Widespread assimilation is the greatest threat to Jewish existence in Europe, the continent’s top rabbis concluded at their meeting in Paris last week, calling for a return to traditional Jewish family values and major rabbinical intervention.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, party organizers Absolut-Events brings together well-to-do secular European single Jews for festivities at exotic locations.
So who has the best approach? And is assimilation of European Jewry inevitable?
"We need to keep the Jewish flame alive," said Serg Cwajgenbaum, secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress, which represents the 42 largest Jewish communities in Europe.
"No one has the answer to the vast question of assimilation. It is a question with multiple right answers," including community strengthening on the part of the Orthodox rabbinate, Jewish education, secular identification with Israel, and membership in Jewish social clubs, Cwajgenbaum said.
The Rabbinical Center of Europe’s three-day conference exploring the surging assimilation’s impact on the Jewish future ended on Wednesday. More than 300 rabbis attended the meeting, in which they studied how to approach issues including assimilation, anti-Semitism, terrorism, civil laws dealing with kosher slaughter in the face of recent European Commission inquiries, verification of Jewish identity with official documentation in Russia, and lay topics confronting Jews such as drug abuse and couples’ counseling.
Israeli Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger spoke at the conference and discussed the threats of assimilation and secularization in Israel, opening the discussion on civil marriage as a potential solution.
Assimilation is "the greatest threat to the Jewish people today, more so than anti-Semitism and terrorism. It is extremely painful to accept as fact that precisely the continent in which the Jewish nation lost a third of its population [in the Holocaust], poses a hazard of a different type, [and] the danger of acculturation and assimilation obstruct its natural growth," said Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, who is also chairman of the Yad Vashem council and a former chief rabbi of Israel.
With the deserved uproar now fading over Pope Benedict’s lifting the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop, the Vatican and the Jewish community are seemingly back in each other’s good graces. Indeed, all is well between Jews and the Church simply because it was already in a good place as a result of our dialogue with the Vatican over the past 50 years. We must now move beyond our myopic focus on Jewish-Christian relations and face the real challenge of the 21st century: Jewish-Muslim dialogue.
Shifting gears will be anything but easy, however a reexamination and reassessment of interreligious dialogue is necessary. American Jews may not recognize the seriousness of the situation, but they only need to look to Europe to see what’s at stake – the recent phenomenon of Muslim anti-Semitism. The war in Gaza has brought about a sharp uptick in the number of attacks against Jews, but violence in France, Sweden, Britain, Denmark and other countries has been going on for years and should already have served as a wake-up call. British Jews are in a state of anxiety: There have been physical assaults on Jews in London, recent arson attacks on synagogues outside the capital and anti-Semitic graffiti scrawled in towns and cities all across the country. In Belgium, Jewish community leaders have received death threats.
The need for Jewish-Muslim dialogue has never been greater.
The leadership of the Conservative movement’s synagogue arm has acceded to a request for an “urgent” meeting from a new coalition of clergy and laypeople to discuss new strategic directions for the organization.
Ray Goldstein, the president of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, told JTA that the meeting could take place as early as next week.