The times we have lived for the past few months were quite peculiar and overwhelming. We have been constrained to live our lives confined and away from our friends and sometimes even our families.

No matter the difficulties the European Jewish communities faced, the values defining us as a people are still omnipresent and are the ones that keep us going.

In order to paint a picture of B’nai B’rith Europe and that of the Jewish communities all around the continent during COVID 19, President Serge Dahan decided to create a report, gathering information from all the Lodges of B’nai B’rith Europe, in this way, inspiring one another and reinforcing the idea of solidarity and that of community.

In most countries the pandemic did not affect Jewish communities to a higher extent than the rest of the population but Germany and Italy are the exceptions, given their Jewish population is older and belongs to the “risk group ». Worship places are closed in almost all European countries but there is one exception where the synagogues, temples are indeed opened with strict rules (number of people entering) and that exception is Czech Republic.

Gatherings are mostly not allowed but some European countries do permit them, imposing restrictions on the number of people from 2 people in Ukraine, to 5 people in Norway, Switzerland and Austria, to 15 people in the Czech Republic.

Fortunately, overall, antisemitism levels haven’t increased during this pandemic. Online antisemitic attacks have though been reported in France, Italy and Germany, from Jewish conspiracy-based messages on social networks, to video conferences being hacked by neo Nazi groups, spreading antisemitic slogans, Nazi symbols and other forms of hate speech
(Dusseldorf, Frankfurt and Leipzig).

The confinement has had an economic impact on Jewish communities in Europe. In some countries more than in others. In Romania, the salaries were lowered, as well as in the case of France where temporary unemployment would transform into full unemployment. Greek Jewish communities have also been struggling a bit financially speaking. France has been strongly impacted and so has Italy, where the virus struck the hardest. In Norway, the communities are saving up for better days ahead. In Hungary, there was no real impact and neither in Spain, though.

Jewish communities all around Europe are quite active when it comes to solidarity initiatives, ranging from a fundraising campaign in Milano, to donations of food and money to the ones in need and elderly in Ukraine, France, Poland, Czech Republic, Norway, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Hungary and Germany, delivery of the masks and of other items of prevention in Slovakia and Ukraine, to medical assistance in Ukraine and Poland and telephone chains (making sure every community member is doing well) in Romania, Poland and Norway.

During COVID 19, the Jewish communities are also experiencing newly developed habits. These habits vary from online platform skills, to cooking, gardening and exercising. Another new habit for many Jewish communities was the virtual Zoom discussions, as well as Jewish virtual celebrations (Hungary, Greece and France). Hungary also developed an interest in exercising on a daily basis. In Norway, especially the habits of taking more time for oneself as well as reducing stress levels were developed. In
Romania’s case, new habits include gardening, cooking, online theater and concerts.

Overall, the connection between Jewish communities around Europe and their members stayed the same. In Hungary’s case, the bond between them and the neighbors grew stronger. In Norway, Romania, France, Spain and Greece, the bond remained the same, a positive one, nevertheless.

The situation in European Lodges is more or less stable, the exception being France. There were over 1000 Jewish community members lost during these months, in Paris and in neighboring cities. Things are starting to calm down now, though. Italy has lived two hard months as well, with losses and fear but slowly but surely, things are getting back to normal now. In Hungary both the MAZS (Hungarian Jewish Social Support Association – which is supported by JDC) and community (Bet Jehuda led by rabbi István darvas) are helping the lodge. In Norway, France, Greece and Romania, gatherings and discussions are taking place online (Zoom and whatsapp, mainly). In Spain, the main activity is the collection of money for the Lodge.

We’ve also made a selection of a few testimonies that Lodges around Europe have sent us, sharing with us their confinement story.

Read Testimony of President of Budapest Lodge, Peter Breuer here.
Read Testimony of President of Henry Dunant Lodge, Joel Goldstein here.
Read Testimony of Mentor of B’nai B’rith Europe, Daniel Citone here.