European Jewry vibrant and growing, says report

When I searched "European Jewry" recently in our electronic archive, the results came accompanied with words like "Holocaust" or "annihilation". It is as if the Jewish communities of the continent could only be defined in reference to the catastrophic past.

So it is refreshing to see a report which is unashamedly upbeat: European Jewry is "confident, vibrant and growing", according to the The 2010 Survey of New Jewish Initiatives.

It was produced by Jumpstart, a Los-Angeles based organisation set up to encourage Jewish innovation, which found that over the past decade more than 200 new Jewish organisations have been launched in Europe.

When you take account of the relative Jewish populations, this means that there have been almost twice as many Jewish start-ups per capita in Europe as in the US. The findings might surprise some people, observed the report's general editor, Shawn Landres. "The perception that Jewish life in Europe is about memorialising the past, or shoring up shrinking populations of increasingly assimilated Jews is not what we found," he wrote.

These Jewish new organisations reach an estimated quarter of a million Jews, a third of whom have no other connection to the organised Jewish community.

But what is also striking is the focus of the groups: they are predominantly concerned with Jewish education, arts and culture and community-building.

The traditional agenda of communal leaderships - such as Israel advocacy or combating antisemitism - is well down the new groups' list of priorities. What is also apparent is that philanthropic investment in programmes for young Jewish adults is paying off. Many of the leaders of the new organisations have graduated from schemes such as the Birthright Israel or March of the Living tours.

    Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010