The battle over the Jews
Date: Thursday, September 29 2005
Last update - 09:30 28/09/2005
The battle over the Jews
By Avi Becker
Ariel Muzicant, head of the Austrian Jewish community, launched an unusual marketing campaign last week calling on Jews, particularly from the Commonwealth of Independent States, to join the Jewish community in Austria where they can enjoy physical security, a community infrastructure and a developed economy.
"We have the best community infrastructure in Europe," he explained to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. "We have 41 rabbis, four Jewish schools, six kosher restaurants and 300 community events a year."
The infrastructure was significantly strengthened in the wake of the community's suit against the government, in which the community reached a settlement for 41 million euro as compensation for property lost by Jews during the Holocaust. With that money, said Muzicant, who is a real estate developer as well as the head of the community, "we can establish community infrastructure worthy of the name."
A top priority is construction of a new building to replace the old one that housed the main community school, which has 400 pupils. Muzicant commented on the growing number of anti-Semitic incidents in Ukraine, and said that "in Austria, there are fewer anti-Semitic incidents than in any other European country. Here, Jews are not attacked in the streets."
Attempts by Jewish communities in the Diaspora to attract Jewish immigrants are not new, but since the establishment of the state of Israel, the Jewish world has not seen such a blatant, public "sales campaign." Moreover, there is something symbolic in the presentation of Austria, birthplace of Hitler, Eichmann and many other Nazi army commanders, as attractive to Jews. In the 1970s and 1980s, Israeli leaders and the Jewish Agency leaders fought tooth and nail against the "dropouts" - those Jews leaving the USSR in waves of hundreds of thousands, with some "getting stuck" in Vienna. From there, they'd try to reach the U.S. and other Western countries while refusing to go to Israel. A small number of those joined the Austrian Jewish community, which now numbers about 10,000.
Austria is only a metaphor for the migration of Jews from one Diaspora to another, which continues to this day. Nowadays there is a widespread phenomenon in the Jewish world of a "second Diaspora" -- former USSR Jews moving in the hundreds of thousands to the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe; South African Jews who set up new communities in Australia, England and Canada; and Latin American Jews who are concentrated in Miami and San Diego. Miami has been a gateway for tens of thousands of Latin American Jews, some of whom preserve homogeneous community frameworks, and it includes a large 8,000-person community of Cuban Jews who arrived in the 1960s.
In recent years, one can open Jewish newspapers in Argentina, Brazil, or Central America and find ads from Jewish communities like Basel, Switzerland or Winnipeg, Canada, calling on Jewish professionals to join them, with promises of help to ease their absorption. A relatively small community, like the one in Winnipeg in central Canada, is not the only one to maintain a special Spanish-language immigration service for Jews from Argentina, ever since the economic crisis there in 2000.