In the last four decades, and especially since 1990, international migration has profoundly changed the profile of receiving (destination) nations all over the globe, while also deeply influencing conditions in migration exit (origin) countries. The change has been particularly felt in European countries, which in the past were quite homogeneous from a national, ethnic, linguistic, and often religious point of view. The influx of large numbers of immigrants from different countries and continents irreversibly challenged the concept of the classic nation-state with the emergence of a variety of new, culturally- and nationally-diverse frameworks within European societies.
Trans-border movements and its relation to issues of identity and culture are by no means new to Jewish historiography. On the contrary, it could be said that modern Jewish identity and culture as such were created by transnational migrations, at least in Europe and other Western countries. Thus, a particular Jewish identity developed in Europe over a period of almost 200 years, as a cross-national entity based on solid religious traditions, in ongoing conflict with the emerging nation-states and their exclusive aspirations. This phenomenon was used by nationalists and anti-Semites, who exploited it politically, blaming the Jews of ‘cosmopolitanism’, which, they claimed, undermined their local and national loyalty. It was seldom perceived as a political contribution in the construction of new transnational identities for the general population. Among Jews, the tension between a parochial heritage and universal perspective was fruitfully rendered into a combination of communal identity and societal adaptation, one that defines Jews in every modern European country in the broadest range of possible degrees.
Cultural diversity is never conflict-free. However, Jews in the modern era have demonstrated that the results shouldn’t be dissolution of societal solidarity on the one hand, or withdrawal into isolation on the other, but rather a transformation of identities and values into a kaleidoscope within a given society. This outcome is known as the ‘Jewish global identity’ or in other words – ‘Jewish Peoplehood.’
Since the middle of the nineteenth century, Jews have experienced massive influxes of migration for different reasons, such as escaping pogroms, wars and hunger in Eastern Europe, but also a search for a new cultural and professional future in the New World and in Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel). The largest and most vibrant Jewish demographic center of that time was still situated in Eastern Europe. In the course of the twentieth century, however, Eastern European Jewry was shaken and stricken in a devastating way – in particular by the Nazi-German organized Holocaust, but also by 70 years of State Communism in the USSR and by 40 years of similar political repression in the countries of the so-called socialist “East Bloc.” Jewish community life lost most of its structure and vitality and to this day we have witnessed a constant outflow of Jews from the East, while the State of Israel and the communities in North America and Western Europe have become the new, vibrant Jewish centers of the late twentieth century.
At the turn to the New Millennium, something surprising happened in the heart of Europe, something that sparked disapproval and amazement across borders. Germany, the country of the Nazi thugs and Holocaust murderers, masters of barbarity and crime in the Second World War became not only a leading country of the European Union, but also an attractive destination for émigrés from the crumbling Soviet Union. No later than the mid 1990s it had become clear that tens of thousands of former Soviet Jews (Halachic Jews, non-Halachic Jews, and non-Jewish spouses) who left their homeland have not headed to Israel or to America, rather they have gone precisely to that country that was responsible for the Holocaust. One must admit that by the end of the twentieth century, a general respect has grown towards the visible German transformation from a cruel militaristic, trigger-happy and intolerant state, into a stable democracy, seemingly cosmopolitan and open-minded towards other ethnicities, cultures, and religions. This was a new Germany, no doubt, yet who had ever seriously believed in a Jewish wave of migration back to this country of Goethe and Bach, as well as of Hitler, Eichmann, and Goebbels?