Jewish populations

I spotted this article in the English language edition of Haaretz via this very cool website, which presents links to and translations of foreign press clippings about attitudes towards the US from around the world.

srael will have the largest Jewish population in the world by 2006, when it will surpass the United States for the first time in history, the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute said Monday.

Planning institute director general Avinoam Bar-Yosef presented the research group’s annual report on “the situation of the Jewish people” to the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee on Monday. The institute, which is partly funded by the Jewish Agency, concluded that the State of Israel is the single guarantee of the Jewish people’s continued existence. Bar-Yosef will submit the report to the government next week.

Today about 5.28 million Jews live in the U.S., with 5.235 million living in Israel.

For some reason this makes me a little uneasy. I’d always been a little bit relieved that Israelis were the minority of the world’s Jewish population. With there finally being more Jews in Israel than the US, will it be harder for people to accept that non-Israeli Jews like myself don’t necessarily have any particular bond to the country, support for their policies, or desire for them to have laws granting me special rights and privileges.

The article also notes that are are only about 1 million Jews left in Europe today. As we all know about 6 million Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis, and of those who survived a huge proportion emigrated, becoming much of the aforementioned Israeli and American Jew populations.

To see the aftermath of the virtual disappearance of Jews from Eastern Europe, we turn to this fascinating article from the Boston Globe.

”How — if there were no Jews — the world would be enraptured!” she wrote. ”The people that stood at Sinai to receive a desert vision of purity, the people of scholarly shepherds, humane prophetic geniuses, dreams of justice and mercy” — how admired they would be. In a world without Jews, the memory of Jewish civilization would be endlessly fascinating. ”Christian ladies,” Ozick imagined, would ”study ‘The Priceless Culture of the Jews’ at Chautauqua in the summertime” or create Jewish prayer shawls at ”a workshop on tallith making.”

Well, Jews haven’t vanished from the world. They have, however, all but vanished from Poland. More than 90 percent of Poland’s Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, and most of those who survived emigrated long ago. The result is that a land that once was home to 3 million Jews — 10 percent of Polish society, the largest Jewish population in Europe — is now more than 99.9 percent non-Jewish. Millions of Poles have never knowingly met a Jew. But, oh, how enraptured they are with the genius that was Israel!

I arrived in Krakow near the end of the annual Jewish Culture Festival, a nine-day extravaganza of concerts, lectures, films, and exhibitions — all with the aim, to quote a festival brochure, of ”presenting Jewish culture in all its abundance.” An elegant catalog, 160 pages long, lists a dizzying array of offerings: lectures on ”Talmudic thought” and ”Jewish medical ethics,” forums on European anti-Semitism and the Hebrew poetry of Haim Nahman Bialik, concerts of klezmer music, liturgical music, and ”Songs of the Ghettos and Jewish Resistance,” workshops on Jewish cooking, Hasidic wedding dances, and celebrating Hanukkah with children.

I suppose it’s kind of sweet in a macabre sort of way that they find us so fascinating now that we’ve vanished from their country, but wouldn’t it have been nice if there had been a little bit of apprecation in Poland for Jewish culture say, between 1900 and 1945?

2 thoughts on “Jewish populations”

  1. Why should the population balance between Israeli and American Jews matter to how you feel about Israel?

    Personally (and yes, I’m Jewish), I do feel a connection to Israel. It is the homeland etc. And it’s good to know it’s there and it is worthy of support. That said I often disagree with the policies the Government pursues, as I do with the Australian Government (my other homeland).

    But the survey is highlighting an important issue: the decline in Diaspora Jewish poulations. Demographics and assimilation are the culprits. The question whether secular Israelis can be considered “assimilated”. After all, they’re in the Jewish homeland.

  2. Simon, I don’t have any good reason for this. It just comes out of my irrational feeling that the real Jewish homeland is New York.

    Seriously though, the decline in the diasporic populations is partly due to assimilation, but also partly due to the Aliyah movement. I am supportive of Israel in a general sense, but I strongly disapprove of their laws that grant special immigration and welfare privileges to anyone of Jewish descent. It’s just not appropriate in a modern democratic state. I’m generally pro-Israael, but I am anti-Zionist. I don’t believe in the Aliyah movement, and I don’t really appreciate the implication that as a Jew I should find it preferable to live in Israel than in the US, or some other country.

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