Earlier this week I went to see the play Travelling Light at The National Theatre. It is a beautiful play about the birth of motion pictures, documenting local life in a Russian village (a shtetl) at the beginning of the last century . Although the play is a kind of love letter to the movies from the vantage point of a Hollywood director who looks back on his life, it left me feeling a loss about the destruction of Jewish folk heritage and a way of life which dominated Jewish culture for hundreds of years.
There was always an undercurrent of anti-Semitism in Russia, and in 1791 Catherine the Great solved what her predecessors could not -- to successfully create The Pale, a large Jewish ghetto to remove Jews from Russian life. However, in 1861, when Czar Alexander II abolished serfdom in Russia , anti-Semitism grew as Jews became traders instead of field hands. Russian workers began to see them as competitors and an economic threat. What followed was repressive legislation, edicts of expulsion, state enforced anti-Semitic policies and pogroms which destroyed the very existence of shtetls and Jewish life in Russia.
In times of economic and political turmoil, we need an enemy: bankers, the wealthy, countries, and other races. Greece, Italy and France are leading the way to economic and political instability that can only spread to the rest of Europe and the rest of the world. We remember too well what happened in Germany, after the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The United States called in its loans to Germany and the German economy collapsed. When the Great Depression ruined the lives of most Germans, they voted for Hitler in increasing numbers.
In a crisis, we want someone to blame, and look to extreme solutions. Hitler in 1932 offered both. He promised everybody something. Both France and Greece have voted for new leadership, rejecting the austerity measures laid out for them. With France crippled by public debt, high unemployment, weak growth and the euro zone crisis, Hollande is making promises that will either bankrupt France or he can't keep. Youth unemployment in the Eurozone is estimated to be a staggering 25 to 50 percent. In Greece, voters furious over years of painful budget cuts and higher taxes hammered the conservative New Democracy and socialist PASOK. Greece's radical Syriza leader, Alexis Tsipras was given the mandate to start building an anti-austerity cabinet a day after the conservatives failed to form a coalition.
The election last week in Great Britain dealt an enormous blow to Cameron's austerity measures and deficit reduction program with a huge swing to Labour (+823 seats). A majority of citizens voted to reject the cutting of social care services and any change to public sector pensions; they want government to continue to subsidize their increasingly longer lives in the manner they have become accustomed to -- even though they fully realize that government cannot afford to do this anymore. Are you starting to notice a connection?
As economies around the world continue to nosedive and we look for solutions to the reckless spending and entitlements to keep a way of life we have stolen from the next generation, just who do you think will suffer this time?
Jill Shaw Ruddock is the author of The Second Half of Your Life and the 2012 Winner of The Jewish Care Woman of Distinction Award.