But first, from a Jewish person in Belgium who asked to remain anonymous: "I read your article, and the experience of the Jews of Belgium is similar, or maybe worse, than the experience in France, because our government is quiet on the subject and there are not so many of us here. However, I don't want to leave. This is my country. You probably feel that way about your country. If you were a Belgian Jew, what do you think you would do?"
The answer is very difficult, of course. As I wrote in the article, I do not sense a great future for Jews across much of Europe. The trends are not moving in positive directions, even putting aside the most obvious negative trend of all: In 1939 there were nine million Jews in Europe, and today there are roughly 1.4 million. But my answer is this: If I were a completely assimilated Jew, one who, say, has married out of the faith; one who is not raising my children Jewish; and one who does not associate with Jewish people in specifically Jewish places, then I think I would be fairly safe in Belgium. It is possible to be secure in a place like Belgium by avoiding Jewish institutions (synagogues, schools, and so on) and, of course, by not participating in any obviously Jewish activity, or dressing in an obviously Jewish manner. So it comes down to a person's relationship with Judaism. Obviously, the Nazis are not coming, and so it is not unduly dangerous to have Jewish ancestry. The article I wrote, however, was about normative Jewish life. For those people who want to be actively Jewish, a place like Belgium could, in fact, be dicey. I suppose that if I lived in Belgium, and could afford to be mobile, I would be getting mobile. But these are terribly hard questions. If I had parents, or siblings, who were tied to Belgium, I probably wouldn't be so quick to look for an exit.
I put some some of these sorts of hard questions to Rodan-Benzaquen, who thinks about these problems continually. I think her answers to my emailed questions are illuminating, and I'll be posting similar conversations in the coming weeks.
Jeffrey Goldberg: You are a European—Romanian-born, German-raised, now bringing up your own family in France—working for an American Jewish organization. What don't American Jews, and others, understand about the current situation facing Europe's Jews?
Simone Rodan-Benzaquen: Most American Jews probably do not understand how difficult everyday life is for some European Jews; that bringing your kids to Jewish school, that going to synagogue, or putting on a kippa in certain areas in public, or going to a kosher supermarket, can be everyday acts of courage.
For the more informed and alert American Jews who know that there is a serious problem of anti-Semitism in Europe, I think there is a misconception on the other end of the spectrum. Some of those American Jews believe history is repeating itself and that we are now in a period that resembles the 1930s. But there is a profound difference [between] the 30s and today, in that the governments of Europe are today not only not anti-Semitic, but that most of them have made it a priority to fight anti-Semitism.