By Sam Sokol
Sometimes it’s hard to cover the Jewish world. I don’t mean that it is necessarily an onerous beat. I get to travel around the world and meet interesting people, and no two days are ever the same. I enjoy my work. However, it can sometimes be emotionally taxing, if due to nothing else than the necessity of serving as a watchdog for the Jewish public interest and immersing myself in topics that are not the most pleasant with which to engage.
I am referring, of course, to the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe—the highest, some experts say, since the days of the Nazi Holocaust—and to the concomitant rising intermarriage rate in the United States, where hate directed at Jews is at its lowest ebb in decades. On one continent they are increasingly belligerent; on the other, they love us to death.
That is not to say that the future for the Jewish people is dismal. We have the State of Israel to defend our interests and our lives, both in the Holy Land and abroad; and the same freedoms in America that have seen the growth of assimilation have also allowed for a flowering of religious and cultural expression of unparalleled beauty.
However, there are times when anti-Semitism and the darker trends within contemporary Judaism seem overwhelming. I just returned from a trip through several countries.
I journeyed to Turkey, spent two days at home, and subsequently flew to Ukraine. After one evening back in Israel, I flew to New York. After one weekend with my family, I was off again to Hungary for the World Jewish Congress’ Plenary Assembly.
In Turkey, I witnessed great fear on the part of local communal heads. In Ukraine, the message was again of fear from Jewish communal heads. New York was a welcome break, but again in Budapest, Hungary, the message was one of fear in the face of the Jobbik [pronounced Yo-Bik] party, an anti-Semitic far-right faction that has become the third-largest faction in Parliament.
Before my trip I had the chance to interview David Saltiel, one of the heads of Greek Jewry, who told me of the fear felt in his country where the Golden Dawn party, a neo-Nazi group, is gaining political traction in the face of a weak economy and unpopular austerity measures.
After my trip, I again dealt with the Hungarian issue. Last week I met with the Hungarian Ambassador to Israel and senior advisers to Prime Minister Orban at the King David Hotel to discuss their plans to designate 2014 as a Holocaust remembrance year as a method of educating their population against hatred.
Domestically, the news is filled every day in Israel with reports of a Kulturkampf between the secular and the ultra-Orthodox over the issue of the draft.
There are some real dark clouds hanging over Jews around the world. There are very big problems. However, despite the necessity of my job, which impels me to write of these things, in large part so that an informed Jewish people can debate the ideal solutions to these issues, I should not forget, and neither should my readers, that things aren’t so bad.
The State of Israel allows us to live in freedom and dignity as Jews. American Jews have one of the wealthiest societies in our people’s history and, despite assimilation, have succeeded in building up a dynamic subculture.
The Jews of Europe know that they have a place to go and that Israel and the United States stand behind them.
It strikes me that while I have to serve in the front lines of newsgathering, dealing with unpleasant issues on behalf of my readers, this does not preclude optimism for our collective future.
I think I will go and look for some positive stories to file as well. v