VIENNA — “It’s okay, you can still sit here,” Ovi, the host at the Alef-Alef kosher restaurant here, told us, gesturing to a table alongside a shattered double-paned window. “The glass is broken only on the outside,” he said reassuringly, as we settled into a festive Hanukkah dinner. “The inner pane is just fine.”
The window, we would learn later during dinner, absorbed its damage one night earlier in the week, no doubt at the hands of those incensed by President Trump’s decision last week to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, much as rioters throughout Europe’s major cities have targeted Jewish institutions for violence over the past 10 days.
And indeed, Ovi’s consolation aptly, if tragically, diagnoses the contemporary Jewish condition: while we are surprisingly strong and resilient in the core regions of Jewish settlement, i.e., Israel and the United States, along the periphery — mainly in Europe — the glass is breaking all too often.
The reaction to Trump’s proclamation in Israel itself was, perhaps surprisingly, more positive and less violent than expected. Israelis across the political spectrum rejoiced over the long overdue decision by the United States to formally recognize what Jews the world over have understood legally since 1949 and emotionally for centuries: Jerusalem represents the beating heart of the Jewish people, its spiritual, cultural, and political nexus, the holy, historic, hagiographic capital of our people.
Even Nahum Barnea, dean of the bien-pensant center-left Israeli commentariat and a severe Trump critic, applauded the proclamation in a column in Israel’s leading daily entitled “This time, Trump is right.”
“The world didn’t like US President Donald Trump’s speech,” wrote Barnea. “The Palestinians didn’t like it, leaders of Islamic states didn’t like it, Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t like it, leaders of friendly European countries didn’t like it…With all due respect to their concerns, this time they are wrong. Trump is right.”
The proclamation appealed to Israelis of virtually all stripes because it rights a historic wrong, albeit 68 years late; it inspires confidence in the good faith of this administration, unlike the previous one, which worked diligently to accommodate (if not accelerate) the global effort to sever the historic connection between the Jewish people and its most important city; and it may therefore even empower Israelis and their leaders to take risks for peace.
Meanwhile, demonstrations against the proclamation in the West Bank and Jerusalem itself were far more muted than expected. While Hamas stoked riots in Gaza and unleashed several rocket barrages, Palestinians largely ignored calls for a general strike and rallied in far smaller numbers than over the summer when tensions soared over the Temple Mount.
In contrast, raging European protests proved far more eventful and violent. In Gothenburg, Sweden, a gang of rioters firebombed a synagogue, and others lobbed Molotov cocktails at a chapel at a Jewish cemetery in Malmo. In London and Berlin, demonstrators burned Israeli and American flags. In Paris, Vienna, and elsewhere, hundreds of Muslim protesters whipped themselves into a frenzy with genocidal chants against Jews. And in Amsterdam, a Palestinian-flag-clad rioter smashed the windows of a kosher restaurant. (Notably, the attacks were launched against Jews, not Israelis, thus further refuting the risible notion that virulent anti-Zionism differs meaningfully from anti-Semitism.)
Here in Vienna, broken windows like those in Alef-Alef resonate all too loudly less than 70 years after Kristallnacht, when a different group of Jew-haters rampaged through the night. The faces may have changed, but the hatred endures.
Incredibly, it’s now far safer to be openly Jewish in Jerusalem than in most of Europe’s gilded capitals. That my sons and I cannot wear our yarmulkes in public in Vienna (or Paris, or Stockholm, or Rome, or London, for that matter) bespeaks a depressing deterioration of tolerance on a continent whose soil has already proven inhospitable to the Jewish people.
Meanwhile, Ovi and other Viennese Jews have taken these assaults in stride, which is at once comforting and alarming. They’ve seen worse and, alas, will likely see worse yet.
Still, as the Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah around the globe this year, our festival of light at the darkest time of the year, Ovi’s injunction rings true in a different sense: our glass is broken only on the outside; our inner pane remains strong.