SHOULD JEWS LEAVE EUROPE? — PART TWO

Last week, I wrote about a young Jewish couple in Sweden confronting anti-Semitism. Sara and Michael were shaken by the February shooting outside a synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark, close to their Swedish home. Michael likens their feelings to those of frogs cooked in a pot of water. Lukewarm water slowly comes to a boil.

The shooting left Sara wondering if the next time she went to synagogue, there would be a massacre. She had thought that she and Michael could live as Jews in Sweden. When they have children, they could send them to Jewish camps. Now she wonders whether they can go to synagogue or Jewish activities without encountering someone with a weapon.

Michael has experienced a gradual rise of discomfort. No one has said anything anti-Semitic to him, but “I don’t walk around outside with a kippah (skullcap). He cites a Swedish TV reporter, not Jewish, who wore a kippah in Malmö’s city center. A hidden camera revealed severe harassment—before the shooting. “We could stay in Sweden and live in a nice neighborhood with like-minded, highly educated people. We could put our kids in a nice school where the risk of being bullied for being Jewish would be low. But I’m more scared about not being able to go to services at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur or any place Jews gather without fearing being killed.”

Sara worries that if she and Michael don’t feel safe going to synagogue, then “even if we could still have a Jewish identity, it doesn’t feel like our kids would still be Jewish or our grandchildren. If you can’t wear a Star of David or anything, you’d have to keep secret from everyone. It would be such a traumatic thing. That’s not the Judaism I want my children to grow up with.”

Daily, the couple discusses leaving Sweden for the United States. That would mean leaving their families behind. Michael is an only child. “His parents couldn’t handle that,” says Sara. She’d also have to chart a new career path. It would be hard to find a job. Her parents, now divorced, each considers the possibility of leaving—her mother to South America and her father to Israel. Michael’s career is transferable to the U.S., but it might take five or six hard years before he could resume his professional career at its current level.

Being human, Michael and Sara find that the shock of last February’s shooting is wearing off a bit. “It’s hard to forecast Sweden’s future,” Michael says. Will it get better? “Probably not, but you never know.” Sara agonizes over what will happen if they stay. Can they still live a Jewish life? If they have children, can they live with the decision to stay if things become worse? “It would be so much easier for our children if we left now instead of waiting until it’s too late and we’re all stressed.”

Michael adds, “The nightmare would be if we had to flee and move really fast. And what if we can’t go to the U.S.?” Israel remains an option. Still, they think about America. But that requires a lengthy application process, finding a job and applying for a green card. They also worry about what comes after. “What would our life be like?” Sara asks.

As the journalist Jeffrey Goldberg points out, this isn’t 1933 Europe. European governments support their Jewish populations. But both Sara and Michael emphasize: there is no easy answer.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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2 Comments


  1. Tracy
    Apr 18, 2015

    Sara and Michael’s dilemma is heartbreaking. Their story has been repeated for generations, and there is no easy answer. It would be simple to say that, for example, Anne Frank and millions of others like her should have fled in the mid 1930s, but that is a comment from our modern perspective where we know how it played out. Nobody knows how it will play out in Sweden, or France, or the US for that matter.

    I had the opportunity last summer to speak with a man named Joel in Belmonte, Portugal. Joel comes from a family of CryptoJews of several generations. These are Jews who continued to practice Judaism in secret. Ironically, Joel said that his main concern now that most of the CryptoJews are “outed” in Portugal isn’t with anti-Semitism but rather that his children and his children’s children would move away from his small town and assimilate.

    I hope Sara and Michael are safe whatever they decide and that they raise children that will not be afraid to be overtly Jewish. We have a lot of tikkun olam (reparation of the world) to do.


  2. Tracy
    Apr 18, 2015

    Sara and Michael’s dilemma is heartbreaking. Their story has been repeated for generations, and there is no easy answer. It would be simple to say that, for example, Anne Frank and millions of others like her should have fled in the mid 1930s, but that is a comment from our modern perspective where we know how it played out. Nobody knows how it will play out in Sweden, or France, or the US for that matter.

    I had the opportunity last summer to speak with a man named Joel in Belmonte, Portugal. Joel comes from a family of CryptoJews of several generations. These are Jews who continued to practice Judaism in secret. Ironically, Joel said that his main concern now that most of the CryptoJews are “outed” in Portugal isn’t with anti-Semitism but rather that his children and his children’s children would move away from his small town and assimilate.

    I hope Sara and Michael are safe whatever they decide and that they raise children that will not be afraid to be overtly Jewish. We have a lot of tikkun olam (reparation of the world) to do.

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