On March 5, our almost-a-minyan who comprise the steering team of Limmud Oresund 2013 was holding the penultimate meeting prior to our second annual Limmud day of Jewish learning and culture. Over 160 people had pre-registered, and we were concerned about logistics: Would there be enough space for a Limmud that had doubled in size since last year? Had we ordered enough food for lunches and snacks? Did Folkuniversitet, an adult education school that was again openomg its facility to us free of chage, have a room large enough for all participants to close out the day together with singing, learning, thanking the volunteers, and tasting the cholent made during a morning session?
Imagine my surprise, then, to find my various in-boxes filled with messages from concerned friends all over the world. I had posted here on Jewschool about last September’s explosion at the Jewish community center of Malmö, where I live, so the Tablet Magazine artical entitled “Swedish Jews Continue Their Fight: In Malmö, kippah walks are part of a resurgence of identity” had them worried.
I was bewildered. There had not been a kippah walk in Malmö since last autumn and the next one, scheduled for later this month, was expected to be a low-key event. In fact, some members of the community were wondering whether there remains a need for these walks. Perhaps it was time to create a different type of public act of solidarity and pride among Jews and allies in Malmö. (A cultural festival at a local park? A maimouna celebration co-hosted by Sephardi Jewish and Muslim immigrants? A Lag B’Omer bon fire and concert?) A founder of the kippah walks, Malmö psychologist Jehoshua Kaufman, would be offering a session on the kippah walk concept at the March 10 Limmud conference.
Adam Chandler’s few paragraphs in Tablet didn’t mention a discussion with Kaufman or with any of Malmo’s Jews at all, so I wondered what his sources were. This, especially given his error by orders of magnitude in mentioning “Sweden’s 2,500” Jews. (The Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities estimates that there are about 20,000 halachically correct Jews in Sweden. Add to this the many Israelis, residents from other EU countries, and North American ex-pats who fly under the radar, plus the hundreds of Jewish-identified Swedes with Jewish fathers only, and the numbers swell.)
My bewilderment only increased when I clicked on Chandler’s link to the Swedish rag The Local, an on-line tabloid that offers “Sweden’s news in English.” The article by Patrick Reilly, with the inflammatory title “Jews hit Malmö streets to counter anti-Semitism” was, like Chandler’s bit, published on March 5. Reilly addressed a “recent” kippah walk. The event it described, however, the highly publicized kippah walk held back in October. After speaking with several of the of the people featured in the Reilly piece, I learned that the writer had spoken with them right after that walk. Why The Local waited nearly five months to publish it, and chose not to contact any of the interviewees for updates, is anybody’s guess.
So is the reason why Adam Chandler and Tablet simply (mis)quoted the Reilly piece without doing any fact-checking at all. Chandler has ignored my several attempts to contact him–including my comment on his article, imploring him to get in touch with me. I tried to reach him just before and right after the Limmud Oresund conference, because that event affords a very different perspective on Jewish life in southern Scandinavia. For example:
Not one of the thirty-six diverse learning sessions focused on anti-Semitism in contemporary Sweden. Even the discussion on the topic of kippah walks did not address what Adam Chandler determined was a need to “continue the fight.” Kaufman facilitated a candid conversation among Swedish and Danish Jews about Jewish identity, self-respect, and dignity. People were forthright about the Scandinavian tendency to be a “Jew at home and a Swede or Dane on the street,” and whether the current demographic landscape makes this a good strategy today. A participant from Copenhagen wondered allowed whether such walks would be a good strategy in certain neighborhoods there, and one from the southern Swedish city of Helsingborg shared his views on Jewish visibility in today’s diverse Swedish population.
That session was not the most crowded ones, however. Most flocked to lectures and discussions on inter-faith marriage; on growing up Jewish in Vienna right after the Holocaust; on being a Swedish-Jewish volunteer for the Temporary International Presence in Hebron. They joined in workshops on Yiddish song and on nigunim, and participated on Jewish text study and climate change. An experiential session on contemporary Jewish spirituality was packed, as was one on early childhood Jewish education. Clearly the Jews of Malmö and environs have much more on our minds than keeping up a fight.
Whence Tablet’s interest in the latter topic? Discussions with The Local’s informants and other Jewish communal leaders make clear that a very small minority of Malmö’s Jews want this type of attention. Most, in fact, eagerly seek out positive attention in the Jewish and general media. None of them were contacted by Chandler.
If Adam Chandler ever gets back to me, I will suggest that he write a long article about our unique Swedish/Danish bi-national, tri-lingual Limmud conference; the third one is scheduled for March 2014. There is also an interesting story in the fact that Yiddish in one of the five official minority languages in Sweden, and a Yiddish version of The Three Penny Operawill be staged in Malmö in April. I will also tell him that the last kippah walk, held on March 16, was very sparsely attended. One reason for the low attendance is that the brit milah of one of Malmö’s newest Jews, the son of a prominent Malmö musician, was being celebrated at the same time. But that is another story.