jewish. Ironically, the only way they could avoid a sense of being “too Jewish” was to retreat to places where there were only other Ashkenazi Jews. They created the legendary lodges in the Catskills, where you could talk with your hands, eat pickled herring or pickled salmon (which is something!). The food was kosher and mostly mediocre, but you could order as much of it as you wanted. These havens hired Jewish artists and comedians who shared the immigrants’ humor and sensibilities. 

Those new American Jews needed a haven because the larger culture slammed shut the doors of opportunity. Our immigrant forebears were restricted to certain neighborhoods and specific jobs. They were criticized for talking too loud, with their hands, in Yiddish. They felt like outsiders and so they created institutions in which they would not have to deal with being different. No surprise that they created synagogues where a congregant didn’t have to be too Jewish and wouldn’t get hassled for the patina of Jewish they maintained. These Americanized synagogues successfully met the needs of that first generation. What is extraordinary is that these Jews erected institutions throughout the country. They built synagogues, they established rabbinical schools, and created institutions of Jewish learning and culture that enabled them to successfully navigate the larger culture while feeling at home in this adopted country. 

Their institutions successfully met their needs, but those needs are no longer our own. 

The second great transformation of American-Jewish life took place around and after World War II when millions of our people were butchered back in the very countries we had fled a generation or two earlier. The pressing issue was no longer how do we conform to the ways of this country or even how to gain a foothold, but how to combat the virulent midcentury anti-Semitism? How to create a space for ourselves as Jews where we can be participants in the robust and raucous life of American democracy? To meet these new needs, the institutions that were created and modified in this generation were no longer places to retreat so we didn’t have to be consciously Jewish, this post-War generation created powerful anti-defamation leagues. They expanded congresses and committees. Now was a time to mediate Jewish power in democratic contexts: They scrambled to generate effective ways to support the Zionist effort creating a Jewish democracy in the Middle East, and they created agencies that would engage in the political system and the cultural life of America. This is the period in which the Jews took advantage of the openings in American life, attending their colleges and universities, composing the music sung in their musicals. We became their entertainers, their artists, their doctors and their experts. That age reaped unprecedented success for the postwar generation of Jews. 

Nobody today comments on the disproportionate number of Jews in the Supreme Court or in Congress. It is commonplace to hear Yiddish in the entertainment industry, the finance industry, business and academia. That presence is a tribute to the success of the second transformation of American-Jewish life, the time in which we intensified our Jewishness and insisted that we had the right to apply the lesson of the civil rights and women’s liberation movement: that we could be ourselves not only in private (which is what the first generation established), but also adamantly in public. In ways large and small, we put big Jewish institutions out there for the whole world to see. That was the second wave. 

Today’s challenge with the first and second wave is that they succeeded. They accomplished what they set out to do. American Jews by and large feel comfortable in private and safe in public. And we feel safe exerting pressure on the political system as a whole. This past summer witnessed the American-Jewish community engage in a brutal internal debate on the Iran nuclear deal, a contentious issue of international concern, with Jewish institutions publically exerting enormous political pressure on the United States Senate and with a popularly elected president (who most Jews support) willing to go head to head on an issue that many in the community felt was vital to its own well-being. Whether you agree with that move or not, what’s noteworthy is there were no earthshaking repercussions: Jews were still invited to two Chanukah parties in a kashered White House. Both Democrats and the Republicans still compete to represent Jewish voters and invite Jewish engagement in the upcoming elections. 

Jews are a public facet of American-Jewish life. 

The first two generations’ waves have succeeded, but we paid an unanticipated price for that success. That price is that we can no longer use fear to inspire Jewish living anymore. We can’t use guilt, ethnic solidarity or insecurity as a reason to be Jewish anymore. These claims are what motivated Jewish life in this country for a century: terror and anti-Semitism, the specter of being rejected, isolated and marginalized; these just don’t sell anymore. We Jews live in the same neighborhoods, graduate from the same schools, attend the same universities, enter the same professions, and offer our counsel at every level of business, in academia, in science and in government. 

So, what’s left? What are the needs of today? 

It turns out that Judaism is one of the great traditions of world wisdom. We have nurtured a way of life that has caressed and strengthened a resilient people throughout our wanderings. Whatever the political conditions in each age, Jews could retreat to Torah learning, to the practice of mitzvot (literally commandments, but much more: embodied practices of holiness and responsiveness), to warm and engaging community. In that embrace, they could emerge renewed. 

We have wandered through persecutions and exaltation, into places that were happy to host us and other places that could barely abide our presences. In and out of all of those locations, we carried Torah with us because it made our lives better. Torah – the living and the learning — molded us to be more resilient and stronger.

The time for fear has ended. No one will be scared into being Jewish anymore, and they shouldn’t. Yes, resurgent anti-Semitism afflicts Europe, roiling some of our college campuses, and criticism of Israel’s policies often masks a murderous hatred of Israelis and Jews. These phenomena are real and must be contained. But we are no longer trapped in passive terror. 

Much of the world is open to our insights. Because it turns out the Book of Deuteronomy is right. The Torah tells us, “this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, who, when they shall hear all these statutes, shall say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people” (Deuteronomy 4:6), that we are to live our lives in such a way that the nations of the world will look at our practice and say, “What a wise people! What a great God!” Rashi’s interpretation removes any possible misunderstanding: This verse speaks about wisdom. Rav Saadia observes that it is specifically about justice and truth. The standard for Jewish authenticity is wisdom, justice and truth, such that a well-meaning gentile will notice and be inspired.

What would it look like to elevate that criterion for this third tide of American-Jewish life? This hunger for wisdom is not limited to North America. Those same dynamics now affect Jewish life in Europe, Israel, Latin America, Canada, Australia and everywhere there are Jews. Indeed, we are blessed to live in an age in which millions of non-Jews are willing to glean Jewish wisdom if it will help them live better lives. An example: Hospitals now routinely consult with experts in Jewish bioethics (along with other spiritual/ethical counselors) to practice a humane form of medicine. Several years ago, Harvard convened a conference on the environmental challenge that included authorities in Jewish traditions of land and living with the earth. Sharing traditions like letting the land rest every seven years or the Sabbath as a day of harmony with creation offer assistance to a humanity lacking in tools for better living. We will win Jewish (and universal) allegiance if Judaism is robust, if Judaism augments human life, if people can thrive better because of the wisdom Judaism brings to our lives and our communities. Rabbi Harold Schulweis offered an early example of this approach when he established pro bono legal, psychological and para-rabbinic counseling at Valley Beth Shalom as a way of conveying Jewish wisdom and care for any who sought it. The offer of wisdom drew in people.

So that’s the task. That’s what’s going to bring in today’s people. This network of emergent communities, the more established Jewish institutions, the camps that we run, the youth groups that we offer, the adult education, the introduction programs — all of them are a constant effort to give back to the Jewish people and humanity what is already theirs: this ancient and time-tested path for being human. But that old/new goal changes our rhetoric. This passage in Deuteronomy invites us to admit that the standard by which we judge whether someone is a good Jew is no longer how punctilious they are in particular rituals or prohibitions. The question we must train ourselves to ask is: If someone who isn’t already engaged in Jewish practice were to look at your life or community, would they say, “Wow! I love how Judaism augments their values, the way they treat each other, the way they include the outcast, the way they pursue lives of justice and compassion. I want to be more like them, because the Judaism that keeps them strong and keeps them focused and keeps their eye on the goal makes them kinder and sweeter and wiser and more generous and more resilient. And I need some of that, too”?

What if we placed the criteria for a good Jew not in the hands of a small cabal of rabbis and agencies who assess Jewish status by how well one practices a particular ritual, how learned and literate they are in ancient texts, how pure their bloodlines, how vocal their nationalism? Those characteristics can indeed matter, but they are important for what they cultivate, not as an end in themselves. They ought to deliver a mensch (think, for example, of Ruth Messinger of American Jewish World Service, Elie Wiesel, Betty Friedan, Jerry Seinfeld, Ruth Bader Ginsburg), which should be apparent even for someone who doesn’t read Hebrew or Aramaic or is able to supervise a kosher establishment. 

This kind of decency ought to be visible in the way we conduct our lives with ourselves, with our loved ones, with each other and how we engage the world. That’s what our Torah passage insists: that a gentile will look at our lives and recognize that whatever is inspiring us is wise and good and would benefit anyone. But let’s add another group into that mix. Maybe when we say “the nations” we ought to include that large sector of our own people who are themselves wrestling with Jewish illiteracy and ambivalence. How about all those Jews who don’t know how to practice mitzvot? When they look at our religiosity, are they inspired? Or do they recoil before what appears to them as lunacy and cruelty? 

If our passion for Judaism makes us appear insane, smug and judgmental, well, the Torah has already weighed in on whether that counts as good Judaism. Rashi is already agreed with Deuteronomy’s judgment whether it does or not. 

I want to be clear here: I am not arguing against rigorous learning or scrupulous practice. But if the practice does not lead to a broadness of heart, it is no service to God. If it doesn’t lead to a deeper capacity to feel the pain of your fellow human being, to take on their suffering as your own, if it doesn’t allow you to rejoice when something good happens to the one sitting next to you, then what is it for?

Our challenge as Jews hoping to mentor this next wave is to help midwife the transition from Judaism as an ethnic enclave into Judaism as a world tradition of wisdom. We have what to teach: that God sides with the outcast seeking liberation and that all must be included (Passover seder), that we are more than our résumés (Shabbat), that the land owns us rather than the other way round (ger toshav), and that all people deserve respect and dignity (tzelem Elohim). We have what to share with the world: our values, our stories, our traditions and guidelines, our love of a place, our ways of sanctifying time and family, our hunger for justice. 

Ours may be the greatest secret that humanity has yet to discover because it has been hiding in plain view. And it is our job to bring it out there into the world. There are bright lights already pushing back the shadows, groups like CLAL, the Hartman Institute, American Jewish University’s Whizin programs, Rabbi Benny Lau’s innovative 929.org, Ron Wolfson’s relational Judaism and countless others.

To do that, you have to know the sources. How else can we transmit the wisdom that people are starving for if we don’t ourselves become fluent in it? 

How can we become their teachers if we don’t teach them the language of our classics, if we do not teach them the rhythms of Hebrew and its multiple layers conveying meaning over meaning if we don’t ourselves become practitioners?  

How can we show people what a life of spiritual discipline can be if we don’t root ourselves in that Tree of Life, the Torah and its forest of sacred commentaries (midrash, Talmud, codes, philosophy, kabbalah, hasidut, etc), and grow in mitzvot as well? 

But if we do these things simply as a way to judge others more harshly, if we perform these mitzvot thinking they are the criteria for Jewish judgmentalism, then we betray our own heritage. We turn our back on God, and in this age, no one is putting up with it anymore because they can live a perfectly fine life without it.

So the only reason left for engaging in Torah, the only reason left for our pursuit of mitzvot, is because it brings joy, because it augments depth, and because it heightens wisdom, resilience and community in an age that is scared and desperately lonely and exhausted by the pain of making it through another day. We are, I believe, the heirs of one of humanity’s most beautiful creations, one of God’s greatest gifts. Our heritage is truly something shimmering and on a hill, but it is our job to take it off the hill. It is our job to become so welcoming with it and so good at providing access to it, that we can share it with those who have not yet accessed it. And by those I mean three categories of people: 

I mean Jews who have been swimming in the sea of Torah for a long time and have lost their way. Lost their way because they thought that being punctilious was the end in itself, the goal rather than a means to an end. We can help them through our living to see Torah as a path for a greater life. 

I mean a path for those Jews who have been so wounded by the way Judaism was presented to them, inflicted on them, that all they had when they turned to Torah was pain and rage. We can help to show them there’s another way, a truer way in which Torah becomes the balm of its own healing, and Torah becomes the solution to the problems that its defenders took upon themselves to inflict.

And I mean a new group in this day and age: those legions of human beings (and they number in the thousands if not millions), people who are open to wisdom wherever they find it, people who are willing in the same day to practice Hindu yoga, Zen meditation, listen to a talk of the Dalai Lama and read a tweet from Pope Francis. Yes, they are willing to look at the Facebook page of a rabbi or sage if it can offer something to help them live a better life (check out facebook.com/rabbiartson, facebook.com/rabbiwolpe or facebook.com/accidentaltalmudist for three great examples). 

In an age when people are finally willing to embrace the wisdom of Judaism, don’t we owe it to them to make it available, to be able to first of all wrap ourselves in it like a cloak, and then to be able to share the warmth with those who cross our paths? Don’t we owe it to them to seek them out and help them with Torah’s wisdom whether they are Jewish or not? This isn’t about changing the label; it is about giving access to a tradition that has inspired and transformed human life across the ages. The digital revolution opens access through blogs, online magazines and newspapers, podcasts and videos. Any teacher can enrich our lives anywhere.

What we are sitting on is too precious for us to try to own or monopolize. This is no time for business as usual, no time for simply doing Jewish without opening it to the world. The resilience of Judaism comes from having been repackaged from a time when we were assaulted, and at the same time, allowing us to renew ourselves for each new age. Now is the time for us to be renewed, to allow this time, this day, this age to forge new contact to the Torah of healing, the Torah of humanity, the Torah of wisdom and compassion, and to allow ourselves to be made over in its image so that we ourselves will be forces for healing in turn.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson (bradartson.com) holds the Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean’s Chair of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and is vice president of American Jewish University in Los Angeles.

Number of anti-Semitic incidents in Austria rises strongly

The number of anti-Semitic incidents reported in Austria increased more than 80 percent last year, with reported internet postings denouncing Jews more than doubling, an Austrian group said on Wednesday.

Jews across Europe have warned of a rising tide of anti-Semitism, fueled by anger at Israeli policy in the Middle East, while far-right movements have gained popularity because of tensions over immigration and concerns following militant Islamist attacks in Paris and Brussels.

The Austrian Forum Against Anti-Semitism, which began monitoring anti-Semitic incidents in 2003, said 465 incidents were recorded during 2015, over 200 of them being internet postings hostile to Jews.

The total number of internet postings reported to Austria's constitutional protection authority as offensive remained stable in 2015, but the number of postings liable to be used in criminal proceedings doubled compared to 2014, according to an interior ministry spokesman.

“The whole picture is terrifying,” Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Communities of Austria (IKG), said.

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) urged the European Union and its member states in January to increase efforts to combat widespread anti-Semitic cyber hate, arguing that anti-Semitism in the region did not show any sign of waning.

IKG's Secretary General Raimund Fastenbauer said it was difficult to clearly tell who committed some anti-Semitic acts because offenders could not be identified and internet postings were usually anonymous.

But there was a clear trend of increasingly hostile behavior against the 15,000 Jews living in Austria from Muslims, the Jewish community representative said.

“There is an increasing concern in our community that – if the proportion of Muslims in Austria continues to rise due to immigration, due to the refugees – this could become problematic for us,” Fastenbauer said.

Austria has mainly served as a conduit into Germany for refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa but has absorbed a similar number of asylum seekers relative to its much smaller population of 8.7 million.

When Brussels meant freedom from fear for an Israeli

Growing up, trips to stay with my Jewish family in Brussels were a taste of freedom.

In my native Israel, waves of Palestinian terrorist attacks kept me under constant maternal surveillance. Fear of regular bus bombings limited my excursions to biking distance.

On the tranquil streets of the Belgian capital, by contrast, I could wander at will amid the mix of medieval architecture and glass-and-steel skyscrapers. Even riding the tram with my cousin Eli was exhilarating. The rails seemed to stretch out endlessly, and there was the added thrill of potentially getting caught without tickets, which we never bothered to buy.

On Tuesday, a series of explosions killed 34 people — 14 of them at Zaventem airport and another 20 at one of the metro stations that Eli and I used to exploit.

“The anxiety is terrible,” Eli’s father, my uncle, told me, quickly recalling doing a family headcount after learning of the attacks. “But equally horrible is that these attacks reduce you to feeling happy that strangers whom you’ve never met died in them, and not your own friends and family.”

On a visit to Brussels earlier this month, I had sensed a change. The city no longer felt so free.

At a book signing by a Jewish philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut, I was shocked to see that he was accompanied by a bodyguard. Outside the building, a dozen police officers stood guard.

Wasn’t this an official overreaction to the May 2015 slaying of four people at Brussels’ Jewish Museum? I asked Joel Rubinfeld, head of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism.

 “We are all targets now — philosophers, anti-racism activists, journalists, police officers, the people in this restaurant,” Rubinfeld said.

In a southern district of Brussels the afternoon of the attacks, Rabbi Shalom Benizri was still waiting for word from his loved ones when I called his home. A communications overload had disabled cell service by several providers, leaving many thousands unable to make or receive those crucial calls.

Benizri, who used to head a large Sephardic community in downtown Brussels before its members moved because of the rampant criminality in the heavily Muslim area, recalled the museum shooting.

 “We were the targets then, but now everyone is a target,” Benizri said, echoing Rubinfeld.

During the attack, Benizri was at the airport about to board a flight to Israel, where several of his children live. As chaos broke out and hundreds fled the smoking building, he returned to his car and drove home.

In lockdown at home — a precaution that probably applies especially to Orthodox rabbis like himself — Benizri told me he is among the local Jews who see no future for their families in Belgium.

“There is enormous concern not only among people like me, but also non-observant Jews,” he said. “As for me, my suitcases are packed to go.”

Wishing him a happy Purim, I hung up with a sinking feeling about what was happening to the city I love — which is situated only 130 miles from Amsterdam, where I now live with my wife and 4-month-old son.

Trying to put my finger on when things got out of control in Belgium and Western Europe in general, I remembered a conversation that I had with Eli 20 years ago in a Brussels metro station.

Attuned to an inchoate rise in anti-Semitic violence to which I was oblivious as a foreigner, Eli had asked me to address him as “Ile,” an anagram of his name, when we were on the street. Maybe I should have known then.

There are good reasons why Europe’s Jews are so worried

The Weimar Republic, Germany's flawed experiment in democracy in the 1920s, has become today's paradigm for the failure of state and society. By the end of Weimar, the government seemed to have lost control – vigilantes from the political extremes claimed they were keeping the streets safe while beating up vulnerable minorities, above all Jews. So it is shocking when citizens in Germany and France – and elsewhere in Europe – increasingly cite Weimar when discussing their society today.

The European Union now does sometimes resemble a replay of Weimar's combination of institutional perfection with violent and nationalist forces aimed at tearing down the “system.” Though Germany's 1919 constitution, written in the city of Weimar, was widely viewed as a model document, throughout the 1920s the constitutional dream seemed ever more disconnected from public life.

The political leaders of France and Germany today deplore anti-Semitism and make striking gestures of solidarity with their country's Jewish population, but the gestures seem helpless. The number of anti-Semitic incidents, as tracked by such bodies as the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, is on the rise. Many Jews in many European countries, but above all in France, are contemplating leaving because they believe their homelands have become so unsafe. The political establishment tries to reassure them with the argument that the parallels with 1933 are really too much of a stretch.

To a degree, the reassuring voices are correct. Many of the most prominent recent European incidents are not the outcome of an old-style anti-Semitism in France or Germany. Indeed, the right-wing French National Front under Marine Le Pen has distanced itself from its older positions – as articulated by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was convicted of Holocaust denial after calling the wartime Nazi occupation of France “not particularly inhuman.” In fact, today's National Front sometimes refers to Israel as an ally against Islamism. In the new grass-roots anti-immigration movement in eastern Germany, PEGIDA, the explicit target is “Islamicization,” and Israeli as well as Russian flags were prominently displayed in some of its early rallies.

At the beginning, Weimar's political institutions were skillfully designed to be as representative as possible. Most Germans viewed their society as remarkably tolerant. German Jews in the 1920s often emphasized that they lived in a more inclusive society than France's, which was still riven by the legacy of the Dreyfus case, when the army and the church prosecuted an innocent Jewish officer for espionage, or than the United States', where prime real estate and universities were often not open to Jews.

This misconception about German stability lasted a long time, indeed extending for a time after Adolf Hitler became chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933. Right up until April 1933, when the regime launched a “boycott” of Jews, many German Jews refused to accept that anti-Semitism could be politically serious.

Today, the most obviously violent threats clearly come from Islamic terrorism, from groups affiliated to or imitating Islamic State. That is the story of the attack on the Jewish supermarket in Paris, where four were killed last January, which came in the wake of the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. It is also cited to explain the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels, or of some of the many synagogue attacks. The Agency for Fundamental Rights even tries to register incidents separately and attributes some of them to “foreign ideology,” meaning radical or jihadist Islamism.

Yet the jihadist incidents are – in numerical terms – a minority. There is, however, an intellectual contagion, in which native far-right radicals often use anti-Israel and anti-American slogans that proliferate in the Middle East as part of their anti-Semitic arsenal. In France and Britain the “quenelle,” a version of the Hitler salute, popularized by the French comedian Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala has become popular with the racist right.

In addition, arguments about anti-Semitism have spilled over into the discussion of the refugee crisis confronting Europe. For some, the large-scale inflow of more than a million refugees in one year, from the Middle East and North Africa, is bound to lead to an inflow of actual terrorists, who can easily conceal themselves in the crowds of migrants. But it is also being blamed for a possible influx of terrorist ideas. Anti-Semitic texts such as Mein Kampf or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are widely available in the countries from which migrants are moving; and anti-Semitism, usually linked to anti-Israelism, is a natural ingredient of the social and cultural milieu that is moving into Europe.

Critics of large-scale immigration use the supposed anti-Semitic culture of many migrants as an argument against migration. They then make a case about the superiority of their native or indigenous culture – which can also, paradoxically, include hostility to aliens. So Jews feel vulnerable on two fronts: vulnerable because of who is attacking them, and vulnerable because of who is defending them.

The classic liberal answer to the new threat is that the state has an absolute and unconditional duty to protect all its citizens. That is the position that Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls insistently, and rightly, defend.

But many people will also ask whether the state can really offer so much security. It is increasingly obvious that the police are overstretched. That was true even before the flood of refugees. A long trial currently under way in Munich, Germany, has highlighted the way in which the intelligence service that was dedicated to “protection of the constitution” Verfassungsschutz) against right-wing terrorists was for a long time blind to the threat. Instead, it had undermined its efforts by engaging members of far-right-wing groups as informers. Dealing with the new kinds of threat demands a far greater security presence, as well as new methods of surveillance.

As more and more incidents demonstrate police ineffectiveness, new groups will mobilize for self-protection. The incidents on New Year's Eve in Cologne and in other German cities, in which criminal groups, composed largely of migrants from North Africa, stole from and sexually harassed women, have led to the formation of citizens' patrols. In many cases, the personnel of these patrols come from the far right and its sympathizers.

That brings the story back to Weimar. In the last years of the republic, German streets were controlled not by the police but by paramilitary groups, of the left (the communist Red Front Fighters' League) as well as the right (the Nazi Stormtroopers). Then, even the parties of the center believed that they, too, needed their own defense organizations, and built up their own leagues. When the government tried to ban the Nazi Stormtroopers, the army objected on the grounds that it believed it could not effectively fight all the different leagues simultaneously.

One lesson of Weimar is that it is very dangerous for the state to give up its legal monopoly of violence. One key feature that makes modern life civilized is precisely that we don't take the law into our own hands. But the existence of threats, real or imagined, creates a great deal of pressure for “self-defense.”

There is a second, related lesson. Violent and ostensibly antagonistic ideologies may be quite capable of fusing. Sometimes in Weimar, the far right and far left just fought each other; on other occasions, they joined together in attacking the “system.” Today in Europe, there are the same curious blends, sometimes of jihadism with traditional anti-Semitism, or anti-jihadism and anti-immigrant populism with traditional anti-Semitism.

The fusing of dangerous ideologies makes members of small groups vulnerable. They are additionally vulnerable when the state promises protection that it cannot actually deliver. That is why Europe's Jews are so worried.

Harold James is the Claude and Lore Kelly Professor in European Studies and professor of history and international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of “A German Identity,” “Making the European Monetary Union” and “The Deutsche Bank and the Nazi Economic War Against the Jews,” among other books. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Rabbi Chaim Mentz on Parashat Shemini (Leviticus 9:1 11:47)

In the early years of American Jewish history, there was a debate about whether American life was different from the shtetl life of Europe. Many embraced the idea of assimilation and secularization, yet others held strong and kept their traditional religious practices in this modern “new” world.

Each side preached to their choir: “America is different.” But while one group argued we must modernize to fit in to our new world, the other preached, “America is a ‘treif midena’ (a non-kosher place) and we must create shtetlach to keep the assimilation out.” Each side felt their way was the true way to preserve Jews and Judaism in America.

[Read Rabbi Edward Feinstein, Rabbi Jonathan Hanish
Rabbi Sarah Bassin‘s takes on Parashat Shemini]

Through Divine Providence, God led millions of us here to America. God obviously would love to see Jews thrive with Judaism in this land of freedom. But which path is the proper path? Go out and leave the shtetl behind? Or build shtetlach with walls around us and do all we can to keep America out of our lives?

Whenever a dilemma in Jewish life comes up, one must turn to our Jewish handbook, the Torah, for guidance. In the Torah is an answer for every Jewish issue.

In this week’s Torah portion, God reveals to us the laws of kashrut. God goes into great detail which animals are permissible (kosher) and which ones are not. For example, an animal that has split hooves and chews its cud, such as the cow, lamb or goat, is kosher (they have the spiritual permissible qualities for us to digest).

When it comes to the laws of fish, God tells us that a fish must have fins and scales to be kosher. Simple — two signs. If you catch a fish with fins and scales, it’s kosher and you can now make sushi!

The rabbis ask a question: We know that God is very precise in his wording in the Torah. Every word is calculated. Why did God add the word “fins” to the signs for being kosher? We know every fish that has scales has fins, but not all fish with fins have scales, so why not just write simply any fish with scales is kosher?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained that God is teaching us an important Jewish life lesson from the laws of the kosher fish. A fish is a navigator — it goes out and seeks the world, using its fins, yet it has its scales to protect it from foreign elements that may cause harm. God chose the Jews to be his ambassadors to the world, to spread his light and teachings to the world.

America is a wonderful place to navigate, but we must have strong shields to protect us from assimilation or anything that may threaten our Jewishness. A perfect example of a kosher fish in America is former Connecticut senator and vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman. He lived within the American life, but observed the laws of kashrut and Shabbat, so he didn’t lose any of his Jewish identity.

A Jew must be an ambassador for God, we must navigate the world; but we must keep our shields up and carry on the mitzvot of Judaism. So there really isn’t a debate anymore. America is not different! You can live a productive Jewish life while being a lawyer, doctor or even a senator.

Today, through the efforts of Chabad houses all over the United States, many young, modern American-Jewish families are returning to the “Old World life” in this “New World.” They have kosher homes, they are observing Shabbat, and even wearing kippahs in public places — because America is a place where a Jew can live to his or her highest Jewish potential.

Being that the debate is over, please join me for some kosher sushi — you may like it! I look forward to meeting you.

He witnessed — and filmed — the horror of the Holocaust

In early April 1945, Arthur Mainzer, barely 22, was a United States Army Air Forces cameraman assigned to documenting the war in Europe; he’d been serving for three years, and, so far, World War II had not been a horrific experience for him. In fact, it had been exciting. He’d had adventures, suffered no injuries and fallen in love. Already, the Allies were sensing victory, the Nazi military was clearly in its death rattle, and Mainzer was looking for the war to be over so he could marry Germaine, the French woman he’d fallen for, and bring her back with him to the States.

Mainzer, who is Catholic, was born in Canada, and when he was very young, his family moved to Chicago, where he grew up in a neighborhood with people of various races and religions, including Jews. As a youth, he kept up with the war news, and in 1942, soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces. 

He’d been a film hobbyist in high school, so the Army sent him to technical school in Denver, where he learned the ins and outs of film cameras. He was then assigned to a unit in Culver City, working on military training films with an actor named Ronald Reagan.

By November 1943, Mainzer was assigned to be a combat cameraman in Europe. There, in a film unit headed by Capt. Ellis Carter, he accompanied many bombing missions; archival footage of his unit’s work shows bombs, sometimes as tracer-like streaks of light, hitting — or missing — their target.

In June 1944, soon after D-Day, Mainzer’s unit filmed bombing runs in Normandy and beyond. In the spring of 1945, three weeks before victory was declared in Europe, Mainzer was called upon to handle a special mission: He and his superior officer, Carter, were told to drive deep into Germany to a town called Weimar, where, they were told, a nearby labor camp had just been liberated. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had ordered the soldiers in Gen. George Patton’s Third Army — who had entered that camp the day before — not to touch anything until the area was thoroughly filmed, and that was the job assigned to Mainzer and Carter. 

“It took a long while for me to get over this. It’s something you never want to see. … You never want to see again.” — Holocaust cameraman Arthur Mainzer

So the two, traveling by jeep, made the six-hour trip across Germany. As they drove, they talked about technical matters: They discussed how to handle their recently acquired 16-millimeter color Kodachrome camera, and they talked about their lack of a tripod, which would force them to do hand-held shots using heavy rolls of 100-foot film, whose weight would make it difficult for them to brace themselves.

On April 15, 1945, the two cameramen arrived at Buchenwald. Nothing could have prepared them for what they saw — and smelled and felt — when they stepped into the camp. Just inside, they were greeted by a large sign that read: “JEDEM DAS SEINE,” a German expression that literally means, “To each his own,” but really means: “Everyone gets what he deserves.”

In the film “Shooting War,” Mainzer is quoted on camera: “As a soldier in the American army, I had no knowledge of these [concentration] camps. I had not heard anything about it. It was horrible. There were bodies stacked up like cordwood.”


Mainzer, now 92, lives in Agoura Hills, north of Los Angeles, and his heart-wrenching concentration camp footage captured that April day and afterward went on to be used as damning evidence during the Nuremberg Trials. It has been archived by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Veterans History Project and has appeared in at least two documentaries: the recently aired “Night Will Fall” and “Shooting War” from 2000, both of which include on-camera interviews with Mainzer. A 20-minute YouTube clip of camp horrors that he filmed has been viewed more than 25,000 times.

Today, Mainzer is gentle, good-humored and still — as the Irish say — a fine figure of a man. He was friendly and forthcoming during a visit by a Journal reporter, but he suffers from the early effects of Alzheimer’s disease, which makes it hard for him to give coherent answers to questions. Fortunately, he also gave interviews years ago, some of which are in the public record, and those accounts, along with the interview done this past week by the Journal, provide a personal dimension to the shattering images he captured on film.

“There was an awful stench,” he told the Journal of that first shocking visit to Buchenwald. “I shot almost all the footage because Carter just couldn’t do it — it was too much for him. He was sick; he couldn’t stand the sight of it, so he loaded the camera, and I shot. I didn’t feel so good either, especially in the close-ups.”

 Scenes captured by young combat cameraman Mainzer immediately following the Allies’ liberation of Buchenwald

Mainzer’s footage shows huge numbers of dead bodies, skin-and-bone, piled haphazardly on a flatbed truck or lying on the ground. For each shot, he focused the camera on a single scene, as steady as he could for a long time, as much as 25 to 30 seconds for a single image. As the camera focuses on, or pans slowly across, bodies of people who have starved to death, 30 seconds can seem an eternity.

Then, often, the camera zooms in for a close-up. Even now, some 70 years since it was made, to watch the film is still unbearable.

Just as Mainzer was shooting, Eisenhower ordered the Third Army liberators to go into nearby Weimar and gather all the adult residents. In an interview carried out by the USC-Shoah Foundation, Leo Hymes, an American soldier from Idaho who helped liberate the camp, describes how he and his fellow GIs brought the local Germans into Buchenwald to witness what was there. “We marched everyone in that town through the camp, and we made sure they dug the graves,” Hymes said.

Mainzer filmed that event, too, in color. “German civilians from Weimar were paraded through a tour of the camp to show them the atrocities, to show them what the Germans had done,” Mainzer said in his interview in “Shooting War.” “Many of these locals wouldn’t even look at the … bodies. Some were crying or had their mouth and nose covered with a handkerchief. … In the film, you can see that they did this [only] because they were required to; they weren’t too interested in looking at the atrocity.”

“In my mind’s eye there’s an image burned,” Hymes said in the Shoah Foundation footage, “of this big, strapping woman in an SS uniform, with her sensible shoes, carrying this broken, naked skeleton of a body over her shoulders, with her mouth covered with her handkerchief as she takes this body to be dumped into the mass grave on top of thousands of other bodies.”

Benjamin Ferencz is a Jewish, Hungarian-born American lawyer sent by Patton to investigate Buchenwald after its liberation. He, too, was there when Mainzer was filming the camp. In Ferencz’s interview for “When Night Falls,” he says: “It was like peering into hell.” As an eyewitness to the horror, Ferencz would later serve as one of the prosecutors at Nuremberg.

There are images that, once seen, can never be unseen. Near the beginning of Mainzer’s YouTube footage, a dark-bearded man lies on the ground on his back, his head turned to one side. His eye sockets appear empty. His arms are placed over his chest in such a way that the fingers of his thin and delicate hands are laced, palms on his chest. A close-up of his forearm reveals a large “slave labor” tattoo: 126747. 

The camera pans across piles and piles of twisted, emaciated bodies. The effects of disease, torture and starvation are obvious.

In an interview for the Veterans History Project, Mainzer described the scene: There “were areas where bodies were stacked up; they didn’t have time to burn them or bury them because the Allies were approaching. The Germans were getting ready to cremate some, but they didn’t have the time; they could hear the warfront approaching, so the SS guys [who ran] the camps just took off.”

The footage also shows human beings barely hanging on to life, some dressed in the now-familiar uniforms with wide vertical stripes. One man holds his hands clasped in front of him, as if in prayer, but the gesture is clearly meant as a thank-you to the liberators. There’s also a young man, legs much too weak and withered to hold him up, leaning against a doorway. And there’s a 4-year-old child amid the silent color footage, trying to smile — but the only expression he can manage is tears.

Let my people stay

It’s spring, and fear is busting out all over.

In the past three weeks, I’ve been to two events memorializing the Holocaust. The speakers alternated between the necessity of remembering the Nazi genocide even as its last surviving victims die, and confronting the current rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.

The message was, in short: “Remember they tried to kill us, and — don’t forget — they’re trying to kill us.”

In the interim, I read Jeffrey Goldberg’s lengthy investigation in The Atlantic, “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” Just as I got to Goldberg’s answer — which is, basically, hell yes! — out came New York Times columnist David Brooks’ dirge-like column on the rise of anti-Semitism, along with the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) annual survey of anti-Semitism in America, which reported a 21 percent increase.  And as I write this, the Web is throbbing with warnings that the Obama administration’s negotiations over Iranian nuclear development will hand the Jew-hating mullahs all they need to wipe Israel off the map.

So, anyway, Happy Passover!

Actually, I’m thinking a lot about Passover these days. I’m wondering if not a few of our neuroses stem from the story we retell each year at our seder table. It is, at its climax, about the necessity of running away. Pharoah enslaves the Jews. God intervenes. And, in a moment of high drama, the Jews make a run for it.

We flee so fast, we don’t even wait for our bread to rise. And that, it seems, has become our M.O. The matzah we grabbed on the way out of Egypt became the 20th-century suitcase we carried onto the trains out of Hitler’s Europe, became the EU passport Israelis keep ready in their drawers, became the pied à terre French Jews have waiting for them in Tel Aviv.

Our stories and our history have taught us to sleep with our shoes on. But now, in 2015, is it time to rethink our reactions?  Is it possible that this year is different from all other years?

Let’s start with this: Never before in our history have Jews been as free, as beloved, as wealthy and as powerful as we are in the United States. And never before in our history have Jews been as well defended and as powerful as a sovereign nation among nations as they are in Israel. These two facts alone should give us a fundamentally different feeling about our situation in the world today.

With such power and freedom comes the ability to confront challenges, rather than fear them.

Take Europe. I can understand why Goldberg’s go-to question would be whether it’s time to flee — flight is in our DNA — but a bolder, better question would be this: What do European Jews need to do to stay?

The situation is bad — I’m not second-guessing the desire of any Jew to leave. But the tools at our disposal to counteract the hate directed at Jews from parts of the Muslim community and the far left and right are far greater than in years past. The actual attacks are coming from a relatively small subset of people. Jewish communities there and abroad can target these groups in various ways — with education via the Internet, by working with local governments and by working with religious leaders abroad. I know some of this is already taking place, but have we really exhausted the possibilities?

For instance, instead of just supporting the various Jewish defense organizations, we should also be supporting those Muslims speaking out against the status quo and the extremists within their own communities. They are growing in number and in influence, and, with support, they can help change a dynamic that is not yet set in stone.

We have tools we never had before for reaching people’s heart and minds — the Internet especially, via social media and more traditional media, in general. We have the talent and expertise to use them — hell, Jews invented some of them. We have the support of governments, here, in Europe and in Israel. “Pharoah” is on our side, even if some of his minions are riled up. And in the most powerful country in the world, we have a deep well of philo-Semitism—yes, love of Jews. The ADL ought not be allowed to release statistics on the 750 or so incidents of anti-Semitism each year without also reminding us that according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, Judaism received the “warmest, most positive” rating of all religions from a majority of Americans surveyed.

We have to learn, hard as it is, to take the good with the bad. To overcome our narrative of flight, which made sense in ancient Egypt, and in Hitler’s Europe, but not so much in today’s European Union or United States.  We have earned our pessimism, sure, but we haven’t earned despair.

Happy Passover.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @foodaism.

Pew study: Muslims to overtake American Jews by 2050

In 20 years, there will be more Muslims in North America than Jews, according to a new Pew Research Center report.

The report, which was released Thursday, also found that more American Jews are leaving Judaism than non-Jews are joining the Jewish people.

According to “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050,” Muslims will overtake Christians in the last quarter of the 21st century as the globe’s largest religious group. In the United States, Muslims will comprise 2.1 percent of the population in 2050, up from 0.9 percent in 2010. Jews, meanwhile, will fall to 1.4 percent of the U.S. population from 1.8 percent in 2010.

The Pew study also offered a detailed look at the sizes of national Jewish communities around the world, how fast the communities are expected to shrink or grow, and Jewish fertility rates.

There were nearly 14 million Jews around the globe in 2010, with expected growth to 16 million by 2050, according to the study – a lower growth rate than the general world population. Overall, Jews comprise roughly 0.2 percent of the world’s population, with about 44 percent of Jews in North America; 41 percent in Israel, the Middle East and North Africa; 10 percent in Europe; and 3 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean.

By 2050, 51 percent of Jews are expected to live in the Middle East — almost all in Israel — and 37 percent in North America. The number of Jews in Europe is expected to decline more precipitously and outpace general European population shrinkage, according to the report.

Meanwhile, the study showed that globally there were 1.6 billion Muslims in 2010 and a predicted growth to nearly 2.8 billion in 2050 — from 23 percent of the population to 30 percent. In 2050, nearly three of every 10 people will be Muslims.

Today, the United States and Israel have about the same number of Jews, though there is some debate among Jewish demographers over which country is ahead. The Pew study counted 5.7 million Jews in the U.S. and 5.6 million in Israel, but other studies have shown more than 6 million Jews in each country, and Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics said Israel had 6.2 million Jews in 2014. In any case, Israel is expected to pull unambiguously ahead in the coming years.

The study counted as Jews those who self-identify as Jewish when asked their religion. It does not include so-called Jews of no religion — those who have Jewish ancestry or consider themselves partially Jewish but say they are not Jewish by religion.

Nearly 95 percent of all Jews live in just 10 countries, according to the study. Except for Israel, none of those countries is more than 2 percent Jewish. The 10 countries with the most Jews are, in descending order, according to Pew, the United States, Israel, Canada, France, Britain, Germany, Russia, Argentina, Australia and Brazil.

Jewish fertility rates are highest in Israel (2.8 children per woman), whereas Jewish fertility rates in North America (2.0) and Europe (1.8) are below replacement level (2.3). In the United States, the Jewish fertility rate is 1.9 children per woman.

In every region examined by Pew, the Jewish median age was older than that of the general population. In the world overall, the median age was 28, compared with the Jewish median age of 37. In North America the median age is 37, with the Jews at 41.

While the study showed that the spread of secularism is expected to continue and the number of atheists projected to rise, religious people are expected to grow as a proportion of the global population because they tend to have more children.

In Europe, Muslims are expected to grow to 10 percent of the population in 2050, from 6 percent in 2010.

In the United States, Americans of no religion are expected to grow from 16 percent in 2010 to 25 percent by 2050, and Christians are expected to shrink from 78 percent in five years to 66 percent by 2050.

This Passover, raging anti-Semitism, ascendant Iran facing Jews

This post originally ran on Fow News.

On Friday night Jewish families in Israel and throughout the world will celebrate our Passover Seder, a wondrous interactive event remembering we were once slaves unto Pharaoh and celebrating our freedom and first baby steps as a nation. In the middle of the symbol-rich ritual, we fill a cup of wine–Elijah’s Cup – and then open our doors to ‘welcome’ the spirit of Elijah the Prophet. The biblical prophet has a special place in the Jewish narrative, as every newborn boy is placed on “Elijah’s Chair” for his circumcision. Why Elijah? Our tradition teaches that he is the messenger who one day will return to announce the advent of a messianic era of peace.

But Israelis worry that a series of moves by foes and friends are effectively slamming shut the door towards peace and hastening the next catastrophic war in The Holy Land.

Uppermost in everyone’s mind is the looming reality that Iran will have clear path to nuclearization with the means to deliver a bomb atop a missile or in a terrorist suitcase.v While Israel ponders her next move, Arab nations are already scurrying to obtain their own nuclear options. And with their traditional US protector AWOL, these same states, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE are already responding militarily to Iran’s power grab in Iraq and Yemen, further destabilizing the raging fires of the Middle East.

Meanwhile, even as negotiations in Geneva finally yielded a preliminary agreement with Tehran, Israelis were subjected to earlier this week, the latest direct threat from Iran’s chief of the Bajiis militia, Mohammad Reza Naqdi, who declared– that “erasing Israel off the map” is “nonnegotiable.” Not a peep of protest from P5+1 leaders. Tehran is already launching new actions to bolster their bluster. Last year,Naqdi confirmed Iran was increasing efforts to arm Palestinians on the West Bank and the Mullahocracy has taken new measures to threatenIsrael’s northern border.

A senior Israeli Defense Ministry official confirms that Iran is converting Zilzal unguided rockets into accurate, guided M-600 projectiles by installing accurate warheads.

The Algemeiner quoted Israeli Colonel Aviram Hasson describing Iran as a “train engine that is not stopping for a moment. It is manufacturing new and advanced ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles. It is turning unguided rockets that had an accuracy range of kilometers into weapons that are accurate to within meters.” Hezbollah “is getting a lot of accurate weapons from Iran. It is in a very different place compared to the Second Lebanon War in 2006,” he warned.

Now comes word from The Times of London that Tehran is developing a new front against Israel as its allies in Syria are crushing anti-Assad rebel groups in the Golan Heights.

Israel could soon be confronted directly by Iranian troops on their border Iranian short-range missiles targeting Israeli communities.

Tehran is once again aiding Gaza-based Hamas that has been the recipient of tens of millions of dollars, logistical, and military support from the Iranians.

Many, perhaps President Obama among them, would argue, that such an array of existential and strategic challenges against Israel should push Prime Minister Netanyahu to make a quick deal with Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA).

However, the PA has proven to be part of the problem, not the solution.  It has lost support of the West Bank Palestinian street through its serial corruption and failure to call elections. It has been said that diplomats sign treaties but only people make peace. If so, the Palestinian Authority itself has been signaling their Israeli neighbors that they are preparing their kids for war, not peace. The important NGO, Palestinian Media Watch continuously documents how PA uses education and culture to promote haters and terrorist murderers of Jews.

Now PA President Abbas has exercise his so-called nuclear option by joining the International Criminal Court in Geneva enroute to bring war criminal charges against the very leaders he supposedly is committed to negotiate with.

This Passover Israelis and Jews the world over are incensed and worried by the thundering silence of the United States, the European Union in face of the increasingly brazen Iran-led threats to the Jewish State, the blatant Jew-hatred promoted by Palestinian leaders and the spiking anti-Semitism on both sides of the Atlantic.

This isn’t about a personality or policy clash with Bibi Netanyahu; it is about the safety of 8 million Israeli citizens and endangered Jewish communities in Europe. The threat of the US abandoning Israel to the wolves at the UN Security Council won’t bring peace, but only further chaos and violence to the imploding region. If world leaders are truly committed to a safe and secure Jewish state and to combat anti-Semitism, they need to address these real-world concerns with deeds—not empty Holocaust Memorial Day Never Again slogans.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Letter from Dijon, France

On my first day traveling in Dijon this past spring, I bounded into the hotel lobby and casually reached for a newspaper lying on the reception desk. The front-page headline of Le Figaro riveted my attention. Quickly, I devoured the story. It described an unprecedented upsurge in the number of French Jews moving to Israel in the first months of 2014, on the heels of an unprecedented number who’d emigrated there the year before.

The Jewish population in France, larger than any country in Europe, stands between 450,000 and 500,000. Le Figaro reported that roughly 1 percent moved to Israel in 2013 — 70 percent higher than in 2012 — and that the numbers were exploding in 2014. The Jewish Agency for Israel reported that as of Aug. 31, 4,566 had left, and it predicted that at least 5,000 would leave by the end of 2014. That compares to 3,289 who left in 2013 and 1,917 in 2012.

A couple of days before reading that story, I’d visited a museum in Paris that had once been a private home. Patterned on the Petit Trianon at Versailles, it was built in 1911 for Count Moise de Camondo, a Sephardic Jew born in Istanbul who’d made a fortune in banking. The majestic home was tinged with sadness, its jaw-dropping décor and Camondo’s precious collection of paintings, sculptures, tableware and furniture countered by a stark background story.  

Camondo planned to leave the home to his children. But in 1917, Camondo’s only son, Nissim, was killed fighting for France in World War I. Devastated, the father decided to cede the home to the government of France in the name of his son upon his death. The year after he died in 1935, the house became Musée Nissim de Camondo and today remains exactly as it looked then, pristine in every stunning detail. It’s sobering to learn that a few years later, Camondo’s remaining child, daughter Beatrice, was sent to Auschwitz, along with her husband and their two children, and the family line ceased to exist.

Standing in a hotel lobby in Dijon reading the news story, it struck me that no amount of sacrifice, no show of loyalty to the state, and no sum of money could protect a Jew in Nazi-occupied France. And what about today? The newspaper reported a “spectacular” rise in the number of Jews departing for Israel in the first few months of 2014 — an increase of 312 percent over the same period last year. 

No definitive reason was cited. The economic recession bore part of the blame. Jobs were scarce in France, and Israel offered employment in select fields. But the director of the Paris-based L’Agence Juive (Jewish Agency) also mentioned that “a certain sentiment of insecurity” existed in the wake of the killings of three Jewish children and a rabbi in Toulouse in March of 2012. And just days after the article in Le Figaro appeared, a French citizen with ties to radical Islamists in Syria admitted gunning down four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels.

Wandering the pedestrian-friendly streets of Dijon, where narrow old-world lanes encircle elegant open plazas, I caught sight of a grand structure surrounded by a fence at the city’s edge. With its high dome and towers, it looked Islamic. I approached the locked gate. A Jewish star. Hebrew writing. I was standing in front of Dijon’s synagogue, across a street named for Elie Cyper. Who was Elie Cyper? And who were the Jews of Dijon? 

A recently published book shed light. Lafayette College history professor Robert Weiner and co-author Richard Sharpless, professor emeritus at the Pennsylvania school, assembled an oral history of the Jewish community in Dijon derived from 18 years of research. “An Uncertain Future: Voices of a French Jewish Community, 1940-2012” contains personal accounts of life in Dijon from the Holocaust and beyond, through times of “optimistic growth and expansion, followed by division, slow decline, and uncertainty about the future.”   

From the book, I learned that Dijon now has about 225 Jewish families in an urban population of 150,000; that the Jewish community has played an important role in the city despite its small numbers; that the city’s Jews are a mix of secular and religious, Sephardi and Ashkenazi; that Jews first came to Dijon in the Middle Ages and were expelled in the 1400s; and that they returned after the French Revolution and have never left. 

I learned that the synagogue, completed in 1879, served a robust community then numbering 550 people; that Jews were absorbed into the mainstream in the next several decades; that 80 percent of the community perished at the hands of the Nazis, including a 36-year-old rabbi named Elie Cyper, a member of the Resistance, and the man for whom that street was named; and that unlike other synagogues in France destroyed by the Nazis, Dijon’s survived thanks to the intervention of a city official who convinced the Germans the building would be useful as a warehouse and hid the Torah and other sacred objects.  

Those contributing oral histories to the book evince a feeling of great pride in being a French Jew; pride, too, in the vital Jewish community they’ve tried to create in Dijon and the ties they’ve built to the wider community. At the same time, there’s great apprehension for the future of Jewish life in Dijon, for the future of Jews in France and for the future of Israel. They worry about dwindling numbers, intermarriage and anti-Semitism. 

The authors of the book draw the conclusion that the mix of pride and concern in Dijon presents a mirror of Jewish life in communities around Europe.  

And they wonder: Does it mirror Jewish life in communities everywhere?

Poland is the safest place in Europe for Jews today

I survived the Holocaust in a sub-cellar in Tarnopol (Ternopil), a city now located in western Ukraine that once had a thriving Jewish as well as Polish population. Before coming to the U.S., I grew up after the war in France when philo-Semites like Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, as well as Pierre Mendès France, the country’s second Jewish prime minister, were luminaries. Jewish origins have been an important part of that nation’s genius from Montaigne to composers as different as Giacomo Meyerbeer and Jacques Offenbach; to painter Camille Pissarro; to the inventor of sociology Emile Durkheim; to the writer Marcel Proust; to the philosopher Henri Bergson; to the actor Sarah Bernhardt; to the movie superstar Jean-Pierre Aumont; to the groundbreaking writer Georges Perec; to the multitalented Serge Gainsbourg … to mention only a few. 

Today I am under the impression that France has forgotten about its Jewish cultural roots. The televised events from the streets of Paris and Marseilles fill me with sadness and consternation. In the middle of July, thousands of Muslims, along with some anti-Semitic French Catholic demonstrators, walked through the center of Paris shouting “death to the Jews.” They burned cars, vandalized Jewish stores and, as reported by the press, a number of them, armed with knives, threw stones and bottles at the Isaac Abravanel Synagogue not far from the Bastille.

I read that the polls indicate that as many as 40 percent of French Jews hide Jewish symbols. It is not surprising, as so many incidents of anti-Semitism happen daily in France.

It is not better in other parts of Western Europe. A bomb was planted in the new synagogue in Wuppertal, Germany; swastikas were painted on stores in the Jewish quarter of Rome; Israeli soccer players were attacked in Austria. These are but a few examples of the daily realities faced by European Jews. It is not just a one-time eruption of anti-Semitism by Muslim immigrants caused by the actions of Israel in the Gaza Strip. The hatred of Jews in Western Europe has been growing for many years. More and more, it is expressed by elites and the educated middle class.

Italy’s most popular philosopher and inveterate anti-Semite, Gianni Vattimo, told interviewers on Italy’s Radio 24 that he wanted Europeans “to buy Hamas some more rockets” to “shoot those bastard Zionists” because Hamas’ current arsenal is limited to “toy rockets that don’t really kill anyone.” He wants to forget and not have to apologize for his fascist grandparents’ atrocities committed in Abyssinia, Guernica, the Balkans and Greece. One of Spain’s most popular playwrights, Antonio Gala — an obvious anti-Semite — has written justifying the historical Jewish expulsions with the implication that Western Europe should become Judenrein again to punish Israel for supposedly slaughtering innocent Palestinians. He seems to ignore the fact that after the expulsion of Jews from Spain, his country slid into scientific and intellectual obscurity. Today Spain, with a population 25 percent larger than Poland, boasts fewer than half of Poland’s Nobel Prize recipients.

The problem has been noticed and taken up by world media. From a Newsweek cover story, to newspaper pieces titled “The Next Kristallnacht” or even “The Next Holocaust,” the stories about current and future prospects of European Jewry are extremely grim.  A month or two ago, the Economist magazine ran an editorial arguing that, all things considered, Jews were safer in Europe than in Israel. Of course, that was before the latest eruptions of “violent anti-Israel riots threatened to turn Paris into the West Bank.”

If history repeats itself, then perhaps the unthinkable — an exodus, under threats of physical harm to Jews — will again become thinkable. I want to propose the hypothetical question: If Western Europe’s Jews need to leave again, en masse, in what direction should they go? And where would they find the most hospitable welcome? I assume here, for the sake of argument, that they would not choose to go to an embattled, unsafe and crowded Israel.

Let us focus first on whether America would offer safe haven, as the New World sometimes has for half a millennium. I myself was among the fortunate survivors ultimately embraced by the U.S., where I advanced to the Ph.D. candidacy in French literature at UCLA in the early 1960s before going into business and becoming a  hotelier. If you had asked me when I first came to America as a young man whether America would provide safe haven to a new mass Jewish influx — a subject in which I developed a keen interest — I would have had grave doubts.

Let us not forget that in America levels of anti-Semitism were sky high both before World War II (when Father Coughlin was admired by tens of millions of radio fans for his anti-Jewish diatribes) and during World War II (when it wasn’t safe for Jewish youngsters to walk the streets of Boston). Rafael Medoff, in his latest book, has documented the political timidity and/or prejudice that caused FDR not to “lead from behind” on the refugee issue like President Obama is now doing, but not to lead at all. Remember that open German immigrant quotas were unfilled during the 1930s because of anti-Semitic U.S. consular bureaucrats. Remember also the fiasco of the 1938 Evian Conference, when the U.S. and Britain refused Hitler’s offer to deport as many Jews as they would accept, and the turning away in 1939 of the doomed SS St. Louis, which the Coast Guard prevented from landing on the shores of Florida. 

Even immediately after the war, U.S. polls reflected strong opposition to admitting large numbers of Jewish DPs (displaced persons). This was “the post-Final Solution” proposed, for example, by anti-Zionist Jews who vainly promoted it as an alternative to creating the state of Israel. 

Only later did the unsuccessful Hungarian Revolution of 1956 begin to change attitudes in a big way, making admitting non-Jewish anti-communist refugees fashionable, and after 1960, when JFK sold himself as president of “a nation of immigrants,” a vision that posthumously triumphed in the Immigration Reform Act of 1965. Then in 1967, Israel’s underdog victory in the Six-Day War electrified Christian as well as Jewish Americans, and anti-Semitism began to ebb dramatically.

I would argue that America is still passing through a half-century window of opportunity for a Jewish haven, beginning in the 1960s, when American Jews, though declining as a percentage of the population, achieved unprecedented success and influence in the intellectual, economic, cultural and political realms.

However, I think it is appropriate to pose the uncomfortable question: Is the current window of favorability toward Jews — and probable hospitability of the U.S. sheltering a new Jewish influx, if that proved necessary — destined to last forever? If Jewish-Muslim conflict continues at a high level in the Mideast; if the American Muslim population increases over the course of time from 2-3 percent to 8-10 percent, on the order of France now; and if New York and Washington politically take on the coloration of Paris, will the favorable window to a new Jewish influx persist — or will that window close to a mass influx of Jewish refugees?

This leads me to my last question and challenge. Should European Jews cover their bets, not by abandoning Europe, but by moving east the way their ancestors did when expelled in the hundreds of thousands from practically every part of Europe from the 13th to the 16th centuries? Despite the reality of anti-Semitism promoted by the Catholic Church, the Jewish community of Poland-Lithuania, from the time of the Statute of Kalisz (1263), achieved an unprecedented level of communal autonomy. This translated into economic dynamism; a last flowering of kabbalah; new religious creativity among both the Chasidic and the anti-Chasidic movements, including both traditionalists and modernizers; Jewish self-government through the kehillah system;  and Jewish-Polish cross-fertilization reflected, for example, in Jews fighting for Poland in both the anti-Russian revolutions of 1831 and 1863. During much of these long centuries, Poland was the only country in Europe to willingly admit Jews — for that, we Jews owe Poland an everlasting debt of gratitude. Also inadequately understood is the degree to which Jews reciprocated this hospitality by enriching Polish intellectual and cultural life.

Today’s March of the Living, during which young American Jews renew their Polish family roots before visiting Israel, has some unfortunate side effects. One is to reinforce the current view of Polish-Jewish history as a white versus black affair generating nostalgic sentiment for the shtetl, on the one hand, and nightmarish recoil from the Holocaust on the other. There was much more richness, complexity and nuance to Polish-Jewish history over more than 700 years than suggested by shtetl sentimentality versus Holocaust horrors.

I believe that Poland, once again, could become a beacon for West European Jews wanting to start over in a safe family environment but not to abandon Europe. Poland could even serve as a haven and headquarters country for European Jewish business elites whose interests are global. Some reasons are the hospitality of the Polish people, despite residual prejudices kept alive by a slow-to-reform Catholic Church; the openness of the Polish economy to Jewish entrepreneurship; and Poland’s receptivity to Jewish culture, as reflected in the concept enunciated by Polish intellectuals and journalists of the phantom limb. The once-thriving but now near-extinguished population has been compared to the missing limb of an amputee that no longer exists but still has feeling. Many intellectuals and students paraphrase the greatest Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, who may himself have had Jewish roots — Jew, “you are like health, cherished only once it had been lost.”

But there is another reason. Let us be candid — Anti-Jewish Islamization hasn’t happened and isn’t expected to happen during the next half-century the way it has in Western Europe and may even happen in America. It is also reassuring to know that Poland’s neighbor to the west, the most powerful country in Europe, is its ally and the ally of Jews and Israel. For generations now, Germany has taken upon itself the task to oppose anti-Semitism in Germany and beyond and has staunchly supported Israel and its right to exist. Germany has been a refuge for hundreds of thousands of Eastern European Jews, has encouraged further growth of its Jewish population and would have great allure were it not for its large and growing Muslim population that is not immune to radicalization.  All of this creates a new Polish “window of opportunity.” 

Among other benefits to Poland, the returning Jews would bring with them their experience of teaching at the highest level of academia and further enhance the Polish institutions of highest learning. (It is worth noting that about a third of the members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences are Jews.)  Their knowledge of economics, international trade and business in general would help turn Warsaw into a major European financial center. Jews have a highly developed sense of responsibility for the community at large; an example of which would be Leopold Kronenberg’s construction in 1875 of the Warsaw Business School and later the Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, for which he was the initiator and one of the main benefactors. The presence of a significant Jewish community would no doubt spur the creation of hospitals, schools, museums, theaters and music venues, as has been done in other parts of the world.

Once again, history repeats itself. Centuries ago, Jewish folklorists, feeling secure in Poland, played creatively if inaccurately on the etymology of the word “Poland.” They argued that it derived from the Hebrew word “polin,” meaning “here find a haven.” One Jewish folktale related that when Jews first came to Poland, they found a wood, the forest of Kawęczyn, in which on every tree one tractate of the Talmud was carved.

Maybe the time has come to dust off the bark of those trees.

Severyn Ashkenazy was born in Poland in 1936 and survived the Holocaust with his parents and brother. He founded and is past chairman of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. He founded Beit Warszawa Association, Heritage and Rebirth, Beit Polska and Beit Warszawa foundations as well as Friends of Jewish Renewal in Poland.

Israel’s most valuable Muslim ally

Jews worldwide will soon mark the onset of a Jewish New Year with the specter of rising anti-Semitism in Europe and the Middle East. Amid the preponderance of daily bad news, it is uplifting to celebrate narratives of tolerance and respect. Earlier this month, I was one of 12 rabbis meeting with two distinguished Los Angeles-based diplomats, Consul General of Israel David Siegel and Consul General of Azerbaijan Nasimi Aghayev. We broke bread together and discussed our shared goal of shining a positive light on the unique story of Azerbaijan, a Muslim nation that enjoys positive relations with the United States, Israel and its own Jewish community.


It’s over for the Jews of Europe

It is now almost three years since I moved with my family to the United States. Life for a Jew in the USA is markedly different to the European experience. American Jews are proud of being Jewish, understandably, and they project that pride without equivocation. The idea that you would take off your kippah to avoid anti-Semitism, for example, is a complete anathema to American Jews, although removing your kippah in public is absolutely normal for a Jew in Europe. American Jews are deeply entrenched in the political system as Jews, and they show public support to candidates who advocate for Jewish causes and for Israel. In Europe, Jews involved in politics constantly hedge their views so that they are seen as neutral on ‘Jewish issues’.

I have discovered that American voters, including Jews, feel that it is their right and duty to actively engage in political issues to ensure that the right candidates are elected to public office, in other words, people who represent the views of those who vote for them, and support them. Every voter is expected to lobby, and Jews do so with vigor and in full public view. In the case of Israel, the Jewish lobby, made up of tens of thousands of unpaid citizen lobbyists, namely Jewish and pro-Israel Christian voters, argue that their cause is not just good for them, but for the national interests of the United States as a whole.

Very soon after I arrived in Los Angeles I became involved with AIPAC. This incredible organization runs an annual Policy Conference in Washington DC, attended by more than 14,000 people. This past March, I led a group of high school kids from Los Angeles to the conference, as part of an effort to educate teenagers about their civic rights, that includes the right to lobby for issues you care about right at the heart of government. Our group of 40 boys and girls – the largest high school group to attend – met with multiple senators and congressmen, and attended sessions addressed by Secretary of State John Kerry, and Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

The final session at the conference was attended by almost every member of congress. As I sat there listening to unashamed public support for Israel by Jews and non-Jews, all of them senior politicians and leading public figures, and as I listened to the thunderous applause that followed each pro-Israel soundbite, I was struck by how such an event could simply never happen in the UK. No British cabinet minister would stand up in front of 14,000 people and say that the future of his country is tied to the future of Israel. No British Christian leader would declare that ‘Israel is not the problem – the problem is the Arab rejection of Israel’s right to exist!’ Even 25 years ago that would have been unbelievable. Today it would be totally impossible.

That is when the penny dropped. To be a Jew in the UK and in Europe is to be someone who is constantly defensive and apologetic, hoping against hope that the non-Jews will continue to tolerate us even if we love and support Israel, and even if we have Jewish sounding names. It dawned on me that as the memory and guilt of the Holocaust slips ever further into history, the age old European anti-Semitism, dormant for decades, has reemerged and is growing, like a cancerous tumour eagerly destroying any healthy tissue in its way.

European Jews might say that there has never been more children attending Jewish day schools, and that Jewish social and communal life in Europe is thriving and vibrant. And they might point out that in the United States things are not perfect either. College campuses across the US are rife with student groups advocating for BDS, and President Obama is largely perceived as being far less supportive of Israel than his immediate predecessors were. But such a reaction is naïve and misguided. Life in pre-war Europe, in countries such as Holland, Belgium, France, and Hungary, was thriving and vibrant too. They had schools, synagogues, cultural centers, yeshivot, and every other kind of communal organization and institution. In fact they had far more than exists in Europe today.

Of course historical analogies are never very accurate, as no two situations are absolutely alike. It is certainly true that mainstream politicians in Europe, unlike the politicians of the pre-war period, are extremely wary of anti-Semitism, and it is not politically acceptable to propose the persecution of Jews. But, frankly, from my vantage point here in Los Angeles it seems that power is inexorably ebbing away from mainstream European politicians. This is most evident in France where, notwithstanding any public criticism by French leaders of anti-Semites, it is clear that the streets of France belong to Muslim hatemongers. Muslim demonstrators frequently chant ‘France is ours, France belongs to us!’ and many French Jews believe that it won’t be long before this prediction becomes a reality. France is sleepwalking into a reverse takeover by Islamic fanatics, much as Germany allowed itself to be hijacked by the Nazis, and Russia allowed itself to become the bastion of autocratic communism.

Which brings me to my final point. Europe has shown that it is powerless to address the rise of Islamic assertiveness and aggression. We are seeing changes occur that threaten the national identities of European nation states. No one is immune, and certainly not my own country of birth, the United Kingdom, where a marriage of convenience between Muslim fanatics, the hard left, right wing anti-Semites, and anti-war campaigners, has seen the growth of a multi-headed anti-Semitic hydra that it would be folly to dismiss or ignore.

Almost ten years ago, when dangerous anti-Semitism first reared its ugly head in France, and the late Ariel Sharon suggested that French Jews should move to Israel, I wrote an article arguing that for the Jews of France to move to Israel as a way of staying safe would be foolish, seeing as Israel remains in the crosshairs of some of the most evil people on the planet, and – at a time when Israeli Jews were being regularly massacred by suicide bombers – perhaps French Jews would be wiser to stay put. But it was I who was foolish. The one country in the world that has proved time after time that it is willing to defy every kind of taboo, and to use all its resources, to defend the life of any and every Jew, not just in Israel, but across the world, is the State of Israel. And incredibly, the one western democracy that understands this fully, and supports it unequivocally, is the United States of America.

So, unless I am missing something, or a miracle occurs, the writing is on the wall for the Jews of Europe. The indigenous citizens of Europe should beware. Jews are always the canary in the mineshaft. The weakness of democracy and its ideals is its insisted tolerance for any creed and ideology, even if they undermine the very democracy that allows them to be expressed and acted out. Even as Europeans pat themselves on the back for having a system that allows reactionary Islamic hate preachers and their odious followers to terrorize the streets, they are thoughtlessly presiding over the decline of the very system they celebrate, and that they fought so hard to establish. I am hopeful, though, that by the time France, Germany and, yes, even the UK, have become countries governed by Sharia law, the Jews will have long gone.

Rabbi Pini Dunner is Senior Rabbi at Young Israel of North Beverly Hills. He is also the executive director of the West Coast branch of Mitchabrim, an organization, partly sponsored by the government of the State of Israel, that reaches out to the expatriate Israeli community in the United States.

New initiative would encourage European Jews to make aliyah

A new aliyah agency tasked with persuading European Jews to move to Israel is under consideration.

The Joint Operation for Aliyah Promotion would be a joint initiative of the Israeli government and the institutions involved in aliyah and Europe: the Jewish Agency for Israel, the United Israel Appeal, the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish National Fund, according to the Jewish Agency.

JNF already has raised the money for the initiative — approximately $29 million over the next two years.

The money would be used to provide outreach such as information sessions and job fairs to Jews living in areas experiencing a rise in anti-Semitism, as well as financial incentives to convince them to move to Israel rather than another country.

The issue could be brought to the Cabinet as early as next week.

Sofa Landver, Israel’s minister of aliyah and immigrant absorption, said in a statement that the joint effort “will enable us to increase the number of immigrants coming to Israel and will illustrate Israel’s role and the importance it places on ingathering the exiles.”

Brussels attack arrest underscores threat of returning jihadists

It was the threat that European authorities dreaded — and Europe’s Jews suffered the first blow.

The suspect arrested in the attack last month at the Jewish museum in Brussels that left four dead was a French-born jihadist who had returned home from fighting in Syria.

Now European Jewish institutions are left to reckon with the danger of European jihadists coming home from Syria with deadly new skills, extremist fervor and malicious intentions.

“There has been a change and it requires us to fundamentally reconsider the degree of threat posed to Jewish targets not only in France, but across Europe,” said Sammy Ghozlan, a French former police officer and president of the National Bureau for Vigilance Against anti-Semitism. “That is the only way to prevent attacks like the one in Brussels.”

On Friday, police in Marseille arrested Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, on suspicion that he carried out the May 24 attack at the Jewish Museum of Belgium. French police found an assault rifle, handgun and a small video camera in Nemmouche’s bag.

Nemmouche, who was born on France’s border with Belgium, is believed to have traveled via Brussels in 2012 to fight with jihadists in Syria’s civil war. Western intelligence agencies have feared that European Muslims fighting in Syria will return and commit terrorist attacks in their home countries.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in January that the threat of jihadists returning to Europe is “the greatest danger that we must face in the coming years.” He added, “It’s a phenomenon of unprecedented size.”

Ghozlan has called on his government to revoke the citizenship not only of jihadists who leave to fight but also of their families.

“Our synagogues and schools already resemble fortresses,” he said. “It’s time for the perpetrators, not the victims, to fear for their families.”

France already has hardened its line on French nationals who undergo Islamist indoctrination and weapons training abroad as part of its security services response to the actions of Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old Muslim radical from Toulouse who in 2012 killed three soldiers and four Jews.

Merah, who died in a shootout with police, had undergone training in Pakistan and Afghanistan and visited Syria and Jordan two years before the murders. He had surveyed and filmed Toulouse’s Ohr Hatorah Jewish school many days before he killed three children and a rabbi there.

To the Israeli Jewish Congress, a 2-year-old group that aims to strengthen ties between Israeli and European Jews, the phenomenon means that perpetrators of anti-Semitic attacks ”are becoming much more sophisticated and professional in their combat training.”

The danger is thus “exacerbated not only from professional lone wolf attacks like in Brussels, but potentially also attacks on a much larger scale,” said Arsen Ostrovsky, the group’s director of research.

Experts on the security of Jewish institutions in five countries told JTA that since the war in Syria, they have observed a substantial increase in cases involving the gathering of intelligence on Jewish institutions by unidentified individuals.

“We see the gathering of tactical intelligence on Jewish targets occurring more often, we have security camera footage of it happening,” said Michael Gelvan, the Copenhagen-based chairman of the Nordic Jewish Security Council, which serves the Jewish communities in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. “It suggests the emergence of new and very serious threat which, unfortunately, not everyone has understood.”

Two days after the Brussels museum attack, a police receptionist near Paris received a report that lit up all sorts of warning lights at her emergency call center: Three men had been seen pointing a small video camera at the entrance to the local Otzar Hatorah Jewish school, according to the report given by the receptionist to the dispatch unit on May 26.

Officers hurried to the scene, but the three men had fled, realizing they had been spotted, according to a report by the Le Parisien daily. Some of Europe’s Jewish communities spend more than a quarter of their budgets on security, according to the European Jewish Congress.

Sophisticated attacks that entail surveillance, planning and prowess are nothing new for European Jews, who have seen many attacks by Palestinian terrorists during the 1970s and 1980s, noted Ghozlan, the ex-French police officer.

Some of the deadliest attacks occurred in Antwerp, where terrorists in 1981 detonated a car bomb near a synagogue, killing four people.

Yet the terrorist groups were limited in the number of attacks they could carry out because their operations required substantial investment in training operatives and covertly sending them abroad, whereas “thousands of European Islamists operating independently constitute a drastic quantitative change from a risk-assessment point of view,” said a spokesman from British Jewry’s Community Security Trust, or CST.

Ghozlan also identifies a qualitative change.

“The fervor introduced by Islamist indoctrination creates a new kind of determination in people who believe that killing a Jew is their ticket to heaven,” he said. “In a sense, we are dealing with [the equivalent of] kamikaze.”

Ukraine Jews hunkering down amid turmoil

The turmoil in Ukraine has left one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities on edge.

After an outbreak of violence in Kiev last week that left dozens of protesters and policemen dead, President Viktor Yanukovych fled the capital and parliament installed an interim leader to take the still-contested reins of power.

Like their compatriots, Ukraine’s Jews are waiting to see what the future holds for their country, but with the added fear that they could become targets amid the chaos. There have been a few isolated anti-Semitic incidents over the past few months of civil strife. On Sunday night in the eastern city of Zaporizhia, a synagogue was firebombed with Molotov cocktails, causing minor damage.

While Kiev has been relatively calm since Yanukovych fled the capital, the situation in the country’s eastern and southern regions, where he has his base of support, is more volatile. Tensions between the local governments and revolutionaries continue to rise in the eastern city of Kharkiv, which has a relatively sizable Jewish community.

“It’s still a very fluid situation,” said Mark Levin, chairman of the NCSJ, an American organization that advocates for Jews in the former Soviet Union. “The big concern, I think, is ensuring that there’s adequate security for Jewish institutions throughout the country, but particularly in the large cities. And I think that’s where much of the focus within the American Jewish community and Israel lies — that and making sure the flow of services continues.”

Levin also expressed concern that with elections slated for May 25, a future government could result in ultranationalists gaining power in Ukraine. Svoboda, a right-wing nationalist party, was prominent in the protest movement, and party officials have expressed virulently anti-Semitic sentiments.

Thus far, though, the conflict has not been marked  by incitement against Ukraine’s multiple national minorities, Oksana Galkevich, a representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, told JTA from Kharkiv on Friday.

“The overall situation in relation to the Jewish community in Ukraine is tolerant and peaceful,” said Vadim Rabinovich, president of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress, in a statement issued Monday. “There have been no mass outbursts or exacerbation of anti-Semitism in Ukraine.”

Rabinovich rejected as untrue foreign press reports of mass anti-Semitism in the country and called them “not conducive to a peaceful life of the Jewish community.” He vowed that the Jewish community would participate “in building a democratic state and promoting the revival and prosperity of the country.”

Estimates of the size of Ukraine’s Jewish community vary widely. Some commonly cited statistics suggest the country has only 70,000 Jews, while the European Jewish Congress and the JDC say there are as many as 400,000.

Over the past few months, many Jewish institutions have simply gone into hibernation, suspending activity during the turmoil. But others have carried on their work under heavy security.

The Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, which runs the Orach Chaim day school in Kiev and several other institutions, has been paying $1,000 a day for round-the-clock security by teams from two private firms, one of which also provides security for the Israeli embassy in Kiev. Together, staff guard nine buildings, including four school buildings, a community center, a synagogue and a religious seminary, according to Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, the confederation’s president and a Ukrainian chief rabbi.

“Nobody goes alone at night, so we have three people doing escorts from the synagogue and back,” he told JTA last week. Meanwhile, security on the “Jewish campus” — the area around Kiev’s Podol Synagogue — is maintained by a team of nine people.

The guards have chased off a few trespassers but encountered no serious threats in Kiev. But the cost — 10 times what the community used to pay for security before the violence erupted — means the community cannot afford this level of security for much longer.

The Joint Distribution Committee also has promoted security measures to protect staff and volunteers. After the firebombing of the Zaporizhia synagogue, JDC reinforced security measures for its charity organization in the city.

The JDC has been continuing to provide assistance to elderly and homebound Jews living in areas of Ukraine that have been affected by the unrest.

With Yanukovych ousted and avoiding the acting government’s warrant for his arrest for alleged murder, many hope the situation will stabilize as the country prepares for the elections. But if it doesn’t, Bleich’s community may not be able to keep its institutions running for another month.

“We already paid the bill for January, and now we have to pay the bill for February, and it’s a big one,” Bleich told JTA on Friday.

His community has launched an online campaign on religious websites in the United States aimed at collecting additional funds. The Lauder Foundation is providing payment for security in three community-run schools.

“Most communities don’t do any activity that involves congregating,” said Eduard Dolinsky, executive director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee. In January, his organization canceled its annual Jan. 27 Holocaust remembrance ceremony.

“For a few weeks it’s still OK,” he said, “but if this continues, then it will start to undo the fabric of the community and we will see damage to Jewish life, which has really progressed in this country.”

Rabbi Moshe Azman of Kiev, who is another claimant to the title of chief rabbi of Ukraine and heads Chabad’s activities in the country, advised Jews in media interviews to keep a low profile until the situation calms down.

Hillel Cohen, who is responsible for the Hatzolah Jewish first aid service in Kiev, did not heed Azman’s advice. On Friday, he and other volunteers were driving in the Hatzolah ambulance in an attempt to help Jews in need of medical attention.

But he conceded that driving last week amid the burning barricades of Kiev was at times a blood-chilling experience.

“Things began getting really uneasy when the rioters started setting up spontaneous roadblocks to keep police and army troops from reaching the action zone,” he told JTA. “It was very uneasy, being pulled over in a car full of Orthodox Jews by club-wielding Cossacks.”

While the prominence of ultranationalists within the opposition protests has caused concern, Jews also have been active participants in rallies held in Ukraine’s Independence Square, or Maidan. Tablet Magazine spoke to a source who noted that a rabbi offered a prayer for peace at the demonstration and that a klezmer band performed Yiddish songs in the square.

Bleich, who is visiting the United States, was asked in a radio interview on Sunday night, following Yanukovych’s ouster, about concerns over anti-Semitism within the ranks of the protesters.

“The majority of the protesters are grassroots, regular, everyday old people from Ukraine that were fed up with living in a corrupt society, and they came out to protest against it and to try and make change, and they were successful in making change,” he said. “There’s no question about that. That’s the majority. They’re not anti-Semites, they’re not right-wing, nationalist, neo-fascists or Nazis, the way the Russians have been trying to paint them.”

But Bleich cautioned that there is a minority element within the opposition that is anti-Semitic, citing Svoboda.

“The Jewish community has to stay vigil and see what’s going to be,” he said. “What’s going to happen with this new government? Are they going to be a part of the government?”

Bleich said he has received assurances from opposition leaders that they will not tolerate anti-Semitism.

The origins and meaning of Ashkenazic last names

This piece originally ran on jewishcurrents.org.

Ashkenazic Jews were among the last Europeans to take family names.  Some German speaking Jews took last names as early as the 17th century, but the overwhelming majority of Jews lived in Eastern Europe and did not take last names until compelled to do so.  The process began in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1787 and ended in Czarist Russia in 1844.

In attempting to build modern nation states, the authorities insisted that Jews take last names so that they could be taxed, drafted and educated (in that order of importance).  For centuries, Jewish communal leaders were responsible for collecting taxes from the Jewish population on behalf of the government and in some cases were responsible for filling draft quotas.  Education was traditionally an internal Jewish affair. 

Until this period, Jewish names generally changed with every generation.  For example if Moses son of Mendel (Moyshe ben Mendel) married Sarah daughter of Rebecca (Sora bas Rifke), had a boy and named it Samuel (Shmuel), he would be called Shmuel ben Moyshe.  If they had a girl and named her Feygele, she would be called Feygele bas Moyshe.

Jews distrusted the authorities and resisted the new requirement.   Although they were forced to take last names, at first they were used only for official purposes.  Among themselves, they kept their traditional names.  Over time, Jews accepted their new last names, which were essential as they sought to advance within the broader society, and as the shtetls themselves became more modern or Jews left them for big cities.

The easiest way for Jews to assume an official last name was to adapt the name they already had, making it permanent.   This explains the use of “patronymics” and “matronymics.”

PATRONYMICS (son of…..)

In Yiddish or German, it would be “son” or “sohn”  or “er”

In most Slavic languages like Polish or Russian, it would be “vich” or “vitz” ), anglicized to “wich” or “witz).

For example: the son of Mendel took the last name Mendelsohn; the son of Abraham became Abramson or Avromovitch; the son of Menashe became Manishewitz; the son of Itzhak became Itskowitz; the son of Berl took the name Berliner; the son of Kesl took the name Kessler, etc.  


Reflecting the prominence of Jewish women in business, some families made last names out of women’s first names:

Chaiken—son of Chaikeh

Edelman—husband of Edel

Gittelman—husband of Gitl

Glick or Gluck—may derive from Glickl, a popular woman’s name as in the famous “Glickl of Hameln,” whose memoirs, written around 1690, are an early example of Yiddish literature

Gold/Goldman/Gulden may derived from Golda

Malkov—from Malke

Leaman/Lehman–husband of Leah

Perlman—husband of Perl

Rivken—may derive from Rivke

Soronsohn—son of Sarah


The next most common source of Jewish last names is probably place names.  Jews used the town or region where they lived—or more likely where their families came from—as their last name, reflecting the Germanic origins of most East European Jews.

Asch—acronym for towns of Aisenshtadt or Altshul or Amshterdam



Berger—generic for townsman

Berg (man)—from a hilly pace

Bayer—from Bavaria


Berlin—Berliner, Berlinsky











Frankel—from Franconia, region of Germany



Gordon—from Grodno, Lithuania or from the Russian word gorodin, for townsman


Halperin—from Helbronn, Germany


Heller—from Halle, Germany

Hollander—not from Holland, but from town in Lithuania settled by Dutch

Horowitz, Hurwich, Gurevitch—from Horovice in Bohemia


Krakauer—from Cracow, Poland


Lipsky—from Leipzig, Germany

Litwak—from Lithuania

Minsky—from Minsk, Belarus

Mintz—from Mainz, Germany


Ostreicher—from Austria

Pinsky—from Pinsk, Belarus

Posner—from Posen, Germany

Prager—from Prague

Rappoport—from Porto, Italy

Rothenberg—from then town of the red fortress in Germany

Shapiro—from Speyer, Germany

Schlesinger—from Silesia, Germany


Unger—from Hungary

Vilner—from Vilna, Poland/Lithuania

Wallach—from Bloch, derived from the Polish word for foreigner 

Warshauer/Warshavsky—from Warsaw

Wiener—from Vienna




Ackerman- plowman




Cooper/Cooperman—barrel maker or coppersmith









Goldsmith —goldsmith


Kastner—cabinet maker


Kramer–store keeper


Nagler—nail maker






Spielman—player (musician?)


Wasserman—water carrier 


Garfinkel/Garfunkel—diamond dealer

Holzman/Holtz/Waldman—timber dealer


Rokeach—spice merchant

Salzman—salt merchant

Seid/Seidman—silk merchant

Tabachnik—snuff seller

Tuchman—cloth merchant

Wachsman—wax dealer

Wollman—wool merchant

Zucker/Zuckerman—sugar merchant





Related to tailoring


Nadelman/Nudelman—also tailor from “needle’

Sher/Sherman—also tailor from “scissors” or “shears”

Presser/Pressman—clothing presser



Wechsler/Halphan—money changer

Related to liquor trade



Kabakoff/Krieger/Vigoda—tavern keeper

Geffen—wine merchant

Wine/Weinglass—wine merchant

Weiner—wine maker


Altshul/Altshuler—associated with the old synagogue in Prague

Cantor/Kazan/Singer/Spivack—cantor or song leader in shul 


Gottlieb–God lover

Haver—from haver (court official)

Klausner—rabbi for small congregation

Klopman—calls people to morning prayers by knocking on their windows


Rabin—rabbi  (Rabinowitz—son of rabbi)

London—scholar, from the Hebrew lamden (misunderstood by immigration inspectors)

Reznick—ritual slaughterer



Schechter/Schachter/Shuchter etc.—ritual slaughterer from Hebrew schochet



Spector—inspector or supervisor of schools



Dreyfus—three legged, perhaps referring to someone who walked with a cane



Gottleib—God lover, perhaps referring to someone very devout

Geller/Gelb/Gelber—yellow, perhaps referring to someone with blond hair


Gruber—coarse or vulgar






Koenig—king, perhaps someone who was chosen as a “Purim King,” in reality a poor wretch

Krauss—curly, as in curly hair




Roth/Rothman—red head

Roth/Rothbard—red beard

Shein/Schoen/Schoenman—pretty, handsome

Schwartz/Shwartzman/Charney—black hair or dark complexion

Scharf/Scharfman—sharp, i.e  intelligent

Stark—strong, from the Yiddish shtark 

Springer—lively person, from the Yiddish springen for jump

Sussking/Ziskind—sweet child

Weiss/Weissbard–white hair/ beard


These were sometimes foisted on Jews who discarded them as soon as possible, but a few remain:

Gans–goose                                  Inkyk–turkey

Grob–coarse/crude                     Kalb–calf


It is common among all peoples to take last names from the animal kingdom.


eagle –Adler (may derive from reference to an eagle in Psalm 103:5)

camel—Gelfand/Helfand (technically means elephant but was used for camel too)










Hirschhorn–deer antlers


Rothschild—red shield




Strauss—ostrich or bouquet of flowers


Some Jews either retained or adopted traditional Jews names from the Bible.

The big two

Cohen– Cohn, Kohn, Kagan, Kahan, Kahn, Kaplan

Levi—Levy, Levine, Levinsky, Levitan, Levenson, Levitt, Lewin, Lewinsky, Lewinson

Others from the Bible

Aaron—Aronson/ Aronoff










Mayer/Meyer (Talmudic, not Biblical)








Baron—bar aron (son of Aaron)

Beck–bene kedoshim (descendant of martyrs)

Getz—gabbai tsedek (righteous synagogue official)

Katz—kohen tsedek (righteous priest)

Metz–moreh tsedek (teacher of righteousness 

Sachs/Saks—zera kodesh shemo (his name descends from martyrs)

Segal/Siegel—se gan levia (second rank Levite)

Shub/Shoub–shochet u'bodek (ritual slaughter/kosher meat inspector)


Leyb means “lion” in Yiddish.  It is the root of many Ashkenazic last names including Liebowitz, Lefkowitz, Lebush and Leon.  It is the Yiddish translation of the Hebrew work for lion—aryeh.  The lion was the symbol of the tribe of Judah.

Hirsch means “deer” or “stag” in Yiddish.  It is the root of many Ashkenazic last names including Hirschfeld, Hirschbein/Hershkowitz (son of Hirsch)/Hertz/Herzl, Cerf, Hart and Hartman.  It is the Yiddish translation of the Hebrew word for gazelle—tsvi.  The gazelle was the symbol of the tribe of Naphtali.

Taub means “dove” in Yiddish.  It is the root of the Ashkenazic last name Tauber.  The symbol of The dove is associated with the prophet Jonah.

Wolf is the root of the Ashkenazic last names Wolfson, Wouk and Volkovich.  The wolf was the symbol of the tribe of Benjamin.


Eckstein—Yiddish for cornerstone, derived from Psalm 118:22

Good(man)—Yiddish translation of Hebrew word for “good”–tuviah 

Margolin—Hebrew for pearl

Jaffe/Yaffe–Hebrew for beautiful


When Jews were required to assume last names, some chose the nicest ones they could think of and may have been charged a registration fee by the authorities.

According to the YIVO Encyclopedia, “the resulting names often were associated with nature and beauty.  It is very plausible that the choices were influenced by the general romantic tendencies of German culture at that time.”  

Applebaum—pear tree

Birnbaum—pear tree

Buchsbaum—box tree

Kestenbaum—chestnut tree

Kirshenbaum—cherry tree

Mandelbaum—almond tree

Nussbaum—nut tree

Tannenbaum—fir tree

Teitelbaum—palm tree

other “baum” names

Names with these combinations were also chosen or purchased:

Blumen (flower)                                                         

Fein (fine)                                                       combined with:

Gold                                                               “berg” for hill or mountain, “thal” for valley,

Green                                                              “bloom” for flower, “zweig” for branch, “blatt”

Lowen (lion)                                                   for leaf, “vald” or “wald” for woods and “feld”

Rosen (rose)                                                   for field

Schoen/Schein (pretty)

Other aesthetically pleasing names









Sender/Saunders—from Alexander

Kelman/Kalman—from the Greek name Kalonymous, popular among Jews in medieval France and Italy.  It is the Greek translation of the Hebrew “shem tov” (good name)

Marcus/Marx—from Latin, referring to the pagan god Mars

ANGLICIZED NAMES (or why “Sean Ferguson” was a Jew)

Jewish last names were often changed or shortened by immigrants themselves and their descendants— to sound more “American.”  (In rarer cases, immigration inspectors may have accidently changed the names of immigrants by misreading them. )

For example, Cohen to Cowan, Yalowitz to Yale, Rabinowitz to Robbins   

And this is good old Boston;

The home of the bean and the cod.

Where the Lowells speak only to the Cabots;

And the Cabots speak Yiddish, by God!   


What happened to the last names of Ashkenazic Jews who immigrated to pre-state Palestine and to early Israel???   

David Green became David Ben Gurion

Abba Meir became Abba Eban

Golda Meyerson became Golda Meir

Amos Klausner became Amos Oz

Syzmon Perski became Shimon Peres

Ariel Scheinerman became Ariel Sharon

Moshe Shertok became Moshe Sharett

Levi Shkolnick became Levi Eshkol

Yitzhak Jeziernicky became Yitzhak Shamir

Why?   To distance themselves from Ashkenazic Jewry.

For more, visit this piece on jewishcurrents.com.

Deeply unpopular at home, French president embraced on Israel trip

For Francois Hollande, the most unpopular head of state in France in more than half a century, his first presidential visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority promised a respite from the daily pummeling over his country’s stunted economy and his perceived flimsiness as a leader.

In Israel, everything was set for a hero’s welcome for someone who supported Europe’s blacklisting of Hezbollah’s military unit, waged a relentless war on anti-Semitism and scuttled a nascent deal over Iran’s nuclear program that was stridently opposed by Jerusalem.

“I will always remain a friend of Israel,” Hollande said in Hebrew upon arriving Sunday at Ben Gurion Airport.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned the sentiment, calling Hollande “a leader with principles and deep humanity” — praises that reflect the gratitude many Israelis and French Jews feel toward a man who has transformed France from one of Israel’s fiercest European critics into an important ally.

Controversy threatened to derail Hollande’s visit even before he arrived.

A planned speech to the Israeli Knesset was canceled briefly after Hollande decided he would prefer to follow President Obama’s lead and address university students. Outraged, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein nixed a reception for Hollande and froze cooperation with the French Embassy on the visit.

France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, ended the row on Nov. 9 with his announcement that Hollande would address the Knesset after all.

“I know you rely on your own strength for defense, but know that France is your friend and will not allow Iran access to nuclear arms, for it would a be threat for Israel and the world,” Hollande said in his address to the parliament Monday evening.

“Everything must be done to solve this crisis through diplomacy,” Hollande said, adding: “We shall maintain sanctions until Iran has renounced its nuclear program.”

In the French media, the Knesset incident received considerable play because it touched on Hollande’s Achilles’ heel: His perceived indecisiveness, even among members of his own Socialist Party.

“Hollande is more of a grayish leader. He’s not a star like some of his predecessors, including Francois Mitterrand and Nicolas Sarkozy,” said Daniel Shek, who served as Israel’s ambassador in Paris during Sarkozy’s term from 2007 to 2012.

Along with this perception of weakness, Hollande is contending with a worrisome financial crisis and a large rise in the unemployment rate, which has reached 26 percent among the young — more than triple the rate in Germany. Earlier this month, the Standard & Poor credit agency cut France’s rating for the second time this year, exposing Hollande to the charge that he is not delivering the growth and welfare he promised.

Indeed, popular support for Hollande is at a record low. A poll released Sunday by the market research firm IFOP found that Hollande’s approval rating had plunged to 20 percent, a dramatic falloff from the 54 percent he enjoyed following his election in May 2012 and two points below the previous all-time low set by Mitterrand in 1991.

But on issues of particular importance to French Jews, Hollande has a stellar record. Since his election, hundreds have been arrested and dozens convicted for anti-Jewish violence and incitement. And last year, the president cleared his schedule unexpectedly to accompany Netanyahu to Toulouse for a memorial for the four victims of a French Islamist attack on a Jewish school there in 2012.

Such overtures may make French Jews more forgiving of Hollande’s shortcomings on other fronts — but probably not much.

“It would be incorrect to call Hollande popular among French Jews, who also worry about the economy as all French citizens do,” said Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF umbrella group of Jewish communities in France.

On Israel, Hollande reversed France’s objection to the European Union blacklisting of Hezbollah’s military wing. Then, earlier this month, France blocked a deal between world powers and Iran, taking a harder line than the United States over the terms of an accord.

“These moves were not born of any desire to curry favor with Israel,” Shek said, “[but] the French position was nonetheless appreciated in Jerusalem.”

This was not expected of Hollande when he first sought to replace Sarkozy, a right-leaning leader seen as more responsive to Jewish concerns than his predecessors. Some French Jewish leaders — including Cukierman’s CRIF predecessor, Richard Prasquier — warned that a Socialist in the Elysee Palace may hurt Franco-Israeli relations because of a perceived anti-Israel bias among the French left.

“So far, the opposite has been the case,” said Yaron Gamburg, a media adviser at the Israeli Embassy in France. “If anything, there has been a deepening of the sturdy partnership that existed during the term of Sarkozy.”

In addition to his political support, Hollande has been willing to advance bilateral trade with the Jewish state — something his predecessors limited, many believe, to avoid angering Arab states. French exports to Israel currently stand at $1.5 billion — 33 percent lower than Britain and nearly half the volume of Italy.

Joining Hollande in Israel are dozens of French businessmen, and several bilateral trade agreements are expected to be signed during the visit, which ends Tuesday. In his Knesset speech, Hollande said he has decided to jump-start scientific, cultural and commercial exchange with Israel.

Though Hollande has continued France’s condemnations of Israeli construction in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, in his visit Monday to Ramallah he said the Palestinians should give up their call for a return of refugees to Israel in exchange for a freeze on Israeli settlement construction.

Hollande in the seat of the Palestinian Authority said it was “urgent” that Israel reach an accord that creates a Palestinian state with “joint control” in Jerusalem.

“The Palestinian issue is the one area where France and Israel differ — and even there, under Hollande the French partners are very open,” Gamburg said. “There are no surprises.”

Some argue that such openness is an improvement to relations under Sarkozy, who despite vowing to improve Franco-Israel relations, cast a surprise vote in favor of UNESCO membership for the Palestinian Authority in 2011.

Still, Sarkozy is generally seen as a major improvement over Chirac, who had declared former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon persona non grata in France. Sharon urged French Jews to immigrate to Israel.

“Sarkozy, who raised many hopes, ended up disappointing Jews and Israelis because he was unreliable,” said Joel Rubinfeld of the Brussels-based European Jewish Parliament. “Hollande’s presidency began amid doubts, but ended up instilling trust that Sarkozy never had.”

Survey: 29% of European Jews considered emigrating due to anti-Semitism

Nearly one-third of respondents to a survey said they “seriously considered emigrating” from Europe because of anti-Semitism.

In the survey of 5,847 Jews from nine European Union member states, 29 percent said they considered emigrating in recent years because they did “not feel safe” living in their countries as Jews, according to Morten Kjaerum, the director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, which conducted the survey.

The survey polled Jews from Sweden, France, Belgium, Britain, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Romania and Latvia. The figure for Jews contemplating emigration was particularly high in Hungary, France and Belgium with 48, 46 and 40 percent respectively saying they had considered leaving.

Asked about their definition of an anti-Semite, 34 percent of all respondents indicated that it applied to “a non-Jewish person if he or she criticizes Israel.” In Sweden, only 21 percent of 703 respondents said non-Jewish critics of Israel were anti-Semitic, compared to 42 percent of 1,137 French respondents. Nearly 90 percent of respondents said that people who did not consider Jewish citizens of their country as compatriots were anti-Semitic.

On average, 76 percent said anti-Semitism has increased over the past five years. One in five respondents said they had personally experienced at least one incident of anti-Semitic verbal or physical assault in the previous year. Overall, four percent of respondents said they had experienced physical attack or threats of violence in the year before the survey because they were Jewish.

Twenty percent of respondents said they avoided wearing, carrying or displaying items that might help identify them as Jews in public. That figure was 34 percent in Sweden; 29 percent in France; 20 percent in Hungary and eight percent in Britain.

European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said the survey was “of great importance,” adding that the fact that “Jews are not able to express their Jewishness because of fear should be a watershed moment for Europe.” Kantor called on E.U. governments to study the survey’s results.

Sixty-four percent of respondents who said they had experienced physical attacks also said that they did not report these incidents because they considered doing so ineffective.

The results of the survey were presented Friday at a press conference in Vienna.

75 years after Kristallnacht: Time to toughen up and reclaim our memory

Seventy-five years later, the very word Kristallnacht still casts a long shadow — on Europe and on the Jewish people.

The countrywide pogrom orchestrated in 1938 by the German High Command marked the Nazi regime’s transition from the quasi-legal, anti-Jewish discrimination of the Nuremberg Laws to the coming of the Final Solution. Official statistics — 91 Jews were killed, thousands more put into concentration camps, 267 synagogues burned and 7,500 Jewish businesses vandalized — fail to capture the sheer sense of terror and impending doom that afterward enveloped German and Austrian Jews. Beyond the horrors of those nights, Jewry witnessed the overwhelming indifference and antipathy of neighbors, and of police and firemen who were deployed not to protect houses of worship, only the adjacent property of proper Aryans.

In his diary, Joseph Goebbels chortled: “As I am driven to the hotel [in Munich], windowpanes shatter. Bravo! Bravo! The synagogues burn like big old cabins.”

He and Hitler had reason to celebrate. The world didn’t give a damn about the Jews, and the path from burning hulks of shuls would lead to the ashes of mass-murdered Jews spewing forth from death camp crematoria, covered by the fog of war and buried by an indifferent humanity.

But another conflagration would soon envelop all of Europe. Cities from London to Warsaw to Leningrad were engulfed in flames by the Nazi Blitzkrieg. But by the time World War II ended, those very streets in Munich and Berlin where synagogues were torched and from where Jews were disappeared, were themselves reduced to rubble by the onslaught of Allied firebombs.

Seventy-five years later, the images of Kristallnacht are reduced to grainy photos and footage. The last of the surviving victims and victimizers, heroes and bystanders are leaving the world stage, leaving us to ponder: What, if anything, have we learned?

Is European hatred of Jews a thing of the past?

Manfred Gerstenfeld, a respected author and expert, has analyzed polls taken across the continent and estimates that at least 150 million Europeans still harbor extreme anti-Jewish and/or anti-Israel animus.

Do Europe’s Jews feel safe?

Twenty-five percent are afraid to wear kippot or Star of David jewelry in public. Attacks on European Jewish institutions aren’t ugly footnotes of history. While today armed police stand on guard across Europe protecting synagogues, 80 synagogues have been attacked in recent years in Germany alone. Jewish children have been targeted for bullying in Scandinavia and for insult, injury, even death on the campuses of French day schools and yeshivot.

And there is more, much more. This isn’t only about Islamist extremists for whom Jew is a dirty word. There is increasing European mainstream hate and disrespecting of Jews, their homeland and core Judaic values.

From Greece to Hungary and Ukraine, political parties increase their clout by playing the ant-Semitism card. Campaigns are under way in the mainstream of Europe’s democracies to criminalize the core Judaic mitzvot of brit milah and shechita.

And in the ultimate insult to our people — living and dead — respected European NGOs, politicians, media and prominent church leaders cast Israelis as latter-day Nazis, while protesters chanting “Death to Israel” and “Jews to the Ovens” went unchallenged. Meanwhile, anti-Israel ideologues audaciously hijack Holocaust commemoration and education. How bad can it get? At the 65th anniversary of Kristallnacht commemoration, Norwegian authorities —“not wanting any trouble” — forbade any Jewish symbols, including the Star of David and the Israeli flag, from being displayed. The evening news showed a group of Jews attempting to join the commemoration being firmly told by a policeman to “please leave the area.”

This Kristallnacht we must start by reclaiming memory.

On Oct. 24, I was part of a Simon Wiesenthal Center delegation that met with Pope Francis at the Vatican. In his exchange with the pope, my colleague and mentor, Wiesenthal Center dean and founder Rabbi Marvin Hier offered this insight into the dual dimensions of Jewish memory. He quoted Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (“Fate and Destiny”), “Evil is an undeniable fact. …  It exists, and I will neither deny it nor camouflage it.” Rabbi Hier added, “Evil existed during the time of Moses as it did in Jesus’ time and as it does in our own time.”

That is the reason why, Soloveitchik teaches us, the Torah has two ways of expressing memory. One is positive, zachor, to remember, reach out, dialogue, to find common ground.  The other dimension is negative, lo tishkach, do not forget to act when you are dealing with evil.

Here are three points that can help us protect and nurture the memory and lessons of the Shoah.

First: Memo to European leaders: If you don’t respect live Jews, don’t join our minyan mourning 6 million dead Jews.

Second: Stop de-Judaizing the Nazi Holocaust. The Shoah is not an abstract idea. Anne Frank and 6 million of her brethren were murdered by the Nazis and their European collaborators — only because she and they were Jews. Public memorials and teaching modules omitting this truth desecrate the dead.

Third: We Jews have to toughen up. Accepting the status quo in Europe is demeaning and only emboldens the bigots on the street and in the halls of parliaments. This is an area where younger Jews on both sides of the Atlantic must take a stand. Going on vacation to Paris, Rome or London? Make a point of publicly showing you are a proud Jew. And you don’t have to eat kosher to understand that Norway’s law banning kosher slaughter since 1929 is an insult to every Jew. How about a social networking campaign to shame them to action?

2013 is not 1938. But, we Jews dare not repeat the mistakes of the 1930s by pinning our hopes that Europe’s leaders will do the heavy lifting to defend our rights. Only we can secure our dignity. 

As Simon Wiesenthal himself often said: “Freedom is not a gift from heaven. It must be fought for every day.” Zachor, lo tiskhach.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance.

Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier meets with Pope Francis

In a private audience with Pope Francis on Oct. 24, Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), urged the leader of the Catholic Church to confront the evil that exists in the world, even while praying and working for peace.

“Evil existed during the time of Moses as it did in Jesus’ time and as it does in our own time,” Hier told Pope Francis, according to a transcript of his remarks.

Hier, who brought with him 62 SWC trustees and supporters to the meeting in the papal residence in Vatican City on Thursday, called the meeting “an extraordinary event.”

“We need non-Jews as friends,” Hier told the Journal on Oct. 25. “It matters to us that a pope who is the spiritual leader of 1 billion Christians should hear our concerns.”

Speaking to the Journal from Rome, Hier said he had considered limiting his remarks on Thursday to the subject of “human relations,” but ultimately decided against it.

[Related: Francis pledges to further Jewish-Catholic dialogue]

“International issues are weighing on every Jewish home,” Hier said. “People are saying to themselves ‘What’s going to be with Iran?’ ‘Will there be peace with the Palestinians?’ And anti-Semitism is everywhere in Europe — so it was impossible just to make this just sort of a schmooze, talking about human relations and not to talk about the greater concerns of the Jewish community.”

Hier’s remarks were heavy with citations from traditional Jewish texts and did not make explicit mention of either Iran or the Palestinians. But coming at a time of increasing engagement by the United States and other Western powers in the Middle East, Hier’s message was still rather clear.

“[P]eace, like a doctor’s prescription, works only if one is willing to make lifestyle changes, diet, exercise, but there are millions of people who ignore their doctor’s advice,” he said.

So while the world must be open to the possibility of peace, it must also remember its failure to stand up to Hitler in the 1930s, and recognize that, in Hier’s words, “There are some nations who can’t compromise.”

Pope Francis, who addressed the group in Italian, condemned “any form of anti-Semitism,” and broadened that condemnation to include all manner of intolerance.

“When any minority is persecuted and marginalized on account of its religious beliefs or ethnic origin, the good of society as a whole is placed in danger, and we must all consider ourselves affected,” Pope Francis said, according to the Official Vatican Network. “I think with particular sadness of the suffering, marginalization and real persecution experienced by many Christians in various countries throughout the world. Let us unite our strengths to promote a culture of encounter, of mutual respect, understanding and forgiveness.”

The 62-person delegation — the largest Jewish group to meet Pope Francis to date, Hier said — included two Holocaust survivors, a handful of Christians, and one Muslim, Mohamed Alabbar, the chairman of Emaar Properties, the Emirati company that built the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

This was Hier’s fourth meeting with a sitting pope — he met twice with Pope John Paul II during his pontificate and once with Pope Benedict, in 2005. Hier said that Thursday’s meeting was initially scheduled as a meeting with Pope Benedict, who resigned the papacy in February of this year.

Pope Francis kept the arrangement, and Hier marveled at the differences in character between the current pontiff and his predecessors.

“He has the uncanny ability, when he is talking to a person, the rest of the world does not exist,” said Hier, describing what he saw as he introduced each member of his delegation to Pope Francis. “I did not find that in the other three audiences, even though Pope John Paul II was perhaps one of the greatest popes in the history of the church.”

EU ban on Hezbollah branch a start, but impact is likely limited

The effectiveness of the European Union’s decision to blacklist only Hezbollah’s military wing might be debatable, but one thing about the move seems certain: It did not come easy.

The decision Monday by Europe’s 28 foreign ministers to put Hezbollah’s military wing on the EU list of terrorist organizations followed months of jostling by member states in the wake of last summer’s killing of five Israelis and a Bulgarian in a bus bombing near the Black Sea resort of Burgas.

Israel and Bulgaria have accused Hezbollah of being responsible for the attack, which the Lebanon-based group denies.

At stake in the debates were Europe’s relations with Lebanon, where Hezbollah holds several seats in parliament; possible reprisals by Hezbollah against EU troops; and the credibility of the EU’s anti-terrorist stance.

To negotiate the web of conflicting interests, the EU came up with a compromise that would allow it to show toughness in responding to terrorism on its soil without sacrificing its influence in Lebanon. It would designate only the organization’s military wing as terrorist, ignoring no less an authority than Hezbollah’s second-in-command, Naim Qassem, who has said the organization has a single leadership.

“This is partly a political signal and partly a real signal that we are not prepared to see any terrorist activity as means to achieving what some would consider political ends, while we want to be clear, too, in our support for political parties of Lebanon and the people of Lebanon,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said at a news conference Monday. “We’ve made the distinction clear.”

Jewish groups were pleased generally by the development, with World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder calling it a “major breakthrough” and the Board of Deputies of British Jews averring it would “seriously damage Hezbollah’s capabilities” around the world.

But many also noted that the distinction between the group’s military and political wings is false, creating a loophole that Hezbollah could exploit to render the whole designation exercise ineffectual.

“Highlighting Hezbollah’s involvement in terrorism is a positive political statement but a flawed counterterrorism strategy,” said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “Since terror-related operational activities are already illegal throughout the EU, the high-value counterterrorism target remains Hezbollah’s financing activities in Europe — and that target was missed.”

According to intelligence analysts, Hezbollah employs a network of thousands of activists who launder its money in European banks and front businesses, raises money for its operations and recruits militants to its ranks through a host of Islamic charities.

Europe is “Hezbollah’s piggy bank and money laundromat,” said Wim Kortenoeven, a pro-Israel former parliamentarian from the Netherlands and the author of a book on Hamas, citing a 2011 report by German intelligence that estimated Hezbollah had about 1,000 members in Germany alone.

Had the EU designation applied to Hezbollah in its entirety, it might have taken a serious bite out of the group’s European operations. A 2001 EU regulation requires the “freezing of funds, other financial assets and economic resources” of designated terrorist groups.

By exempting Hezbollah’s political operations from that requirement, the EU has allowed that activity to continue, according to Claude Moniquet, a 20-year veteran of France’s foreign intelligence agency and the founder of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, a Brussels-based think tank.

“Hezbollah’s main activity in Europe is money laundering and some gathering intelligence, which isn’t performed by combatants but is used also for military purposes,” Moniquet told JTA. “It means these regulations are declaratory and will likely have very little effect on the ground. Hezbollah will just say not to worry, these men are from the political arm.”

Before Monday, the EU list of designated terrorist entities contained 26 groups, including Hamas and Colombia’s FARC. The proscribed organizations are listed as one entity without separation into wings.

But even with the exception, the EU resolution may still have consequences for Hezbollah, according to Or Daniel, an Israeli analyst for the European Friends of Israel lobby group, a Brussels-based nonprofit.

“There is ample intelligence material that shows that people from the military units of Hezbollah are involved in ‘soft’ activities,” Daniel said. “Israel or the United States may now share the intelligence with EU partners to get them to choke off certain Hezbollah areas of activity.”

But Moniquet says European intelligence services have ample intelligence of their own on Hezbollah.

“The EU’s problem with Hezbollah was never lacking intelligence,” Moniquet said. “It’s lacking determination.”

Yet to Joel Rubinfeld, the co-chair of the European Jewish Parliament, the designation is the beginning of a process rather than its conclusion.

“It’s a first step in the right direction,” Rubinfeld said. “The significance lies not in practical consequences but in the fact that it has opened the door to the next goal — complete proscription. Opening the door was the hardest part.”

Pamela Geller barred from Britain over anti-Islam views

Anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller was banned from entering Britain. 

Geller on Wednesday posted a copy of a letter from Home Secretary Theresa May dated June 25 on her anti-Islam blog Atlas Shrugs that informs her that she is barred from entering the country.

The letter states that her “presence here would not be conducive to the public good.” It adds that the home secretary is concerned that Geller might engage in behavior that would “foster hatred which might lead to inter-community violence in the UK.”

Geller and Robert Spencer, co-founders of the group Stop Islamization of America, had been scheduled to participate in a London rally organized by the far-right English Defense League. Saturday’s rally will be held at the site where a British soldier was killed by two Islamicists using a meat cleaver and an axe. Spencer also was banned from entering Britain.

“In not allowing us into the country solely because of our true and accurate statements about Islam, the British government is behaving like a de facto Islamic state,” Geller wrote on her blog. “The nation that gave the world the Magna Carta is dead.”

More than 2,000 signers of an online petition are calling on May and British Prime Minister David Cameron to reconsider the decision, which is binding for three to five years.

Survivor: Charlotte Seeman

Charlotte Seeman — then Charlotte Leiter — spotted the barbed-wire fence ahead. She and her companions — a young woman from Vienna as well as the woman’s boyfriend and uncle — climbed over and continued walking. It was a cold night in December 1938, and they had crossed the German border near the intersection of Belgium and Holland. They were headed to Holland but didn’t know their way. After awhile they saw a sign in French and realized they were in Belgium. They circled around and kept walking. When they heard dogs barking and saw searchlights scouring the area, they laid down motionless on the snow-covered ground. They then crossed more barbed-wire fences, still unsure of their direction. Finally, after hours of walking, they saw a sign with words that weren’t French or German. They had reached Holland.

Glimpsing lights in the distance, they made their way to the village of Venlo. Charlotte and the uncle entered an inn, while the woman and her boyfriend waited outside. Charlotte phoned her brother in Amsterdam. She went back outside to tell her companions, but didn’t see them. “The people are gone,” a bystander said. “The Germans picked them up.” 

Charlotte was born on Nov. 17, 1920 in Vienna, Austria, to Mina and Bernard Leiter. Her brother, Israel, was born in 1906, and her sister, Peppi, in 1913. Charlotte’s father, who was from Brody, Poland, was stationed in Austria during World War I and never left. He had a business making brushes from animal hair.

Charlotte went to public school until age 14 and then attended a private school where she learned typing, bookkeeping, English and shorthand. 

On March 15, 1938, Charlotte was walking to school when, amid commotion and shouts of “Heil, Hitler,” she saw Adolf Hitler riding by in a car.  The Anschluss, or annexation of Austria, had begun three days earlier. Charlotte rushed home along back streets. 

Charlotte never returned to school. Her father, who was sick with stomach cancer, was bedridden, and Charlotte stayed close to home.  

On Nov. 9, 1938, a loud knock on the front door awakened Charlotte and her parents. A downstairs neighbor, someone her mother had often helped, though they knew he was SS, came looking for Charlotte’s brother. It was Kristallnacht.

The next day, Charlotte saw piles of books smoldering on the street and neighborhood shuls vandalized. 

Charlotte’s brother, Israel, and his wife immediately left for Holland. Soon after, Charlotte decided to join them. 

Charlotte and her travel companions left Vienna by train early on Dec. 12, 1938. They arrived in Cologne, where they spent the day in the Cologne Cathedral pretending to pray and avoiding attention. At nightfall, they rode the trolley to a stop near the border. 

Charlotte’s brother arrived in Venlo and took Charlotte and the uncle to Amsterdam by train, cautioning them to be silent.

Charlotte lived in the small apartment her brother shared with his wife and mother-in-law. All four received 6 guilders and 25 cents a week from the Committee for Jewish Refugees and were not allowed to work. 

They pooled their guilders to pay rent and buy some food. They also managed to send small food packages to Charlotte and Israel’s parents in Vienna. 

Charlotte’s father died on May 22, 1939. 

On Saturday nights, they attended a dance at a Jewish center. One evening they overheard someone talking about smugglers. Charlotte and her brother befriended the man, Abraham Seeman, as they hoped he could help their mother escape Vienna. Although that didn’t happen, a romance ensued. Abraham, who was originally from Poland, had been living in Amsterdam since the early 1930s.  He and Charlotte married on Sept. 11, 1940, in Amsterdam’s Great Synagogue and lived in an apartment behind Abraham’s shoe repair shop.

The situation for Jews continued to deteriorate. When Germany invaded Holland on May 10, 1940, ration cards were instituted, as were curfews. Still, Abraham sometimes went out at night to watch Allied planes flying overhead on their way to bomb Germany. 

One evening he saw a young couple standing near his shop, taking refuge from possible falling shrapnel. He invited them in for tea. And that’s how Charlotte and Abraham became friends with Lucie and Jan Kloek, though it was forbidden for Christians and Jews to socialize.

As the Nazis stepped up deportations of Jews, Charlotte asked Lucie if she and her husband would consider hiding them. They agreed, and on Dec. 5, 1942, Charlotte and Abraham moved into the attic of their narrow four-story apartment building, not far from Anne Frank’s secret annex. 

During the day, Charlotte and Abraham moved freely around the Kloeks’ third-floor apartment, helping to care for the Kloeks’ baby daughter. At night, they retreated to the attic. Sometimes they heard screaming in the darkness. “It was very, very scary,” Charlotte said. 

One night, when Jan and Lucie were at the hospital awaiting the arrival of their second child, Charlotte and Abraham heard pounding footsteps and a loud knock on the door. They didn’t move. They knew it was the SS. 

Jan appeared later that night, “white as a sheet,” according to Charlotte, and helped them onto the roof and into the attic of the adjoining building, where they lay on a pile of coal. “We were waiting for the SS, but they never came,” Charlotte said.

Jan then moved Charlotte and Abraham into his carpentry shop. By day Abraham donned coveralls and worked as Jan’s assistant while Charlotte hid in the bathroom. At night they slept on the sawdust-covered shop floor.

Six weeks later, Charlotte and Abraham returned to the attic. In February 1945, however, with severe food shortages and worries about their two small children, Lucie and Jan decided to go to Groningen in northern Holland, where their families lived.

The Kloeks helped Charlotte and Abraham obtain false papers as Christians. They rented a vacant apartment where they slept on the floor and, with no electricity, used a tin can for a stove, fueling it with wooden cobblestones that Abraham collected on the streets. They had little food.

Then, on May 5, 1945, Charlotte and Abraham walked outside to see Canadian troops marching down the streets. Amsterdam had been liberated. They met Jewish soldiers who gave them cigarettes, white bread and margarine. 

After liberation, Abraham worked odd jobs. Their son, Barry, was born in September 1948, and in December 1948 they immigrated to New York, where they lived for 10 years. 

In 1958, they moved to Denver, and in 1965 to Los Angeles. In 1970, they opened a Levi’s store in San Fernando. 

With the help of Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom, Charlotte arranged for Lucie and Jan Kloek to be recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. Charlotte is still in contact with the couple’s daughter, Maja.

Abraham died in 1998 and Barry in 2010. 

In September 2012, Charlotte moved into the Los Angeles Jewish Home, where, at 92, she enjoys knitting, attending lectures and “everything that is available.” She spends every weekend with her family, which includes two grandsons, Michael and Danny, their wives and her four great-granddaughters.

“As long as God will give me, I will live,” Charlotte said.

On its 10th anniversary, Lauder Business School looking West for new students

With more than 250 students living, studying or partying on its campus, quiet moments are rare at the Lauder Business School. But when a lull does occur, it reminds managing director Alex Zirkler of this Jewish university’s opening 10 years ago, when it had only seven students, 15 lecturers and many silent hallways.

“I don’t like to remember those absurd times,” said Zirkler, a Vienna native who has been with the institution ever since the American cosmetics magnate and Jewish philanthropist Ronald Lauder envisaged opening a first-rate business university for young Jews from across Europe and beyond.

The school’s rapid growth owes largely to an influx of students from the former Soviet bloc, who make up 70 percent of current enrollees. With its ample scholarships and reputation as a boutique university, the school offers them a rare shot at a Western education.

LBS offers an English-language bachelor's program in international business administration and a master’s in international management and leadership. With a scholarship, students from outside the European Union pay about $7,000 annually — a fee that includes housing and three kosher meals a day, as well as compulsory courses in Hebrew and Jewish studies.

But as LBS marks its 10th anniversary this year, the school's directors are striving for a more equal balance between East and West that they say will enhance academic performance and fulfill the school’s mission as a rare melting pot for Jewish European academics.

“People come here to network with fellow students in a Jewish, international setting,” said Jacob Biderman, an Israeli-born Chabad rabbi and the LBS chairman. “It is in their interest that the school facilitate cross-fertilization: Our students are not looking to study with only French people or only Ukrainian people, or they would not have come here in the first place.”

Biderman acknowledges it will be a challenge. Given the attractive pricing, students from the East are “obvious, natural clients,” he says.

But Biderman believes LBS has the potential to attract many Western European Jews who are seeking an institution that combines a top-rate secular education with Jewish studies — similar to what Yeshiva University and Brandeis offer in the United States. For students from the East, LBS offers more than just an education, but an opportunity to gain a toehold on new lives in more affluent central and Eastern European countries.

Gabor came from Budapest to study at LBS in 2005. He now works in the banking industry in Vienna.

“Graduating in Austria is pretty powerful when applying and makes it much easier to find work,” he said.

Tatyana Belousova came to LBS from Vladimir, a town east of Moscow, and secured a job in Germany even before she graduated last year.

“An opportunity of getting higher education in Europe and living a Jewish life with no compromises was a decisive factor,” she said of her decision to enroll in LBS at the age of 17.

Some 300 to 400 students apply for admission each year, of which approximately 100 are accepted. Applicants are evaluated by the LBS academic committee on the basis of their grades, but to receive a scholarship and housing, they must apply to the Jewish Heritage Fund, a separate body that is comprised of several private donors and charities.

The fund assesses the “compatibility” of applicants in deciding whether to offer them a spot in the dormitories and up to 80 percent of their tuition. A major part of assessing compatibility, Biderman said, is whether a student is Jewish according to religious law.

The separation between the school and its dorms permits LBS to qualify for funding from the government of Austria, which otherwise would not be allowed to support a school that considers religion in admissions decisions. About one-quarter of the $3.2 million LBS budget comes from the Austrian government. LBS gets significant additional help from public authorities in Austria. The government made an exception to its rule requiring publicly funded schools to admit anyone with a high school diploma, a regulation that would have undercut LBS aspirations to admit only the best.

Austria also helped LBS work around a European rule requiring universities to have at least 2,000 students to be accredited independently. The school's entire campus, an 18th century palace that once was home to Princess Maria Theresa, was donated by the Vienna municipality. The five buildings have more than 100,000 square feet of floor space, and are arranged around a 54,000 square foot courtyard. Lauder spent $8 million renovating the campus, to which the school has title for 60 years.

Such favorable treatment is part of the reason LBS elected to operate in Austria, where Lauder made many close contacts during his tenure as U.S. ambassador from 1986 to 1987.

“The fact that Ronald Lauder is the institution’s president adds much to our stature in Austria and elsewhere,” Biderman said, though he dismissed the notion that LBS enjoys special dispensations solely on this account.

Austria is keen “to re-establish Vienna as the seat of Jewish intelligentsia,” Biderman said. “They understand we can’t put together the numbers because of the Holocaust.”

On campus, the ancient palace facade creates a jarring juxtaposition with the modern, high-tech classroom interiors, complete with projectors, sound systems and new furniture. Enhancing the mix of old and new is the large metal-and-glass auditorium planted at the center of the ancient interior yard between the classrooms and dorms.

Every year, a few graduates end up staying in Vienna and marrying Viennese Jewish spouses, according to Biderman. In total, the school has learned of 30 weddings of former students who met on campus. The institution even has a photo album with a picture from each wedding.

“We recently received a postcard from Israel with a picture of a baby born to two of our graduates who made aliyah after meeting here,” Biderman said. “We call them LBS babies.”

Rise of Golden Dawn: A presage of doom

The undisguised extremism promoted by Golden Dawn is a chilling watershed in Greece's post-war democracy. Fascist gangs are turning Athens into a city of shifting front lines, seizing on crimes and local protests to promote their own movement, by claiming to be the defenders of recession-ravaged Greece.

‘The People's Association – Golden Dawn,’ usually known simply as ‘Golden Dawn,’ is a right-wing extremist political organization in Greece. It is led by Nikolaos Michaloliakos and has grown considerably since its inception to a widely known Greek political party with nationwide support.

Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party is gaining popularity in the midst of the country’s deepening financial crisis. The group has been implicated in torture cases, and for inciting a wave of racial violence sweeping the country.

An opinion poll published by KAPA Research in October showed that support for the extremist political group had grown from 7.5 percent of the population in June to 10.4 percent currently.

The Golden Dawn emerged from political obscurity into the mainstream in May after winning 7 percent of the vote in the Greek parliamentary elections. Since then, the country has reportedly witnessed an upsurge in racial violence connected to the right-wing group.

The party entered the international spotlight after some of its members reportedly participated in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of Bosnian Muslims. Its publication praises the Third Reich and often features photographs of Hitler and other Nazis.

Golden Dawn has manipulated a weak Greek state and disastrous austerity management by European bureaucrats to become, according to recent polls, the third most popular political party in the country — a noxious omen for the euro zone and a worrying challenge and counterpoint to the very idea of the E.U. itself, which received this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

Three years ago, Greeks ignored Golden Dawn, seeing its members as neo-Nazi thugs waging war against migrants and giving it a miserable 0.29% of the vote. Last year, however, Golden Dawn — rebranded as an anti-austerity party — won nearly 7% and secured 18 of the 300 seats in Parliament. Its ascent has continued in opinion surveys despite its parliamentary deputies' being filmed attacking immigrant vendors and demanding that all non-Greek children be kicked out of day-care centres and hospitals.

As the cash-strapped government struggles to offer its citizens basic services, Golden Dawn has set up parastate organizations to police the streets, donate to Greek-only blood banks and help unemployed Greeks find jobs. The party has also promised to cancel household debt for the unemployed and low-wage earners. “Soon we'll be running this country,” says Ilias Panagiotaros, a beefy 38-year-old army-supply-shop owner who is now a Golden Dawn parliamentary deputy representing Athens.

Public Love from Fear

“The people love us.” says Ilias Panagiotaros. Golden Dawn draws much of that love from fear. Greece is now the main entry point for at least 80% of the EU's un-documented migrants. Frontex, the EU border-patrolling agency, estimates that 57,000 illegal immigrants slipped into Greece last year and more than 100,000 entered in 2010. Many travel through Turkey, often via a land border that Golden Dawn wants to plant with land mines. Some seek asylum, and because of EU rules, those who want to apply for refugee status must do so in their country of entry — in this case, Greece — which often takes years to review the applications. As Europe turns a blind eye to the immigration crisis, many impoverished foreigners find themselves trapped in an economically crippled country that can't sustain them.

Some Greeks no longer want to be hospitable. In the past year, gangs of vigilantes, many sporting Golden Dawn's black shirts, have beaten and stabbed hundreds of migrants, according to human-rights groups.

In June 2012, a number of them broke into the Piraeus home of Abouzeid Mubarak, 28, an Egyptian fisherman, bashing him with iron rods until he fell into a coma. “It was a hate that was inhuman,” says Mubarak, who is still recovering.

Ali Rahimi, a 27-year-old Afghan asylum seeker, was hanging around with friends outside his building in central Athens when more than a dozen Greeks approached. Several men set upon Mr. Rahimi, one with a knife. Panicked, he fled into his apartment and fought back, managing to push the men out the door. He found blood gushing from just above his heart, one of five stab wounds in his back and chest.

Mr. Rahimi survived and is staying put for now. But his friend, Reza Mohammed, who was also injured in the attack, is considering what was once unthinkable: moving back to Afghanistan, which he feels would be safer than Greece.

Parts of Athens feel like a war zone. Racist gangs cruise the streets at night in search of victims. Themis Skordeli, a member of the group that is accused of stabbing Mr. Rahimi, ran unsuccessfully for Parliament on the ticket of Golden Dawn.

A few blocks down the street, a crowd was leaving a mosque after Friday Prayer. At the mention of Golden Dawn, immigrant men began lifting their shirts to show their scars. A short, sullen-looking young man with a cut across his nose and freshly sutured cheek bone was pushed forward by the crowd. Just the night before, he said, he was beaten and cut with a knife by “fascists.”

“Go into the Omonia police station,” said another man. “You will see how violence is going on.” Several blocks away, I walked into just such a scene. As I stepped out of the elevator at the police station, I saw an officer screaming at a black man and backhanding him hard across the shoulder.

In Athens, Sayd Jafari owns a cafe frequented by fellow Afghans. It has been repeatedly ransacked by mobs of black-clad attackers wielding sticks, chains and knives and performing fascist salutes.

Like others who have been assaulted, Mr. Jafari is also contemplating returning home to Afghanistan. “There, maybe someone has a bomb hidden on his body that he detonates,” he says. “Here, you don’t see where the knife that kills you comes from.”

It's now common to see police lineup immigrants from South Asia and Africa in public squares and along streets in central Athens. Those without legal-residency permits are arrested and sent to detention centres to be deported.

Police claim they have detained nearly 42,000 people since August, though only about 3,400 were arrested for not having residency papers. They defended the crackdown, which was strongly denounced by human-rights groups, by comparing undocumented migrants to the Dorian invaders who purportedly brought down the Mycenaeans in 1100 B.C.

The most recent example of fascism shown by Golden Dawn in its series of discriminating activities is when it said a visit to Greece by American Jewish Committee leader David Harris is meant to ensure further “Jewish influence over Greek political issues” and safeguard the interests of “international loan sharks.”

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), is leading a Jewish delegation to the region to meet with several Greek leaders, including Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. During the meetings, Harris expressed his “concern and solidarity for Greece during the crisis.”

“The only solidarity of this gentleman is to his compatriots – the international loan sharks, who are humiliating the Greek people. His concern most likely is related to the inability of Greece to make the payments of the predatory interest rates of the vile loans,” Golden Dawn said in a statement, adding: “We do not need the crocodile tears of a Jew.”

Its leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, uses the Heil Hitler salute and has denied the existence of gas chambers at Nazi death camps during World War II. Another lawmaker read a passage from the anti-Semitic hoax “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

The attack on Harris and a separate article titled “Absolute Evil” that was published on the party's website Friday appeared to be a hardening of Golden Dawn's anti-Semitic rhetoric, apparently in anger over pressure from Jewish groups to get the Greek government to reign in the party. The “Evil” statement said that blaming Golden Dawn for Greece’s woes constituted an attempt to divert attention from the real culprits for Greece’s financial crisis.

“They are none other than those who possess most of the international wealth. The people behind the international loan-sharks,” the statement said. “Everyone knows they belong to a certain race, which presents itself as a victim, while in reality it is the perpetrator. Everyone knows that they are none other than those pulling the strings behind the marionettes. They are the absolute evil for mankind.”

The second statement ended with a threat.

“The time will come when the nationalists of the Golden Dawn will take revenge like the horsemen of the storm, and all of them, being the absolute evil, will pay!”

Not content to proselytizing in their homeland, Golden Dawn has started to expand worldwide.

Barely a month after their electoral victories, Golden Dawn launched a widely-criticized branch in Melbourne, Australia, home to one of the largest Greek populations outside of Athens. In October, several groups protested the opening of a Golden Dawn office in New York City, which had opened for the explicit purpose of building support for the party among Greek expatriate communities and collecting food and medicine to distribute in Greece – only for Greeks. And in Montreal, Golden Dawn is holding a Christmas food drive. The catch! They're only giving food out to Greek Christians.

Golden Dawn members in the United States have told CBC News they plan to open chapters shortly in Chicago, in Connecticut and in Toronto.

What’s at stake is the health of European democracy, and the values and institutions on which it rests. But while the euro crisis touched off a scramble to halt a financial meltdown, European leaders have done virtually nothing to reverse the union’s dangerous political trends.

As recent polls show that its strength continues to grow, and its support runs as high as 50 percent among police officers, who routinely fail to investigate growing numbers of hate crimes.

Far-right ultranationalist groups are exploiting old enmities and new fears across the Continent. Although this is not the Europe of the 1930s, the disillusioned citizens of countries like Greece and Hungary have turned increasingly to simple answers, electing parties that blame familiar scapegoats — Jews, Gypsies, gays and foreigners — for their ills.

Maria Chandraki, 29, an unemployed beautician, hadn’t heard of Golden Dawn until the last election. “Their positions may be extreme,” she said, holding plastic bags of food she’d just received. “But the situation is extreme as well. So we need extreme measures.” She went on, “We can’t have so many nations and so many different sets of values and ideals under the same roof.”

Beneath the looming basilica of Athens’ largest church, middle-aged men and women in black Golden Dawn T-shirts were busy one bright September morning distributing food to needy Greeks. Kids ran across the courtyard, which was painted with the party’s unofficial platform: “Get foreigners out of Greece.” Clusters of fit, stoic young men in dark glasses ringed the perimeter.

Nikolaos Michos, a square-jawed Golden Dawn Member of Parliament with the build and tattoos of a heavyweight boxer, leaned against a bloodmobile watching. He wore a black polo embossed with the party’s Swastika-like logo. “We’re fighters and we’re not going to back down,” he said, referring to death threats from leftists and the burning of a Golden Dawn office. “But they’re not striking fear into us because every centre they destroy, we’ll build new ones,” he added.

European leaders must not cede the battleground in the war of ideas. They should publicly denounce parties that espouse racist doctrines and spew hate-filled rhetoric and clearly define and defend the shared values of an increasingly integrated Europe.

To do so, they must develop a pan-European approach to monitor hate crimes and investigate right-wing extremist networks that operate across borders. And the European Union must ensure that all member-states, old and new, respect the same criteria that countries currently aspiring to join the European Union are required to meet, especially maintaining the “stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities.” Otherwise, Europe faces the spectre of more xenophobic violence and the unravelling of the liberal democratic order that has drawn so many persecuted people to seek asylum and opportunity on European shores.

Nikos Katapodis, 69, can see the crossroads where his family has lived since 1863. A bald, chain-smoking funeral-home owner, Mr. Katapodis describes the Greek government with a string of expletives. The flood of immigrants over the last decade created ghettos in central Athens, he explains. Crime rates rose, property values dropped and bars appeared on second-floor windows. “It looks like a prison,” he said, nodding to the street. “Today it reminds me of the late 1940s,” he adds. “You see people scrounging for food in the trash cans.”

Although he didn’t vote for Golden Dawn, he sees it as “the only party that is actually doing things for the Greek people” — a cross between the welfare state and the Mafia. If he needed an escort to walk down the street or help paying for his cancer medicine, he’d call Golden Dawn. “They’re doing what the politicians should be doing,” he said. “There’s a hole, and they fill it.”

Authoritarian elements in the Greek government have a history of using far-right groups to outsource political violence against critics. Recent moves to rein in Golden Dawn came only after it grew too powerful to control and the state felt its own authority was challenged, explained Anastassia Tsoukala, a legal scholar. “They were bitten by their own snake,” she said. And Greece is not alone. Golden Dawn’s rise has parallels across Europe, and its significance should be of Continental concern.


Hatef Mokhtar is the editor-in-chief of The Oslo Times.