The upswing of anti-Semitism reached Mainstream, USA this week with American weekly magazine Newsweek’s July 29 cover story, “Exodus: Why Europe’s Jews are fleeing once again.”
Written by Adam LeBor, a journalist and author of fiction and nonfiction, the story gives an overview of the increasingly uncomfortable — and sometimes dangerous — situation for many of Europe’s Jews.
It includes voices of Jewish community leaders, statistics supporting the rising European anti-Semitism, and quotes from the Jewish press. The print edition also published a sidebar interview with Moriah Haddad-Rodriguez, the Belgian immigrant to Israel depicted on the arresting cover.
In an August 4 television interview with Israel’s Channel 10, Haddad-Rodriguez shed light on the cover art. She was told in detail, she said, what to wear for the photo shoot in her Israeli apartment, and was asked to have a suitcase prop ready.
Interviewer Dov Gil-Har asked Haddad-Rodriguez, “You’re supposed to be the wandering Jew, if I understand correctly.”
“Yes, the idea was to ‘shock’ the world and I think the photo did the job. Many have told me I look like a Holocaust refugee who ran away,” said Haddad-Rodriguez.
(Writer LeBor strongly disagrees. “I don’t think she looks anything like a Holocaust refugee. She looks like a prosperous healthy young woman about to embark on a journey,” he said by telephone to The Times of Israel.)
Haddad-Rodriguez, who is active in a Belgian immigrants’ organization in Israel, said she was contacted by LeBor following the recent shooting at Brussels’ Jewish Museum on May 24. For the article she was asked about her childhood in Belgium and why she immigrated to Israel.
In Belgium today, she told Gil-Har, there are places where as a child she had walked freely with her brother (who wears a kippa) but where today Jews are afraid pass through with any identifiable Jewish symbol.
She told Gil-Har that the atmosphere in Belgium reminds her of “1939 Europe,” with one important difference: “Israel is strong and protecting us.” If once the reason for immigration to Israel was Zionist ideology, she said, now anti-Semitism is an impetus.
In the Newsweek piece LeBor covered Europe’s anti-Semitic “hot spots” — France, Hungary, Greece — and also discussed rising concerns in the UK.
LeBor, who is based in Budapest, singled out his city and Berlin as places of unexpectedly revitalized Jewish life.
In Berlin and Budapest Jewish life is flourishing. The epicentre of the Holocaust seems an unlikely centre for a Jewish renaissance. But the German capital is now home to one of the world’s fastest-growing Jewish communities, tens of thousands strong. There is a growing sense, particularly among younger Germans, that the city is incomplete without a Jewish presence, especially in the arts, culture and literature. The glory days of the pre-war years can never be recreated, but they can be remembered and used as inspiration for a new form of German-Jewish culture.
LeBor said the resurgence of Jewish life in Germany has come about predominantly through an influx of Israelis and Russian Jews, which he called a relatively new development that created a much larger community than 10 years ago.
Leading anti-Semitism expert Prof. Robert Wistrich, head of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem’s Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, objected to painting a rosy picture of Jewish life in Germany, in a conversation with The Times of Israel Monday.
“Most people until now have been completely beguiled and lost critical faculties [when speaking about Germany]. They call Berlin the mecca for Israeli youth. I am not disputing these things have also been happening, but it’s an incredibly myopic view,” said Wistrich.
LeBor respectfully disagreed with Wistrich’s statements and said, “There is a large number of young Israelis that come to live in Berlin; clearly they can’t all feel threatened.”
LeBor’s perspective is obviously colored by living as a Jew in Budapest, but he thinks the inflammatory language such as saying Europe is on the brink of “a new Holocaust” or calling anti-Semitism an “infection” is not productive.
“It’s absurd to say a new Holocaust is coming,” he said.
Although he feels the issue of rising anti-Semitism in Europe should be discussed and debated, he doesn’t think it is the only way to discuss Europe’s Jews.
“I don’t think Jewish life in Europe should be defined solely by anti-Semitism. It shouldn’t be the sole prism that Jewish life in Europe should be looked through,” said LeBor.