We have just closed another week of powerful, somber Holocaust remembrance ceremonies and programs around the globe. For those who may not know, Israel marks every Yom HaShoah with an early morning siren—a sound that jolts the body and demands all attention. Cars halt in their tracks on highways, people in busy grocery stores stop what they are doing, every person at a desk in every office stands and gives a contemplative and sorrowful two minutes of silence. This is for the six million murdered in the Holocaust. Every Yom HaShoah, that number remains, but for the following week’s day of remembrance—Yom HaZikaron, for Israel’s fallen soldiers—that number does not stay the same. Every year, with a gut-punch, it grows.
Last year news came out that Gilad Shalit, “Israel’s son,” was engaged to be married. It moved me deeply to hear this wonderful news at the time—brought me tears to think that he was living a happy and healthy life after the horrors of being a Hamas captive for five years. Shalit’s story is important to so many, but it is a story particularly close to me because I have a brother who, like Shalit, served in the tank unit during the Lebanon War, also at 18 years old, in 2006. Reflecting on that time period all these years later, I ask myself, how can it be that we are still fighting for the safety of the Jewish people in the land of Israel? How can it be that each year we mourn more Israeli soldiers killed in the line of duty?
Yom HaZikaron is the hardest day for the people of Israel. I can say that confidently as both an American and an Israeli. Every Israeli knows someone killed in the line of duty from the early days to today. I think of Shalit and how many young soldiers died in that war, and each war before and after it, who could have also married and lived long lives, but did not get the chance. And I think, how can it be Israeli soldiers under 20 years old and reserves, men in their mid-20s-30s who are just starting their lives with young families, are still at risk every day of being called to war?
In the summer of 2006, I was 21 and enjoying the summer off from college visiting my family in Netanya, Israel. We had made Aaliyah from the United States in 1999, a whole month before the start of the second intifada. I lived through those years as a teenager, stunned by the sounds of suicide bombings throughout my city, constantly checking my first-generation Nokia phone to hear from my family any time a passerby on the street or the news mentioned there may have been a “pigua” or attack. That period marked way too many close calls, like the time I said goodbye to my father as he turned to make a stop at the bank and moments later heard a bomb go off in the bank’s direction—I still thank G-d for the moment I saw him walking back toward us safely. Or the time my older brother was on the way to the Dolphanerium night club in Tel Aviv moments before 21 Israelis were massacred there, 16 of whom were teenagers. Those years were marked by sheer terror on an almost daily basis, but nothing will compare to the 10 days during the summer of 2006 when I did not know if my brother would make it home to us.
My younger brother, David, was 11 when we moved to Israel. Not knowing Hebrew at the time, he was your average American kid who loved to play Nintendo and skateboard. Cut to seven years later and he was sent into a mismanaged war that the army and politicians are still debating. A young 18-years-old, tall, skinny David had just finished an eight-month training course in the IDF tank unit and was sent directly into Lebanon when the war broke out. He was sent to fight a conventional war against a guerilla army on its own territory. Many of my best friends and other family members were in some of Israel’s most elite units as commanders and combatants during that war. Collectively, so many Israelis remember this time like it was yesterday, because every person knew someone in harm’s way.
Growing up in a place like Long Island, New York, my four brothers and I never imagined that we’d be facing an actual war. Perhaps we should have, but the days of full-scale war were supposed to be a thing for the history books. My father served 14 years in the IDF, mainly as a major. At 19-years-old in the Yom Kippur War, he served in the legendary Golani Brigade. His unit, Unit 17, lost 23 out of 60 comrades on Mt. Hermon that horrific day. My father is still haunted by survivor’s guilt, that only he and a few others survived the Syrian’s surprise brutal attack. He later continued to work undercover in Lebanon for years through the first Lebanon War, my mother and grandmother never quite sure he’d return each weekend; there were no cell phones then to let loved ones know you were on the way home. His brothers, my uncles, retired as well-respected generals, both of them having served in most of Israel’s wars’ detrimental battles. They are all heroes; some went on into politics.
On my mother’s side, her father grew up a Gur Hasid in Poland and in the 1930s, at age eight, moved to Palestine after his father was nearly beaten to death by anti-Semitic Poles. Uncommon then, my zayde’s father’s rabbi told him to take the family to Palestine to escape the rampant anti-Semitism, and miraculously, he did. As a teenager, my zayde joined the underground Jabotinsky movement, the Irgun. He would leave Palestine in the mid-1940s with a price on his head, his friends hung in Akko. He would tell us the stories of working missions for Eitan Livni (former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s father), smuggling notes in cigarette boxes and enduring interrogations by the British. In his early twenties he traveled around the United States to meet famed celebrities like Marlon Brando, at exclusive night clubs to try to convince them to support Israel’s cause both financially and for public morale. At 21-years-old, he ran a warehouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan smuggling weapons to Palestine. When the FBI raided, he slept in a movie theatre for three nights hiding out.
My great-uncle Arthur, working for the then Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, would go undercover to KKK rallies in the deep south during the 1950s and report back with significant intel. The stories go on, and each could fill a novel. To say that Zionism is in my blood would be an understatement, yet nothing could truly prepare me for what the cost of Zionism might be—and when faced with that cost, was I prepared to make it?
The more-or-less 10 days we were unable to make contact with my brother David during the 2006 Lebanon War were the worst days of my life. It is mainly a blur when I try to recall that time period because the shock and devastation we endured as a family still lingers through my body like it happened yesterday. I recall my mother and I crying in the living room—It had been a few days since we last heard from him and we sat with my older brother, Ari, brainstorming ways to get David home. Ari said, “We have to get him to somehow break his leg and then as a wounded soldier, he will be brought back into Israel.” Or we thought, “Could we get him to refuse to obey?” We much preferred he sit in a jail cell—but oh, how silly these ideas were, because what we didn’t know, but later found out, was David was stuck inside a tank for 10 days surrounded by Hezbollah on their territory. He was fighting for his life and the life of his comrades. Yes, 10 days in a tank with almost no combat experience.
In Israel, when you lose a son in battle, the army arrives at your door to tell you in person. Any time someone rang our doorbell those days, my heart would sink to my knees, paralyzing me. Any time someone called the house and I did not understand the person’s fast-paced Hebrew I would panic and plead with them to slow down so I could better understand. Each night on the radio we would hear the names of the most recent fallen soldiers. I will not get into the sobering details of the stress that our house endured, but I will say that it was in that time that I vowed, for the memory of every single soldier who perished, to devote my life to make sure they did not die in vain. That the world will know the type of enemies the State of Israel has, and that I will fight alongside those who strive to get to a day where no Israeli citizen will again die of Palestinian or any enemy terror.
My beautiful brother David, now 33, is married, like Shalit, and happily living his life. I will never be able to express the gratitude I have that those dark days are part of a bad memory now. But how many families do not get to say that? Who will remember those young soldiers who did not get to come home? Can we ever truly be prepared to give the ultimate sacrifice for our Zionism? A question I still can’t answer. But I do know we must continue to work to fight Israel’s enemies both in combat and through advocacy, diplomacy, the law and every channel there is.
We just marked 76 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, and the Jewish people of Israel are still fighting for their claim to live peacefully, surrounded by enemies on all borders and a genocidal Iran nearby. To think that my zayde was fighting for Israel in the 1930s and 1940s, my father and uncles throughout the 1970s and 1980s and my brother in the 2000s, is beyond comprehension. This Yom HaZikaron there will be new names added to the list of heroes and for that, we cannot rest. Despite all the sacrifice, the pain, the sorrow, 73 years in, Israel has no choice but to continue the fight.
Rebecca Rose is Associate Director of Development & Special Projects at B’nai B’rith International. She holds an M.A. in Political Science in Security and Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University.
Dir. of Legislative Affairs Op-ed in the Algemeiner: Cultural Trends and Jewish Academics Give New Lifeline to Antisemitism
The recent struggle to remove antisemitic and anti-Israel content from a California ethnic studies curriculum demonstrated the formidable challenge posed by the academic doctrines of Critical Race Theory and “intersectionality.”
To the extent that Israel is depicted as a white colonial occupation project and the pro-Palestinian cause as a proxy for racial equity in the United States, the Jewish state will be stigmatized and Jewish individuals and institutions will suffer.
The fight to overhaul earlier drafts of the California curriculum opened a window into the difficulty of the Jewish predicament.
Jews are frequently portrayed as part of the privileged dominant class, while their status as targeted victims is often ignored Israel is seen as a European, colonial outpost, while the fact that most of its Jewish population is descended from communities that lived for centuries in the Arab and Muslim world before their expulsion from those countries, is hopelessly obscured.
In other words, Jews are losing further control of the public narrative about them. This point is underscored by the incursion of antisemitic violence into racial justice protests in the US and Europe. The death of George Floyd was followed by attacks on synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses in a number of cities, most recently three Israeli restaurants in Portland, Oregon, in January. The frequent appearance of the slogan “Free Palestine” in graffiti on Jewish targets showed the popular tendency to register discontent with the Jewish state by harming Jews in the Diaspora. An anti-racism rally in Place de la Republique, in Paris, featured signs with directives such as “Stop collaboration with Israeli State terrorism” as the crowd chanted “dirty Jews.”
Enter into this demoralizing picture two new proposed definitions of antisemitism, one offered by Jewish academics on behalf of the Nexus Task Force; the second, titled the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, presented by a group of progressive Jews under the aegis of the Van Leer Institute. Both documents profess to serve the cause of confronting antisemitism by identifying its contemporary manifestations — unless, of course, those manifestations take the form of anti-Israel demagoguery.
Why would Jewish critics of Israel feel the need to offer these re-imagined definitions of antisemitism?
B’nai B’rith has long advocated for broad usage of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which is steadily gaining acceptance around the globe. The IHRA definition illustrates how criticism of Israel can (and all too frequently does) cross the line from legitimate policy debate into antisemitic hatred.
Demonizing Israel by calling it a racist or Nazi-like state, or simply denying Israel’s right to exist, would be examples of antisemitism under the IHRA definition, because such language is intended to undermine Jewish self-determination and relegate the Jewish state to pariah status, thereby gravely threatening its national security.
Such limitations, however, cause Israel’s most vociferous critics to bristle.
Those who see a basis for comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa no longer wish to feel inhibited about drawing those analogies by a definition originally adopted in 2016 by the IHRA — an international organization comprised of 34 member countries — and since then, by many individual governments around the world. Instead, they would prefer to say, as the Jerusalem Declaration does, that nearly any criticism of Israel is fair game, and is not per se a form of antisemitism.
Both the Nexus Task Force definition and the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) open the door for abuse toward Israel, but the latter does this with a disturbing level of specificity.
What’s acceptable under the expansive JDA definition? “Criticizing or opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism.” In other words, Jews are the only people, one could argue without being accused of antisemitism, who are not entitled to a homeland or national movement of their own.
The JDA further tells us that “it is not anti-Semitic, in and of itself, to compare Israel with other historical cases, including settler-colonialism or apartheid.” Meaning, hurling the most insidious possible allegations against Israel, as its critics frequently do in an attempt to challenge the Jewish state’s basis for existing, is not antisemitic. And so on.
According to the JDA, anti-Israel boycotts “are not, in and of themselves, anti-Semitic,” even though the stated intention of the BDS movement’s founders is to eliminate the Jewish state. Nor is imposing a double standard on Israel an act of antisemitism: “In general, the line between anti-Semitic and non-anti-Semitic speech is different from the line between unreasonable and reasonable speech.” Thus, Israel’s critics need not be “reasonable” to wave their free pass when charges of antisemitism surface.
The timing of these two alternative definitions of antisemitism is highly lamentable. With Jews already losing the rhetorical war around social hatreds, the authors are handing out newly minted permission slips to Israel’s harshest critics, as though anyone whose goal is the demonization or outright elimination of the Jewish state would ever strive to be reasonable.
Grotesque distortion of Israel in school curricula is, by the new logic, not antisemitic. Nor is BDS, or incendiary anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations and other international fora.
Anti-Israel hatred that finds expression in the public square or on university campuses, whether such venom explicitly holds Jews accountable for Israel’s actions or not, too often is simply hatred of Jews in another guise. This sinister strategy of using Israel or Zionism as a proxy for Jews has just been infused with new vitality by two new antisemitism definitions that may purport to identify and combat antisemitism, but in truth help facilitate it.
Read Fusfield's expert analysis in the Algemeiner.
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University in history; an M.St. in modern Jewish studies from Oxford University; and a J.D./M.A. from American University in law and international affairs. Click here to read more from Eric Fusfield.
Like Alice in Wonderland, New York photographer Vincent Giordano discovered a very special place right in his own backyard.
During one of his strolls through the Lower East Side in 1999, he was invited into Kehila Kedosha Janina, a little synagogue on Broome Street that had been home to the city’s Greek Romaniote Jewish congregation for over 72 years. From that moment, Giordano was compelled to capture with his camera the rituals, traditions and spirit of the people who worshipped there.
Set apart from Sephardi Jews, the founders of Kehila Kedosha Janina spoke Judeo-Greek, an ancient dialect that incorporates Greek, Hebrew and Turkish words and expressions. While Romaniote religious ritual was carried out in Hebrew, many special prayers, poems and songs were composed and recited in Romaniote. Jews from Ioannina, Greece who immigrated to the United States formed their own congregation in 1906. One of scores of small synagogues that dotted the streets of the Lower East Side in the early decades of the 20th century, their house of worship, built in 1927, still conducts services.
Giordano had studied comparative religion in college, but he did not know any Jews of Greek descent before his visit to the synagogue. The photographer, who had literally found his labor of love, embarked on an odyssey that would take him from Broome Street all the way to the original Romaniote synagogue of the congregation founders, located in the city of Ioannina (Janina), in northwestern Greece. Eventually, his choice and depiction of this subject matter was determined by guidance from scholars in religion, history, anthropology and language. He amassed a body of work that would encompass not just photography, but many hours of audio and video, including interviews conducted with synagogue members. When Giordano tragically died at the age of 58 in 2010, his multimedia legacy was left behind.
The next chapter begins in 2019, when Giordano’s widow donated his work to the Hellenic American Project (HAP), and the Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library’s Special Collections and Archives at Queens College. In January 2021, the Project mounted its first online exhibit of Giordano’s photos, in partnership with the College’s Center for Jewish Studies and the Rosenthal Library, “Romaniote Memories, a Jewish Journey from Ioannina, Greece, to Manhattan: Photographs by Vincent Giordano.” The show was curated by Dr. Samuel Gruber, whose own organization, the International Survey of Jewish Monuments (ISJM), sponsored Giordano’s work while he was engaged with the Romaniote community.
Integral to the exhibits are the educational texts that introduce each part of the show, which comprises over 100 photographs organized by theme and includes pictures of Kehila Kedosha’s own Judaica collection, as well as architecture, religious rites and celebrations such as those shot during the High Holidays in Ioannina, Greece in 2006.
There is much to see and to learn from the show, which many will find helpful for its content on Romaniote Jewish history, synagogue architecture, and the nature and symbolism of Jewish life cycle rites and holidays.
Far from elegiac, the photos reveal the vivacity of the people of all ages whose identities are tied to their religion and traditions. Their personalities are revealed in both photographic portraits and a series of group shots that illustrate the spiritual and familial love marking the celebratory and communal elements of their faith. Channeling Giordano’s own sensibility, the viewer is never detached, but conversely is physically propelled into the center of the action, sharing in its transformative experience.
Even as it exists today, Giordano’s unfinished film, “Before the Flame Goes Out,” is still critical to preserving and studying Romaniote culture. Over 80% of Greece’s Jewish population perished in the Holocaust, which decimated the country’s historic Romaniote communities. Of the 1,960 Jews who were deported to Auschwitz from Ioannina, 110 survived. A small population of Greek Jews live in the country today; a fraction of these people read and speak Romaniote. As the late photographer himself wrote, his unplanned encounter with the congregants of Kehila Kedosha Janina:
“…was transformed into an incredible personal journey of discovery, filled with wonderful people, interesting experiences and fascinating places. As I explored and probed deeper, I discovered this story is much larger than the synagogue on Broome Street, that it reaches far into the past…to the rich history of the Jews in ancient Greece and the Byzantine Empire…and the devastation of the Holocaust.”
For Extra Content: Hear a conversation recorded on Oct. 22, 2020 with B’nai B’rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin and curators Dr. Samuel Gruber and Renee Pappas, who outlined the history of the Romaniote Jews in the United States and Greece, and who traced the journey of Giordano’s photos themselves, from his own studio and their display at the Greek Consulate General in New York City and the Embassy of Greece in Washington, D.C. to their present home at Queens College.
Hardly a day passes without reading of someone, somewhere uttering an antisemitic trope. That part is not new; for millennia, this has been the norm. In the pre-Internet era, one could read, primarily in the Jewish media, about an antisemitic public official, a neo-Nazi, or a desk clerk at a restricted hotel uttering hateful comments or spinning conspiracies about Jews.
What is new, or relatively so, is that today we’re learning of Jew-hatred in real time, within hours of it being spouted. It comes from expected, and from unexpected, quarters. And sometimes it’s simply the portrayal of Jews that sends an antisemitic message.
Take the recent Canadian-produced NBC series “Nurses,” whose premise centers around five nurses and the lives and people they interact with. The most recent episode involved a young Hasidic accident victim named Israel and his father, whom we meet in a hospital room, where they’re engaged in conversation with one of the nurses.
The young Hasid needs a bone graft, he is told, and that will require using the bone of a cadaver. Israel expresses shock at the idea of having a “dead leg” inserted into his body, to which his father — dressed in a Hasidic black hat and coat, and wearing payot — says disgustedly: “A dead goyim leg — from anyone. An Arab, a woman.” The nurse, belittling both the father and son, responds: “Or, God forbid, an Arab woman.”
Never mind that Orthodox practice would allow for this graft, much more important, is that the picture presented to the viewer is classic antisemitism. Dressed in black and closed-minded (with one of them literally named Israel), the message is that these Jews are both peculiar and bigoted.
Any stereotyping is dangerous. But the Orthodox community often gets the brunt of this kind of instant presumptuousness. They are portrayed as an oddity or as an easy foil. The show made no attempt to give any kind of context to Orthodox Jewry or its medical worldview. The writers of this episode needed highly identifiable Jews to make the story work — and who cares about who might be hurt as long as it fits neatly into the one-hour timeframe.
But murderous attacks on Jews in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Poway, California, or Monsey, New York, are just a few examples of how antisemitic rhetoric can turn violent.
My guess is that most viewers of this program are not Jewish. Those who know us only at a distance would understandably not know about how diverse we are. We have a communal spectrum that runs from left to right, and everything in between, and includes the religious and the secular. Is the viewer’s education about the Jewish people to be gleaned from the likes of “Nurses” and other highly watched programs that traffic in biased presentations about sectors of our community?
I’m old enough to remember episodes of “Dr. Kildare,” “Gunsmoke,” and other TV dramas, that treated Jewish subjects with compassion and a seriousness of intent. That those programs aired at a time when Jews were subjected to admissions quotas, restricted neighborhoods, corporate glass ceilings, and other forms of discrimination made this treatment of Jews all-the-more important in fostering mutual respect.
Today though, in the broader world around us, there seems to be a growing tolerance toward anyone saying anything about whomever they wish, without any filter or fear of opprobrium. And increasingly, Jews have become the target.
“Saturday Night Live’s” Michael Che delivering a blood libel about Israel and the COVID vaccine masked as a “joke”; Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA)’s assertion that a Jewish space laser and the Rothschild family were responsible for California’s wildfires; and Lowell, Massachusetts, School Committee board member Robert Hoey’s referring to a former city employee as a “kike” on live public access TV are just a few very recent examples of what is becoming a frightening trend.
The Canadian producer of “Nurses” has apologized for the offensive episode, and NBC has pulled this episode and others from the air.
“Contrition tours,” where networks, politicians, comedians, and others offer a quick, “If I offended anyone, I’m sorry,” or give apology interviews with friendly journalists, is one way of getting these kinds of controversies quickly out of the way. But that is not enough.
The media can play a large role in sensitivity training for the public at large, but first it needs to take a course or two itself. Playing off Jewish stereotypes for shock value, or for a few laughs, is both irresponsible and reckless.
We need to see more positive programming about the Jewish community and its many contributions — in so many fields — to this country. School systems need to utilize textbooks that teach about our story as an immigrant people who came to America from dozens of countries to find a land of opportunity denied to them in the darker corners of Europe and elsewhere. And while people may know a bit about the Jewish religion, more attention needs to be paid to its history, customs, and traditions. Doing that might prevent a repeat of the “Nurses” debacle.
In May, we will observe the 15th anniversary of Jewish American Heritage Month. While positive programming about our community should be a 12-month-a-year endeavor, this special designation on the national calendar offers many opportunities for educators, government officials, media operatives, and others to spotlight our community in a positive way.
The danger we face is the mainstreaming of antisemitism. Where once these expressions of hatred were confined to the margins or were never discovered because there simply was no Internet megaphone, today they are seemingly everywhere, including network television.
As is often said, it may start with the Jews, but it never ends there. It’s not just about us: just follow what is written or said on social media, TV and talk radio, statements from political figures, and off-handed comments by celebrities; they are everywhere. It is one long parade of insults, put-downs, threats, loose talk, and worse.
Is the “Nurses” episode a wake-up call, or just another statistic in a week or month of egregious incidents? Our task is to speak up each time this happens, and as important, to ensure that our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and others beyond our community do not become inured to the threats before us.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in the Algemeiner.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
Among the tenets most central to the practice of Judaism are kosher religious slaughter (shechita) and circumcision (brit milah). Both are based on our history throughout the millennia and have been codified in Jewish law. The first references to the practice of kashrut, or kosher dietary practices, appear in the biblical book of Deuteronomy. And some 4,000 years ago, Genesis tells us, G-d directed Abraham to be circumcised, creating the founding covenant with the Jewish people.
During times of dispersal, exile, persecution and discrimination—right down to the present—the ability to carry out the biblical injunctions to engage in these practices has served to hold the Jewish community together and has contributed greatly to shaping its collective identity.
In recent years however, there have been attempts—some of which have been successful—to curb the right of Jews in Europe to observe these obligations. Animal rights groups and anti-circumcision activists are lobbying throughout the continent, pressing parliaments and governments to ban shechita and brit milah.
Circumcision, the first right of passage for Jewish males, is a practice observed and venerated down through the generations by religious and secular Jews alike. From Moses to Einstein to untold millions of others, it is the act that ensures the continuity of our people.
The first intent of kosher ritual slaughter is to act in a humane way toward animals. Those who perform these acts are highly trained and specifically instructed to avoid inflicting undue suffering. The stunning of animals, which normally precedes non-kosher slaughter, is prohibited precisely because of the uncertainty of whether or not the animal would be suffering.
In 2014, Denmark banned non-sedated slaughter. Finland's Animal Protection Act demands stunning as well, with an exception for concurrent sedation and religious slaughter—which, again, is contrary to the very laws of shechita. Sweden's law banning religious slaughter goes back to 1937 and makes no exception for those who do not allow for either stunning or sedation. Last year, Belgium's Flanders region followed its Walloon region in adopting decrees that require electric stunning.
Belgian officials are quick to note that the import of kosher meat is permissible, which seems to accomplish two negatives: It places an undue burden on its Jewish communities and effectively says, "let this be some other country's problem, not ours."
In 2018, the Belgian Jewish community brought the prohibition of shechita in Flanders to the Belgian Constitutional Court, which in turn submitted the case in 2019 to the European Court of Justice in order to clarify EU law on the matter.
Despite an opinion issued by the Court's Advocate General Gerard Hogan, which stated that the Flanders law flies in the face of EU laws regarding religious freedom, countries are at this time still permitted to massively impinge on religious slaughter requirements. The case is now back before the Belgian courts.
To make matters worse, and in a blatant display of hypocrisy, the Court's decision allows an exception for hunting: "the Court points out that cultural and sporting events result at most in a marginal production of meat, which is not economically significant. Consequently, such events cannot be understood as a food production activity."
Indeed, if food production is the measure by which this is being judged, the total production of kosher meat on an annual basis in Europe is infinitesimal. And as for hunting, many might be forgiven for thinking this was supposed to be all about the humane treatment of animals.
Five years ago, then-United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Heiner Bielefeldt issued a report on his visit to Denmark. Speaking about the ban on shechita and the growing public opposition to brit milah, Bielefeldt said, "In order to find out what actually matters religiously to various communities, the culture of trustful communication between state authorities and religious communities is crucial and should be further cherished." He recommended that the Danish government reconsider its ban on ritual slaughter without requiring stunning.
But this discussion is not only about decrees and legislation, or even about the rights of states to declare this or that practice legal (or not). It is about the fundamental right of religious freedom—and beyond that, the long-term sustainability of Jewish communities across Europe.
These are unwelcome challenges for Europe's Jewish communities and another step on the anti-Semitism ladder. When the Holocaust ended 76 years ago, most of the storied Jewish communities of Europe had been decimated. Reconstituting the Jewish place in Europe has been a tenuous affair, but it has occurred in places that had been given up for lost. That even tiny communities can celebrate our biblical tradition of brit milah, or that those who seek to live by our laws of kashrut are able to do so, have been hallmarks of that communal rehabilitation. Without guarantees to maintain these practices, what kind of future is in store for those communities affected by decrees that transgress these fundamental religious obligations?
The Jewish communities of Europe are not seeking to force our laws and traditions onto others. Whether it be for Jews or other religious minorities, where is the sensitivity to their freedom to observe religious practices that, in fact, predate by millennia the modern European states that have enacted such odious bans?
Modern democracies should not be bartering away religious freedom. Protecting it, rather, should be their first priority. The European Union and its member states need to revisit this issue, make exceptions for those who seek to observe their religion without interference and ensure, at the same time, the future of its Jewish communities, only decades removed from near extinction.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in Newsweek.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
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