In the April 2015 Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg’s cover article asks, “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” Goldberg surveys anti-Semitism, particularly in the context of Europe’s Muslim population. His question is timely. The answer is challenging.
Part of Goldberg’s article analyzes Sweden’s southern city of Malmö with a population of 300,000, including 50,000 Muslims and fewer than 1,000 Jews. Anti-Jewish feeling runs high. Rabbi Shneur Kesselman, a Chabad emissary from Brooklyn and the city’s only rabbi is the one recognizable Jew in the city. Distinguished by his black hat, black coat and beard, he is constantly targeted for verbal abuse and worse. “I asked Kesselman whether he was scared to stay in Malmö. ‘Yes, of course I’m scared,’ he said.”
Malmö’s other Jews blend in. But do they experience anti-Semitism? And should they leave Europe? I asked two young Swedish Jews about their experiences and the conundrum they face.
Sara and Michael are young professionals. (I’ve changed their names and blurred details for their security.) Sara is Jewish by birth. Michael, an ethnic Scandinavian, converted to Judaism. They met in university. Sara’s family is “pretty traditional.” They went to synagogue for the High Holy Days, occasionally for Shabbat. They kept kosher. Michael’s family, like most Swedes, is secular. Growing up, he had no Jewish friends, but his grandfather was friendly with the leader of the local Jewish community in his suburb. As a teen, Michael loved Jewish comedians like Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld and Gary Shandling.
Sara knew that being Jewish was different and perhaps dangerous. People would call Jews names and write hateful graffiti. Still, she never experienced hostility. She did notice, however, that security was plentiful at the cheder—small religious school—she attended. Israel was—and still is—a sensitive subject. She does not involve herself with Israeli politics but maintains a warm, “family” feeling towards the country. She believes the general mood of Sweden to be anti-Israel. “They think the matter is black and white. There are so many other conflicts in the world; there’s too much attention paid to it.”
Today, some of Michael’s friends and acquaintances are academics—leftists who are anti-Israel. When he told a colleague he was going to visit Israel—he has traveled much of the world—he got a strong, “weird” reaction. “I think it’s okay to be Jewish in Sweden as long as you don’t say anything about Israel,” he says. At the same time, he believes that some, but far from all, Swedes tend to overlay anti-Israel sentiments with anti-Semitism.
As to Sweden’s growing Muslim population, Michael relates that the majority of Swedes support the current, open immigration policy. “From the moral perspective, it’s a good policy to help people fleeing from wars. But it may also affect another minority in a secondary way.” Sara notes that some Middle Eastern Muslims have been in Sweden for generations. The new wave of immigrants poses challenges. “Many politicians are talking about how to integrate immigrants regarding learning Swedish and getting jobs.”
The couple might have accepted their shaky status as Jews if not for a shooting outside a synagogue in nearby Copenhagen, Denmark (where Sara has a close relative) this past February. A gunman—identified as a Danish Muslim—murdered a Jewish security guard and wounded two police officers. Michael and Sara started serious discussions about whether they have a future in Sweden.
Next week, Sara and Michael offer a heart-wrenching analysis of their situation.
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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