The Jewish Studies Institute at Frankfurt University is hosting a three-day international conference where experts from many countries, and a variety of academic fields, examine the Jewish Diaspora and the historic and cultural connections between Jewish communities around the world.
“We have people from the US, we have people from Israel,
we have people who are Orthodox, we have people who are not even Jewish, with everybody here who is interested in it and everybody brings their own point of view,” says Elizabeth Hollender of Frankfurt University.
“Being an historian," says Naomi Feuchtwanger-Sarig of Tel Aviv University, "I think that we can only be enriched by different facets of whatever it is, not only religion but any other concept, any other philosophical thought and I think it’s enriching the exchange that is now by far facilitated through the new media.”
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Like other ethnic diasporas, the Jewish Diaspora has faced many difficult situations involving painful decisions, especially during the past century with the breakdown of traditional Jewish life and the many challenges of modern ideologies and assimilation.
“We speak about Jews who assimilated and forgot many things about Judaism, there are other Jews who acculturated, that is to say that they took part of the general culture, but they also remained Jews and they integrated non-Jewish culture into their own Jewish culture,” says Shlomo Berger of the University of Amsterdam.
According to Ephraim Kanarfogel of New York's Yeshiva University, “It is possible in the United States to not only to be a good American citizen but to be a very good student and practitioner of Judaism, and the basic ideas of Judaism, the basic history of Judaism, I think it’s a tremendous unifier.”
“So we have a role there to explain what is Judaism," Shlomo Berger adds, "to show the world how Judaism works, why is it important, what are the historical roles of Judaism, and certainly in European history you cannot imagine European culture without Judaism.”
“In Spain," says Esperanza Alfonso of the Spanish National Research Council, "there was a very Spanish National Research Council long presence of Judaism in the Christian kingdoms of the Peninsula and also in the Peninsula under Islamic control, and there is a legacy, a huge Jewish legacy in the Peninsula which is manifested in many ways, in the material culture that the Jews left there, in the synagogues that are still in the country now days, and in many ways in which the Jews influenced the Spanish culture.”
With the establishment of the State of Israel, most of the Jewish Diaspora reacted to this challenge by adopting a position of supporting the new state while maintaining primary loyalty to their home country.
“We, living in the Diaspora," says Shlomo Berger, "we have certainly a role in the connection of Jews with the world of the non-Jews so to speak, maybe even a bigger role than Israel because we have a double role in fact, the Diaspora vis-a-vis Israel which is the center of Judaism, but we in the Diaspora must also operate vis-a-vis the non-Jewish society.”
What does Israel mean to you?
“Home, home for me for my parents for my children, and our future, safety," says Naomi Feuchtwanger-Sarig. "My parents fought for the country, they were among those who established it, I fought for it and I am very glad that my children love the country.”
“Israel to me is the Jewish homeland," says Ephraim Kanarfogel. "It is also the home not only of Judaism but of Jewish culture and of Jewish learning.”
With Jewish communities now present in 75 countries, Jewish identity and Jewish culture are beginning to play an increasingly larger role in a globalized, multicultural world.