Six years ago today — July 18, 2012 — Europe was shaken by the terrorist attack in Burgas, Bulgaria — an attack that killed six innocent people — five Israeli citizens and a Bulgarian national at the hands of Hezbollah operatives. The attack was carried out by a suicide bomber on a tourist bus driving 42 Israelis that had flown in from Tel Aviv, from Burgas Airport into town.
This was before the Jewish Museum of Belgium shooting; it was before Charlie Hebdo; before the Nice car ramming, the Berlin Christmas Market, the Bataclan. Sadly, the bus bombing in Burgas did not enter our collective European conscience as did the other tragic attacks, yet it was a clear signal that terrorism had made its way through the cracks and our sense of fragile safety took a rough hit. The fact that Israeli citizens were explicitly targeted increased the feeling of vulnerability of the Jewish community and ushered in a new paradigm of what European day-to-day reality was going to look like both within and outside the Jewish community.
News flash: We are the antidote
As a young activist whose primary role is to work towards a positive, rich, diverse and exciting Jewish life for the over 160 000 young Jews represented by the European Union of Jewish Students – it is staggering how much of my own, my colleagues’ and my fellow European Jewish activists’ time is spent playing defense – whether it’s responding to BDS on campus; far-right populist xenophobia; antisemitic tropes creeping into mainstream political discourse or outright physical attacks. So much so, that I often wonder, what with the Jewish community were there – suddenly – no antisemitism, no threats, no fear? Would there be enough substance, enough vibrancy, enough energy to hold us together and move us forward?
The answer should be a resounding Yes — there is abundant tradition and culture to go around, all the way from Russia to the United Kingdom, from Ukraine to Spain, From Hungary to Italy – unique Jewish communities hold on to treasures of history, beautiful in their individual legacies. Yet the resounding Yes that we seek, only echoes as far as we, as pieces of this European diaspora, engage, get active and keep these legacies alive.
If we are to seek for silver linings even in the most sober of events, one could say that a beautiful thing happened in the aftermath of all the attacks I mentioned above – and they are only few of many. A sense of unity started to bubble, but more than that – a clear statement made its way all throughout the continent: our European life, and our European values, will not be disrupted. From the thousands who took to the streets in Paris in November 2015 to the customer who returned after the attack in Barcelona to pay his restaurant bill – the message was clear.
Why Summer U is an imperative
On the 26th of August, close to 400 young Jews will gather near Burgas, Bulgaria for Europe’s largest Jewish youth event – Summer U. In the past 34 years, Summer U has been the central knot connecting the young European diaspora. It has trotted all throughout the continent, giving visibility to a whole pallet of communities and has helped revitalize youth participation and youth ties to the community wherever it went.
Posted by Summer U on Tuesday, 19 June 2018
In 1978, one year before the first ever European Parliament elections, one year before the European Currency Unit – the preamble to the Euro – was introduced, the European Union of Jewish Students was born. Only 6 years after that, 1984, Summer U – EUJS’ proudest achievement was also born. Since then it traveled everywhere throughout Europe, following its first edition in the United Kingdom. In 1989 EUJS held Summer U in Former Yugoslavia. It was the first time that a major Jewish event took place in a country beyond the Iron Curtain. When EUJS had decided in 1995 to hold a Summer University in Germany, the organization broke yet another taboo. Never before had a pan-European Jewish student event taken place in Germany. Immediately after the location of Summer U 1995 was made public, nearly everywhere in Europe concerns about organizing such a Jewish gathering in Germany were raised.
In 2012, a lovely Dutch couple met at Summer U Hungary. In 2016, she was stabbed in the back with a knife in an Israeli kosher restaurant in Amsterdam. She had a punctured lung, but recovered well. At the time the chief rabbi voiced the exact feeling that we hold today
[…]we do not stand down to threats, be they by terrorists, criminals or others. We carry on with our lives as Jews. And that’s what we’re doing here.
In 2017 she wrote us that she was a newly-wed, as she had just married her Summer U sweet-heart.
These are just a few dots on the 35 year history of Summer U. As Summer U Bulgaria is approaching; as we sit here today, 6 years following the Burgas attack, I cannot shake the feeling that, in just over one month we’ll be writing a page of history – in the life of EUJS, in the lives of the almost 400 participants, but also a page in the life of Jewish Europe. What more powerful message in the face of hate and fear? What more powerful message in the face of our own apathy – than a festival where young Jews from all across Europe, from all walks of life, of all persuasions, of all different tongues, can come together and be loud and proud European Jews!