Strong Attendance at Europe's Jewish Summer Camps


Strong Attendance at Europe's Jewish Summer Camps

Children at the girls division of the Chabad summer camp in Lyon, France.

by Baila Olidort - Paris, France

July 31, 2014

This has hardly been a tranquil summer in Israel, but with anti-Semitism flaring up in Europe, many Jews—particularly from France—are leaving for Israel. Their days and nights may be pockmarked by rockets and punctuated by sirens, but they are choosing to cast their lot with their own, as Jews in the Jewish homeland. Others are staying put, and some are suggesting that Jews don't venture out with kippahs on their heads. 

In France, Germany and many European countries, Jews on the streets and in synagogues have been targeted by local Muslims. Widespread protests against Jews have turned ugly; a Jewish owned pharmacy in Sarcelles was looted by local Muslims, a synagogue was firebombed in Germany, Molotov cocktails were thrown at a Jewish center in Toulouse on Saturday. 

In Italy, which has the oldest continuous Jewish community dating back to 161 BCE, a noted public intellectual and former member of EU Parliament made headlines when he undressed his racism on public radio, revealing a primitive and irrational hatred beneath his cultured patina. 

And when the UN Security Council voted to condemn Israel last week with not one European country voting against the resolution, we were reminded that blaming Jews, briefly out of fashion in the aftermath of the Holocaust, has not lost its appeal; the news from Europe proves that it is once again a popular sport.

“Things have been deteriorating for years now in France, but with the situation in Israel, we knew it would get worse,” Rabbi Mendel Nemanov, Chabad representative to Villeurbanne, told lubavitch.com. “Whenever there is a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, we know this will happen.” He confirmed that many Jews have and are leaving for Israel.  

In many of these places, local Jewish community representatives work closely with the police. In Italy, a local Jewish community leader from Rome said that while the far right is gaining power, hostilities come mostly from local Muslims. “There’s been graffiti on Jewish property, and nasty verbal attacks against Jews on the street.” 

Exasperated by Italy’s economic downturn, Jews are leaving for Israel, he said, not primarily out of fear, but because “they simply don’t see much of a Jewish future here.” 

Strong Attendance at Jewish Camps

But the vast majority in Europe are not fleeing, nor, say Chabad representatives, are they about to hunker down in fear. Communities have become more vigilant, increasing security at all of their institutions, but programs continue as usual, and Chabad is working harder to impart the message of Jewish pride. This week, Jewish children in Paris and its surrounding areas—some 4,000 in all—wrapped up a successful summer day camp program. Security was reinforced in all of the camps. 

“There were a handful of parents who chose not to send their children this year because of their fears,” Rabbi Mendel Azimov, Chabad shliach in Paris, told lubavitch.com. “But those were a small exception.”

At Chabad of Lyon some 350 Jewish children and teenagers enjoyed a Jewish immersion program. “Of course we stepped up security at the camp, as we have at all of our programs,” said Rabbi Nemanov, the camp’s director. 

In Italy, Chabad has concluded a six-week program in Tuscany where 120 Jewish children participated at a Jewish camping experience in the countryside. “We never experience anti-Semitism from local Italians,” Rabbi Levi Chazan, Chabad representative in Milan told lubavitch.com. But with the city’s large Muslim population, all Jewish institutions now have security.

“Ever since the attack on the Jewish school in Toulouse, we’ve taken extra security measures to ensure the safety of our institutions.” In Rome, Jewish institutions have organized their own security ever since the PLO attacked the Great Synagogue attack in Rome in 1982. But there’s greater vigilance now, and government and local police provide security as well.

After a wave of anti-Israel demonstrations in Germany, authorities have cracked down in an attempt to curb incitement, forbidding the use of hateful slogans. According to Rabbi Yehuda Tiechtel, Chabad representative in Berlin, there’s been very open anti-Semitic expressions “not heard here since WWII.” An outcry against this has prompted police to respond, but says Tiechtel, “this should not be perceived as a ‘Jewish’ problem, because if people don’t stand up against hate, the whole society is in trouble.”

Refusing To Cower

In Munich and Berlin, Chabad’s summer camps were well attended, with no diminshed enrollment numbers. “We are very vigilant, and whenever we take the camp on trips, we vet our destinations and coordinate closely with police and security.” 

What Chabad refuses to do, say the shluchim, is hide.

"We take all precautionary security measures, but we will not hide, nor will we disguise ourselves, or remove our kippah when we are outside, as some have suggested,” said Tiechtel. It is an attitude echoed by Chabad shluchim everywhere, who believe that especially at times like these, Jews should not cave in to fear.

"We are who we are and we will remain who we are," said Tiechtel. 

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