The summer university for Jewish students in Europe opened yesterday in a small village north of Berlin under the slogan, "To be a Jew in Europe," with some 300 Jewish youth assembling from all over the continent "to talk Jewish, to think Jewish, to dance Jewish and to kiss Jewish" over the coming week.
The students will attend seminars and lectures, and try to formulate ways for themselves and their peers to live modern Jewish lives in Europe. For some, however, it seems like mission impossible in light of the problems facing the Jews on the continent.
Steve Ohana, a 26-year-old from France, says the attitude and treatment he has encountered over the past four years has caused him to feel like a foreigner in his homeland.
"French society is sick," he said, "and the attitude toward the Jews is the symptom. In the eyes of my surroundings, I have become an emissary of Israel. At work, it is already impossible to escape questions such as: `How do you explain what Israel is doing?' Even if I try to explain, they aren't prepared to listen."
The French government has declared war on anti-Semitism, but Ohana believes that in general, the French public is disinterested. "People don't really care about the situation of the Jews," he said.
Ohana feels he has become closer and closer to Israel in recent years. "When I visited Israel four years ago, I felt it was my second home," he said. "When I visited again a few weeks ago, I felt it is my true home."
Yoni Erez, an engineering student at Haifa's Technion, moved to Israel from France two years ago, and is attending the convention as part of a World Union of Jewish Students delegation. Erez said he plans to call on his friends to follow his lead. "When I used to get beaten up at school, I accepted it as a decree of fate," he says. "It was only after arriving in Israel that I understood the injustice that had been done to me and how unnecessary it was."
Viktoria Dolburd, a 24-year-old from Germany, said anti-Semitism worries the Jewish youth in France more so than the Jewish youth in other European countries. "It is impossible not to come across it in France or Belgium," she said, "but the problem is far less severe in other countries."
Nevertheless, Dolburd admits that Israel complicates and confuses her self-identity and that of her peers. "The problem is that the non-Jewish environment hasn't really come to terms with our existence as Jews in Europe," she said. "So one day we are the children of the poor Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, and the next day we are the Israeli occupiers who are abusing the Palestinians."
After being active for the past few years in the Jewish Students Union in Germany, Dolburd has also come to the conclusion that her future lies outside of Europe, and she will be immigrating to Israel in two months' time.
"There is no future in Europe for the Jews who want to live `normal' lives and remain Jews, and I say this after dedicating many years of thought to the matter," she said.
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