Seventy percent of European Jews will not go to synagogue on Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur this year, according to a poll released Tuesday. The survey was conducted last week by the European Jewish Association (EJA) and the Rabbinical Center of Europe (RCE) among a representative sample of 700 capital cities and communities in the periphery throughout Europe – from Britain in the west to Ukraine in the east.
Respondents –which numbered 78– included rabbis as well as Jewish community leaders, both religious and secular. The margin of error was ±4.9%. The pollsters explained that while the number of respondents is far lower than the number of communities represented, each respondent speaks for multiple communities as within certain cities and areas, many communities share similar characteristics.
Participants in the online survey were asked: if there was an increase or decrease in the number of registered individuals in their Jewish communities in comparison with last year; whether there was an increase or decrease in the number of Jews expected to attend synagogue on the High Holy Days in comparison with last year; how concerned they and their community members are by the increase in anti-Semitism in their countries; and whether there was heightened security at Jewish institutes in their community in light of the increase in terror attacks in Europe in the past year.
Approximately half of Jewish communities across the continent reported a decline in the number of active members in their community, while only 11% reported a rise in members and 39% of the communities reported no change in the number of registered community members.
Meanwhile 75% of the communities reported increased security measures taken by their respective governments. EJA and RCE General Director Rabbi Menachem Margolin said that this was in light of an increase in anti-Semitism since last year’s High Holy Days and the vast majority of community leaders reported increased security and policing measures around Jewish schools, synagogues and other affiliated institutions.
This poll is conducted on an annual basis and having analyzed the results and compared them with previous years, the EJA deducted that the drop in synagogue attendance is a direct result of increased anti-Semitism. Rabbi Margolin told The Jerusalem Post that while other factors do come into play, such as secularization, a comparison with previous years shows that security concerns are the main factor.
“The challenge for most of the Jewish communities has doubled in recent months,” stated Rabbi Margolin. He cited an increase in attacks on Jewish individuals, institutions and communities, which he partly blamed on the influx of refugees to Europe. He also pointed to a growing influence of the far right across the continent.
“Currently the focus of the extreme right and their activity is focused on Islamophobia, but testimonies of rabbis and community leaders show a great deal of concern about growing nationalism and xenophobia, also against the Jews of Europe,” Rabbi Margolin warned.
Margolin called for the European Union and governments across the continent to increase educational efforts in the fight against anti-Semitism. “counter-terrorism is of course an important measure to save lives – but not enough to solve the problem from the root. As long as there will not be an educational effort focused on the elimination of anti-Semitism, the problem will continue,” he asserted.