Monday, December 12, 2005

Writing this as I eat Chimay cheese on a bagel...

I've been fascinated for some time now by Antwerp's Jewish community, which in seemingly every article about it is referred to as "the last shtetl in Europe." The latest piece, in Jewish Week,. is no exception. Once again, American Jews have noticed that our European counterparts are headed to the right. American Jews have to choose between allegedly "good for the Jews," tough foreign policy along with the occasional ode to Jesus from the right; and a less agressive (and, to some, less desireable) foreign policy, and Jesse Jackson, from the left. Think that's tough? Try being a Belgian Jew, with a choice between an anti-Israel, pro-Arab left and a right that seems superficially pro-Jewish (both pro-Israel and pro-defense of Jews within Belgium) but is rooted in all sorts of neo-Nazism. If one is to simultaneously believe the negative rhetoric of both sides, it's a choice between the Nazis and the terrorists. Between siding with those who would rule Europe by Islamic law, or with those who are just biding their time until they can (once again) rule Europe with racist, xenophobic laws. A rock and a hard place indeed.

I do not know nearly enough as I would like to about just how awful (or wonderful) either the left or the right in Antwerp may be, but what's worth remembering is that these are not Democrats and Republicans. As Matthew Yglesias pointed out during another discussion of European Jews' rightward movement, what's "left" and what's "right" varies from place to place. Furthermore, Antwerp Jews are not New York Jews--abortion rights and various other social justice measures that appeal to folks in Zabars are probably of less interest to a largely ultra-orthodox community, who may not share the "natural" place on the left that many Americans expect Jews to take. This is not just American provincialism--Jews have been well-represented on the left worldwide for centuries--but the left in America has never failed Jews to the extent that it has elsewhere, making the Belgian Jewish situation perhaps harder to understand from an American or American Jewish perspective.

1 comment:

petey said...

Have you truly never eaten cream cheese?

It's worth a try - especially the non-packaged variety at someplace like Zabar's. It's really not bad.

And the combination with smoked fish on a bagel is a rather perfect culinary treat.