Jews Around the Globe
The Jewish Diaspora.
The story of the Jewish Diaspora begins in the year 587 B.C.E., when the kingdom of Judea was conquered by the Babylonians, who destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and exiled a large part of the Jewish population to Babylonia (now southern Iraq). Ever since, significant numbers of Jews have lived in the Diaspora, many expressing longing to return to the Land of Israel.
The history of Jewish dispersion has led to the outstanding diversity of the Jewish people, who have settled in countries as disparate as Morocco, Cuba, Mexico, and Australia. There are currently some 13.4 million Jews in the world: more 8 million in the Diaspora, with the remaining more than 5 million in Israel.
The total number of Jews in America was estimated at up to 6.4 million. In the Americas, there are also significant populations in Canada, Argentina, and Brazil.
The North American Jewish community faces demographic challenges from factors such as the aging of the Jewish population, increased rates of intermarriage, declining rates of conversion to Judaism, and a relatively low percentage of children of mixed marriages identifying themselves as Jewish.
Argentina and Brazil rank seventh and ninth, respectively, in the world-Jewry list. Argentina is home to some 200,000 Jews, mostly concentrated in Buenos Aires. The democratic regime now in place in Argentina is seen as a catalyst accelerating the rate of integration into the local culture and economy, enabling the Jewish community to overcome the devastating physical and emotional trauma of the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish Community Center.
The Jewish community of Brazil, currently numbering over 100,000, is largely undisturbed by the outbreaks of anti-Semitism that have been so destructive to their Argentinean neighbors.
More than 1.5 million Jews live in Europe--two-thirds in Western Europe and one third in Eastern Europe and the Balkan countries. The aging of the Jewish community--resulting in a greater number of deaths than births--together with intermarriage, constitute the main demographic factors challenging Western European Jewry. These factors are offset in part by immigration, mainly from the former Soviet Union. Numerous European Jewish communities also face growing anti-Semitism.
With the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, France became the third-largest Jewish population of the world, estimated at more than 500,000. France's mostly Ashkenazic (European-descended) community underwent a major demographic transformation in the 1950s and 1960s, with the arrival of 300,000 Jews from North Africa. The community is politically organized, featuring an umbrella organization (CRIF--the Council of French Jewry), as well as Zionist and youth movements. In addition to the challenges of intermarriage and the aging community, French Jewry has suffered numerous serious anti-Semitic incidents, including bombings and vandalism. Strong electoral support for the extreme-right National Front is a continued source of concern to the Jewish community.
Poland and Germany have, in the last few years, experienced a reawakening of Jewish consciousness, with young Jewish people joining the community and seeking out a Jewish education.
The Middle East
It is difficult to speculate on the Jewish populations of the Arab countries of the Middle East. The Jewish population of Iran is estimated at 10,800. In other Middle Eastern countries with ancient Jewish communities, the Jewish population virtually disappeared. In the years following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, there were 900,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands: 600,000 were absorbed by Israel and the other third were absorbed by countries in Europe and the Americas. A recent, notable decrease occurred in Syria and Yemen, when Jews were officially allowed to emigrate.
About 87,000 Jews are estimated to remain in Africa, about 90 percent of whom live in South Africa. That Jewish community is remarkably well-organized and cohesive, featuring a broad network of welfare, educational, political, and Zionist institutions. Intermarriage rates are low, support for Israel is strong, and religious identification is intensifying. The community is, however, experiencing continued emigration, stemming from personal insecurity and fears of an unstable future.
The Jewish community of Ethiopia was in recent years at the center of an international rescue effort. In 1991 the overwhelming majority of Ethiopian Jews--about 20,000 people--were brought to Israel, most of them in a dramatic one-day airlift operation. Thousands of other Ethiopians who claim Jewish ancestry were left behind. Historians debate whether they are descendants of converts to Christianity or whether they simply abandoned Judaism. Many of these Falash Mura, as they are called, are related to the Jews who emigrated to Israel and are returning to Judaism, wishing to be reunified with their relatives in Israel.
Asia & Oceania
The majority of Jews in Oceania reside in Australia, home to 95 percent of the region's estimated 104,000 Jews. Australian Jewry received migratory reinforcements during the past decade, particularly from South Africa, the former Soviet Union, and Israel, countering negative demographic patterns. The Jewish community is a vibrant one and has developed a vast network of Jewish communal organizations.
Small Jewish communities exist throughout Asia. In China, where traveling Jewish merchants first arrived in the eighth century, there is currently a Jewish population of 1,000, the same as Japan. Though relics of the ancient Chinese Jewish population can still be found, mainly in Shanghai, there are presently no Jewish communal structures.
The Jews of India, living mostly around Bombay, currently number 5,300. The community is composed of three distinct groups: Bnei Israel, who believe themselves to be the descendants of the original settlers who came to India in the second century B.C.E.; the Jews of Malabar, centered in Cochin, whose ancestors arrived in India from Europe and the Middle East 1,000 years ago; and the "Baghdadis," Iraqis who began settling in India at the end of the 18th century.
Other small Asian Jewish communities exist in Singapore (300) Thailand (200), South Korea (100), and The Philippines (100).