September 30, 1999
A Jewish Renaissance
A decade after the Wall's fall, European Jewry is reviving
A decade ago, the Jewish communities in communist-dominated Eastern and Central Europe were generally written off as dying remnants of the pre-Holocaust past. Forty years of communist restrictions -- and decades more than that in what was then the Soviet Union -- had compounded the devastation of the Shoah.
Most who openly identified themselves as Jews were elderly. Many other Jews chose to conceal or deny their Jewish identity. And others, particularly in the former Soviet Union, faced active persecution. To some observers, Jewish life in Eastern Europe was virtually a closed chapter.
The collapse of communism 10 years ago changed everything. The institution of religious freedom and the disintegration of communist-era taboos triggered social, cultural and religious Jewish revival.
Exact figures have not been compiled, but throughout Eastern and Central Europe, thousands of Jews, particularly younger people, have discovered, recovered or reclaimed long-buried Jewish roots and openly declared a Jewish identity. That may be through a superficial public self-identification as a Jew, or by participation in study groups and secular Jewish activities, or through immersion in traditional, religious Jewish life.