The evolution of Jewish identity in a Europe with increasingly fluid borders was the theme of a confab of Europe's young Jewish scholars held in Berlin on October 25 - 27. At the conference, titled "Analyzing Jewish Europe Today: Perspectives from a New Generation," some 30 emerging researchers from ten countries gave presentations about such critical issues as the Jewish revival in Central and Eastern Europe, intermarriage, Muslim-Jewish relations and new Jewish cultural trends. The conference was organized by the JDC International Centre for Community Development (JDC-ICCD)--JDC’s Oxford-based research arm—in cooperation with the American Jewish Committee's (AJC) Berlin Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations.
“We know from our work on the ground that Europe's emerging Jewish leaders and communities are expressing Jewish identity in profoundly new and unique ways, setting an exciting course for the future of Jewish Europe. While there have been many forums examining Jewish identity of the past, for those of us dedicated to innovating Jewish life today, it was critical to focus on the contemporary European Jewish scene, bring to the fore issues impacting Jews across the continent, and ultimately seize the opportunities resulting from the way young European Jews are engaging with their Jewish identities,” said Marcelo Dimentstein, Operations Director of JDC-ICCD.
During the conference, researchers agreed Jewish identities are not static but fluid and dependent on context. Despite concerns about rising intermarriage and secularization, the participants cited abundant signs of strengthening Jewish identity among the younger generation. Presenters described new Jewish institutions created over the past twenty years that are fostering a more diverse European Jewish identity. New data was presented on the integration of children from mixed marriages who want to participate in the Jewish community, and on alternative forms of Jewish life and culture that have recently manifested themselves in Europe.
"The fall of the Berlin Wall and the ensuing expansion of European unity has created new opportunities for European Jewish life," commented Deidre Berger, Director of the AJC Berlin Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations. "AJC is committed to supporting the growing diversity of European Jewish life, with a particular outreach to the younger generation. The American Jewish community should be in constant contact with the many Jewish communities throughout Europe, where emerging leaders are defining new models of Jewish life relevant to today's highly mobile young Jews."
Historian Alexander Hasgall, co-organizer of the conference, said: "In addition to high-level scholarly discussion, our objective was to debate the current challenges for Jewish Europe in a trans-disciplinary and transnational way. In the last 20 years the landscape of Jewish life in Europe has changed tremendously. It is important to track these changes in order to help deal with current challenges."
The conference took place at AJC's offices located at the former border between East and West Berlin, a city which has become a melting pot for Jews from all over the continent and the world.
The JDC International Centre for Community Development (JDC-ICCD), a UK charity foundation created by JDC and based in Oxford University, is devoted to understanding and analyzing transformations in Europe and their impact on European Jewish communities. To learn more, visit www.jdc-iccd.org
The AJC Berlin Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations works to safeguard Israel, enhance Jewish security and strengthen transatlantic relations. The institute works closely with German, European and international partners, promoting mutual understanding to confront current and future challenges to the Jewish people.