February 2004

Dear Readers,

February, 2004 

Jewish News from Austria February 2004 

Several weeks ago, a meeting between Rabbis and Cardinals took place in New York City, during which Vienna’s Archbishop, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, stressed the importance for catholics to learn from orthodox judaism. At the beginning of this month, more than one hundred chief rabbis from throughout Europe met in Vienna. You will find four articles dedicated to this extraordinary event.

Many yiddish words have made their way into the German language, and we sometimes use them without knowing it: "Oh what a Schmonzes! I am having such Zoff with my Mischpoche!" These words are all Yiddish. 

Read about an exhibit on "Jewish Vienna" at the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C.; the return of a 14th century-old Jewish manuscript to Vienna; the presentation of thirty scholarships to Jewish pupils, and the new issue of "Das Jüdische Echo"

Yours sincerely,

Christoph Meran
Austrian Press and Information Service

Conference of Rabbis Some Forty Chief Rabbis Received by Klestil

Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF) (02/02/04)

The future of the new Jewish communities in Eastern- and Middle Europe is the focal point of a three-day conference of more than one hundred Chief Rabbis from throughout Europe in Vienna. Numerous Chief Rabbis visited Austrian Federal President Klestil.

More than forty Chief Rabbis participating at the conference were received by Austrian Federal President Thomas Klestil at the Hofburg. The Austrian Federal President emphasized in his address that the gathering is a sign "that Jews from all parts of the world are welcomed in Austria." Israel’s Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger, said that it is to be acknowledged what Austria is currently doing for its religious minorities, above all, for the Jews. Rabbi Metzger then proceeded to hand over the Holy Scriptures in a Hebrew-English version and blessed the President. Metzger is Israel’s Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi.

"The conference of the Rabbinical Center of Europe (RCE) took place at a time of special importance not only in the history of Europe but also in the history of European Judaism," said Federal President Klestil. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, Jewish communities scattered throughout many countries on the European continent are being established upon new and hopeful foundations. "For the first time following years of oppression and persecution it is again possible to freely practice one’s belief and to maintain contact with other Jewish communities," said the Federal President. Also Vienna, which "escaped having to suffer under the yoke of Communism," has been able to profit from the opening up of the East, renewing long-buried relationships and traditions which seemed lost forever. "Particularly Jewish life has enormously influenced the cultural and intellectual life of our country. As scientists or musicians, poets or politicians, the Jews were integrated into Austrian society and contributed highly to forming Austrian identity," claimed the President.

Klestil "Never Again" is a Pillar of the Foundation

Nonetheless, the historical role of Jewish life in Austria cannot allow us to forget "that our country also took part in unforgettable crimes directed at the Jewish people: the Shoa. Over 60,000 Austria fellow countrymen of Jewish heritage were persecuted by the National Socialists, intimidated and murdered. To this day the loss of these people is a painful scar in Austria’s history." After the end of Nazi rule, a new, democratic, free and tolerant Austria emerged, to whose spiritual pillar in her foundation belongs a clear and often repeated "Never Again." One must, however, not close his eyes to the many countries in the world which are demonstrating a growth of anti-Semitism. Austria will decisively stand up against any form of anti-Semitism," promised Klestil. "There will be neither tolerance nor acceptance of prejudice shown toward Jewish fellow citizens."

Invited by Jewish Welcome Center

The Conference of Rabbis in Vienna met with the exclusion of the public and concerned itself mainly with the situation of the Jews in Eastern European countries. The Rabbinicial Center of Europe (RCE) invited the Jewish Welcome Service and the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation. Other topics were those including education, questions of ethics and religious freedom. The topic, anti-Semitism was dealt with only peripherally by the Rabbis.

Award for Prodi

President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, was presented a humanitarian achievement award for his ongoing efforts to promote cultural dialogue and to protect the rights of minorities in Europe and the Jewish community in particular. Upon receiving the award, EC President Prodi offered a statement on the topic of anti-Semitism. After numerous Jewish organizations strongly criticized the EU Commission for a survey (whereby Israel was characterized as a threat to world peace), together with not having published a study on anti-Semitism conducted by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), Mr. Prodi’s appearance in Vienna was viewed as a gesture of reconciliation.

New Communities Emerged after 1989

Israel’s Chief Rabbi, Jona Metzger, also participated in the conference. According to Rabbi Jacob Biderman of Vienna, the rabbis gathered to seek ways to revive Jewish life in Eastern and Central European communities still recovering from the devastation of WW II and the repression suffered during the communist era. Apart from questions on security for Jews in Europe, discussion focused on the problems of religious practice and the integration of the Jews in the new Jewish communities of Eastern Europe.

Inauguration of the First Jewish Teacher’s Academy 

Among the conference’s highlights was the inauguration of the first Jewish teacher’s academy in Vienna since World War II. The original school was burned down in 1938 on Kristallnacht - or the Night of Broken Glass - when synagogues were devastated throughout Nazi occupation. The school will train rabbis who will later be sent to former communist countries to help rebuild Jewish life there, said Viennese Rabbi, Jacob Biderman, one of the event’s organizers. The school is financed by the Austrian government and the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation.

Nobody Wishes to Speak of a Split

Die Presse (02/03/04)

The Viennese Conference of Rabbis demonstrates the growing strength of the Chabad Movement also in Austria

Vienna - At a reception on the occasion of the international Conference of Rabbis, Vienna’s Chief Rabbi, Paul Chaim Eisenberg, urged the need for unity within Austria’s Jewish community. He consciously avoided speaking of a "split." It was hardly a matter of circumstance that he chose this particular place and timing to state: "Maintain unity within the community." 

Participating in the organization of the three-day Conference of Rabbis, in which forty Chief Rabbis from throughout the world took part, was Chabad Rabbi, Jacob Biderman. Some time previously he submitted a proposal to the Section for Religious Interests in the Ministry of Education for establishing a new Jewish religious community next to the current Israelite Religious Community (IKG). The proposal is still being examined.

Standing behind Rabbi Biderman is a worldwide, active Chabad Movement with around 2,600 branches, which focuses on teaching and learning. As in the Lauder Chabad School in Vienna, it emphasizes a modern, Orthodox Judaism. The representatives of the Viennese Orthodox Jews have expressed an interest in such a community, explained Biderman. It is self-understood that the Head of the IKG, Ariel Muzicant, is not happy about it. And while the Rabbis from Vienna honored President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi and were festively received by Austrian Federal President, Klestil, Muzicant demonstrated criticism of Prodi - but also his own country: "My children have left Austria because they no longer can stand the daily stress of being Jewish."

Rabbi Biderman believes that the establishment of another Jewish community in Vienna need not necessarily lead to a split." He is convinced that separation of the two communities would "lead to living together peacefully" and pointed out the example of Switzerland. There one can find numerous Jewish corporate bodies governed by public law, which at the same time enjoy "close affiliation and harmony among all Jews." Critics claim that the Chabad Movement has an all too strict interpretation of Jewish teachings as well as that of a patriarchal world view.

The main issues of the Conference of Rabbis in Vienna revolved around the new communities in Eastern Europe: new Jewish communities are again appearing all throughout Russia and the Ukraine. On the one hand, these new communities need help in establishing an infrastructure and on the other hand, also appropriate advice.

Moishe Arye Friedman, an orthodox, anti-Zionist who for years has been fighting to no avail for the approval of another religious community, turned his back on the Chabad and the IKG. He declared to be the Chief Rabbi. The IKG contest, however, Friedman’s claims of having an appropriate degree in religious teachings and accreditation as a Rabbi.

Conference of Rabbis: Concrete Aid for New Eastern Communities

Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF) (02/04/04/)

On the third and last day of the Conference of Rabbis in Vienna, the orthodox rabbis decided unanimously to offer concrete measures of support to the new Jewish communities in Eastern Europe.

As the Rabbinical Center of Europe (RCE) disclosed, the meeting of rabbis in Vienna decided upon offering aid to the new 219 Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. Thus, the RCE will have restored large portions of scrolls from the Torah found in Prague and Vilnius, which were plundered, desecrated and hidden away. Afterwards, the scrolls will be brought to those communities in Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Romania, the Ukraine and Russia that urgently need furnishings for their synagogues. Furthermore, fifteen young rabbis from the RCE will be sent to Germany, Scandinavia, Russia and the Ukraine "in order to introduce to those regions a mobile service of rabbinate which will attend to numerous new Jewish communities." And finally, in conjunction with the Lauder Foundation, the current holiday exchange program for children and young people from Eastern and Western Europe is to be expanded. The goal is to help children from needy families, particularly from Eastern Europe.

An Appeal to the Republic of Belarus and Turkey

During their three-day conference in Vienna the Jewish scholars also concerned themselves with topics of religious freedom and integration. It was decided upon to draft an appeal to the governments of the Republic of Belarus and Turkey "to value the needs of their religious minorities." The integration of fellow Jewish citizens from Eastern Europe was judged to be a positive step and "emphasis should be placed on Germany’s achievements at integration," according to the document. Over 90,000 Jews have been accepted by Germany over the past number of years.

Romano Prodi’s Acceptance of Human Rights Award

And Participation in Inauguration of the New Jewish Religious Academy in Vienna
Austrian Press Agency (APA) (01/28/04) 

Vienna - The President of the European Commission (EC), Romano Prodi, was presented with a human rights award in Vienna on February 2, 2004 by the Rabbinical Center of Europe (RCE) for his ongoing efforts to promote cultural dialogue and to protect the rights of minorities in Europe. Moreover, President Prodi will also participate in the inauguration of the new Jewish Academy of Religious Education. It is the first establishment of its kind to open its doors in Vienna since 1945. Its predecessor was demolished in 1939 by the NS.

President Prodi is receiving the award for his extraordinary dedication to the diversity of cultures in Europe and to the Jewish community, said Rabbi Moshe Garelik, Director of the RCE and organizer of the conference in Vienna. Rabbi Garelik also emphasized that Israel’s Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger, will be present at the meeting and stand together with Prodi in order to demonstrate support of the European Jews during times of recent growth of anti-Semitism. 

Chabad Rabbi, Jacob Biderman, of Vienna said that it is very encouraging to know that the EC President is coming to Vienna to inaugurate the Academy and to accept the award. This is "an important message" to the effect that it reveals which direction Europe will take in the future regarding Austria’s Jewish community.

Exhibit on “Jewish Vienna” in the United States

Informationen aus Österreich (11/17/03)

Jewish life in Vienna has been vividly captured through pictures taken by two photographers from Budapest, Janos Kalmar and Alfred Stalzer. The exhibit traced the history through documentation of the large Jewish Religious Community of former times to the small community existing today. The photo exhibit entitled, "Jewish Vienna," was shown at the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. and was opened with an introductory lecture by the historian, Steven Beller, who characterized the Jews in Vienna as "Menschheitsferment," ("the ferment of humanity") taken from a quotation by Arthur Schnitzler in his novel, Der Weg ins Freie (The Road into the Open) (1908).

Struggling with the conflict between anti-Semitism sensed in the outer world and one’s own personal optimism influenced the Jews of Vienna decisively, claimed the historian. Living within the setting of the "anti-intellectual culture of the Habsburgs," the Jews developed a "critical modernism" and believed in the feasibility of external reforms as well as the capability of inner psychic reform, such as, for example is reflected in psychoanalysis. Jewish thinkers, artists and scientists chose a more liberal and open approach due to having been formed by the ideas emanating from the Enlightenment rather than from Catholicism. 

With the rise of nationalism in the Monarchy, many of the Jews no longer "fit in" ethnically, explained Beller. Those in Vienna who had particularly strong leanings toward the ‘Christian’ and ‘social’ were by no means nationalists, but rather looked upon as belonging more to the ethnic group of ‘Christians’ - otherwise, they could have called themselves even Catholics. The Jews, however, were considered "different" and set apart as "non-Christian." "The Vienna of Schnitzler’s era had already some signs of Hitler’s times," claimed Beller.

Beller could not clearly answer why exactly it was in Vienna at the turn of the century and during the two world wars that there was such a strong phenomenon of political anti-Semitism, whereas Budapest revealed comparatively little hostility toward the Jews. He does not share the opinion that anti-Semitism was directed toward the Jewish immigrants from poorer parts of the collapsed Monarchy and that it was a form of xenophobia. All types of people had come to Vienna - Hungarians, Gallicians, Romanians, Russians and particularly Czechs. "Why was there no anti-Czechism?" he asked. The flight from Nazi persecution scattered the "ferment of humanity," the Jews in Vienna, throughout the entire world.

The historian, Steven Beller, grew up in Great Britain as the child of an American father and an Austrian mother and is currently an historian at the George Washington University. 

Learning Lessons from That Which One Doesn’t Forget

Der Standard

Leon Zelman, editor of Das Jüdische Echo, characterized the annual journal distributed by embassies worldwide as a "positive rarity," and a forum for discussion of relevant, contemporary questions concerning well-known Austrian and international authors. Moreover, as a holocaust survivor, he attempts to save the remnants of former Jewish intellectual life of Vienna, following its destruction and expulsion from the city, and trace what was left remaining into the present day.

The 2003 edition which was recently presented in Vienna (see: www.jewish-welcome.at,) concerns itself mainly with the tense relationship between Europe and the United States. Apart from contributions from Paul Lendvai, Hugo Portisch, Peter Huemer and Albert Rohan, one can find a text written in English on "European Anti-Americanism" written by a Romanien Professor at Harvard who received his highschool degree/Matura in 1967 at the Wiener Theresianum.

Authors such as Elfriede Jelinek, Anton Pelinka, Hans Rauscher and Armin Thurnher write about "Politics and Anti-Semitism in Austria. There are also contributions on NS "Vernaderertum" (mockery) and a glimpse of a new biography about Arthur Koestler. Regarding the Middle East, Zelman makes attempts at an open discussion, such as is usual in Israel. This time Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF) veteran, Mosche Meisel, the Israeli critic, Yossi Arid, as well as Ben Segenreich and Gudrun Harrer (Der Standard) offer their opinions.

In the cultural section, the "Leon Wolke Song," which André Heller dedicated to Leon Zelman, stands out: "Ya, that’s how Leon speaks - in clouds/ and I want you to know/ because one can only learn lessons from that which one doesn’t forget."

Many “German” Words have Yiddish Roots

Die Presse (02/02/04)

A Short Journey Through the World of Language

Vienna - "Reden wir Tacheles" (Let’s speak seriously) - He who hears this expression can hardly pretend not to understand because "tacheles" and other Yiddish expressions can be found in everyday German. In many cases they have their roots in Hebrew. The well-known New Year’s wish, "Guter Rutsch," is a linguistic mutation of the Yiddish "Gut Rosch," which one wishes a person during the Jewish New Year, Rosch Haschana. Less recognizable are the Yiddisch-Hebrew roots found in the phrase "Hals- und Beinbruch," (break a leg), in Yiddisch, "Hazloche un Broche," meaning good luck and may you have my blessing.

"Wer in einem Schlamassel steckt, hat keine Mazel," (He who is in a mess has no luck). And "wer noch dazu Pleite geht," (he who is also broke) is probably not aware of the fact that the Hebrew word, pele’ita, (rescue from great distress), has its roots. Most likely the person concerned will end up having Zoff (English: end - meaning problems) with the Mischpoche (English: family) or even Ganoven (English: crooks) who are all meschugge (English: crazy). Oh what a Schmonzes (English: rumor)!

The roots of "Jewish German" can be found in the Rheinland in Germany where the people of Israel settled during the 10th Century A.D. When the pest swept throughout Europe in the 14th Century A.D., many Jews were persecuted and fled from pogroms to Poland. It is there that Yiddish became interfused with Slavic elements.

During the time of the Enlightenment the German Jewish Philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn, wanted to abolish the Yiddish jargon. For this reason he translated the Bible with Hebraic letters into German. The development in Eastern Europe, however, was different: Here one kept Yiddish. Through the works of the three great Yiddish classics of Mendele Moscher Seforidm, Shalom Alejchem and J.L. Perez, it blossomed, reaching its peak.

Interesting is the development it undertook at the end of the 19th Century A.D.: When Theodor Herzl’s Zionist movement was at its zenith, the Jewish socialist ‘Bundisten’ movement was founded as its counterpart . While the Zionists supported Hebrew, the ‘Bundisten’ used Yiddish as a mouthpiece. The soviet Union created even during the 1920s an autonomous Yiddish republic in far east Birobidzan. It lasted, however, for a very short time.

Today, almost sixty years after some six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, Yiddish has become rare – although it is popular worldwide: Language courses from Buenos Aires to Krakau are booked out.

Yiddish is Spoken on Mazzes Island

Die Presse (02/02/04)

According to a Jewish proverb, "One speaks Hebrew but talks Yiddish."
Nonetheless, Yiddish, the language of the street, is slowly dying out in Europe.

Vienna. Mazzes - the bread eaten at Pessach, and Mazzes Island, named after the bread, is the area around the Karmelitermarkt and Praterstraße in Vienna’s Leopoldstadt. It is here that the greatest number of Viennese Jews live. And although Yiddish expressions can be found in the Viennese dialect, only some three hundred Viennese Jews claim Yiddish as their mother tongue, said Chief Rabbi Paul Chaim Eisenberg.

These people stem mainly from Israel or Russia, are "very" orthodox and eat only kosher. Whoever would like to hear Yiddish should go to a kosher grocery in the Second District, such as in the Hollandstraße.

One can also hear Yiddish being spoken in the Jewish orthodox Talmud Thora School in the Malzgasse. "Of our two hundred pupils, some 98% have Yiddish as their mother tongue, says school director, Josef Klein. 

One doesn’t have to have Yiddish as Mameloschn (mother tongue) in order to speak it: from some 15,000 Viennese Jews, about 1,000 speak a smattering of it. "A large number of Viennese Jews understand Yiddish - at least those whose ancestors come from Poland or Russia," says Leon Zelman, head of the Jewish Welcome Service.

Not everything which sounds like Yiddish is Yiddish. “What is often mistaken for Yiddish is socalled Jiddeln,” explained Eisenberg. It simply consists of German saturated with many Yiddish words, which also has been abused when telling anti-Semitic jokes. 

Whereas in Israel the language once known to be that of the uneducated has experienced a renaissance the past twenty years, it is increasingly dying out in Europe. "Yiddish has changed from a language of the street to a language being researched by scholars. Many are interested purely academically in the language, particularly students of German Studies," says Jacob Allerhand, university professor in Jewish Studies. It is actually a world turned upside down because originally Yiddish was the language of the common man: Hebrew as the language of prayer should not be befouled with commonalities. There is a proverb that expresses it superbly: "One speaks Hebrew but talks Yiddish."

"If you are really interested in Yiddish culture, you have to go to America or Israel," suggests Leon Zelman. The larger Yiddish-speaking communities can also be found in Montreal and Buenos Aires. In the U.S., Yiddish has become almost exclusively the language of the ultra-orthodox traditionalists.

Schoenborn for a Better Understanding between Christians and Jews

Austrian Press Agency (01/03/04)

Vienna’s Archbishop attended a meeting with representatives of Orthodox Jews in New York

New York/Vienna - Vienna’s Archbischop, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, has campaigned for a better understanding between Christians and Jews during informal talks at a meeting of Jewish rabbis and Catholic cardinals. Catholics could also learn from Orthodox Judaism "that one’s commitment to faith doesn’t hinder but rather promotes dedication in shaping society," as Cardinal Schoenborn is quoted as saying to the New York Times in an article written by Kathpress.

In a conversation with journalists, Jewish participants explained that they had requested the Catholics to offer more aggressive criticism toward the "new growth of anti-Semitism in the world." It was emphasized on numerous occasions that Pope John Paull II had made a decisive contribution toward Christians and Jews approaching one another. This work of reconciliation must go further and reach also the "foundations."

The initiative to meet together to talk about the topic "What is the most important commandment?" was taken by the Jewish faction. The rabbis revealed how impressed they were by the gesture taken by Pope John Paul II, who during a visit to Jerusalem in 2002, had placed a note in one of the cracks of the Wailing Wall with a plea for forgiveness for all crimes committed by Christians against the Jews.

During the meeting the Rabbis and Cardinals visited Yeshiva University in Manhattan, a bastion of Jewish orthodox theological thinking in the U.S.A. They also visited "Ground Zero," recalling memories of the victims of September 11, 2001.