Last year the U.S. State Department noted that a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” was sweeping through Europe. It was a significant acknowledgement of a critical problem. But as serious as this warning was, the dilemma of European Jewry remains a marginal issue that only gains sporadic attention when there is an egregious crime or a move to ban Jewish religious practices in a specific country. As much as the murder of four Jews in a shooting spree in Toulouse by an Islamist terrorist or the attempts to ban circumcision or kosher slaughter makes headlines, the revival of Jew hatred on the European continent is not so much the function of egregious incidents as it is a historic process that is leading to what seems like an inevitable conclusion.
In is in this context that Michel Gurfinkiel’s essay “You Only Live Twice” on the subject in this month’s edition of Mosaic magazine must be seen as an important contribution to Jewish historiography. After decades of celebrating the unexpected revival of European Jewry after the Holocaust that created new vibrant communities where desolation had existed in 1945, we have now reached the moment when the cycle of hatred has turned around again. In a brilliant tour de force of historical perspective, Gurfinkiel reminds us that the virus of Jew hatred has not merely revived but threatens to write what may be the final chapter in the long saga of European Jewry.
Gurfunkiel puts the steady drip of depressing stories about anti-Semitism in context. But it is important because it dares to draw conclusions about the problem that many sober European commentators refuse to approach. Instead of merely lamenting a sad trend, he demands that Jews draw the proper conclusions from events. That is something growing numbers of European Jews are doing, as many are immigrating to Israel. But his conclusion should send a chill down the spines of not only Jews but also all civilized persons who might otherwise be inclined to take a less alarmist view of events:
- A mitigating view of today’s situation might have it that, at the very least, divine providence did beneficently afford to about two million European Jews a brief golden age, a true rebirth, which in turn brought fresh luster to European civilization as well as encouragement and inspiration to millions of their fellow Jews around the world, most especially in the Jewish state. True enough; but what is no less certain is that the end of European Jewry, a millennia-old civilization and a crowning achievement of the human spirit, will deliver a lasting blow to the collective psyche of the Jewish people. That it will also render a shattering judgment on the so-called European idea, exposed as a deadly travesty for anyone with eyes to see, is cold comfort indeed.
The desire to avoid drawing such a stark conclusion about the problem is natural and it is based in no small measure, as Gurfinkiel notes, on the fact that European Jewry “looks …read more