Jewish Communities Grow

Jewish communities from Boston to Berlin are growing and succeeding despite facing challenges.

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“Here in Germany we had the biggest murdering of a people in history, more than 6 million Jews killed, and already one or two months after the Holocaust they started again to rebuild this Jewish community. Now we have the fastest-growing Jewish community in the world,” says Paul Spiegel, president of the Council of Jews in Germany. “This is one of the miracles of the century.”

Jews are achieving equally impressive results across the old Soviet Union, where they are building vibrant communities in lands that neither heard Jewish prayers nor experienced Jewish culture during 70 long years of socialist secularism. It is happening in Warsaw andKiev, inMoscow and, perhaps most impressively, in Dnepropetrovsk deep in the Ukraine, where the Brooklyn-bred rabbi says his flock has grown to nearly 75,000.

In Paris, meanwhile, there are more kosher restaurants, grocers, and bakeries to choose from than anyplace on Earth with the possible exceptions of New York and Jerusalem. Europe’s largest community of Jews also is among the Diaspora’s most ardent backers of Israel, although of late that support has spawned stinging criticism from some of their elected leaders and countrymen. All told, a Parisian Jewish community that was ravaged by the Holocaust today stands as the clearest testament that Hitler failed in his bid to stamp out European Jewry.

Argentina

In Argentina, thousands of Jews face personal bankruptcy as well as the economic ruination of synagogues, the rabbinical seminary, and other cherished communal institutions. But while some within Argentina’s nearly 200,000-strong Jewish community have responded by making aliyah [immigrating to Israel] or moving to America, most are staying and vowing to rebuild.

Argentine Jews watched how their country became the Nazis’ escape route of choice after World War II, and how 30 years later Jews made up a disproportionate share of the desaparacidos, or disappeareds, when Argentine generals waged their Dirty War against supposed subversives. They saw in 1992 how a bomb at the Israeli Embassy killed 29 and wounded 252, and two years later watched another bomb rip through the Jewish communal center, killing 86, wounding 236, and leaving a stretch of the city looking like a war zone.

But each time, rather than retrenching, Argentine Jews have come out fighting, vowing to stand up to their enemies and reconnect with their landsmen. And when their communal institutions faltered, the way they have the last few years, the faithful responded by re-cementing their ties to synagogues, schools and other grassroots institutions.

New Definition of Diaspora

Rather than isolated tales of resilience, the stories from Germany and Argentina are part of a new definition of Diaspora. It is a Diaspora made up of Jews who are forever rooted in Israel, but no longer need to live there. It is a heterogeneous people who thrive in secular societies as far-flung as the former Soviet Union and South America, but continue to embrace a core of beliefs and practices that define them as Jews. These tales of survival and renewal make clear that the Diaspora is no mere curiosity of history, but rather the reality of today and tomorrow.

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Larry Tye

Larry Tye is a former reporter for the Boston Globe, and the author of Home Lands: Portraits of the New Jewish Diaspora.