Global, Identity

Please Come to Malmö in the Springtime*

Somebody threw heavy stones followed by an explosive device at the Jewish community center in Malmö, Sweden late Thursday night.  Contrary to the headlines in the world Jewish press, though, the blast did not “rock” the building. I live on the fifth floor, and my houseguest and my dog both slept through the event. I had been awake, and  heard a repetitive pounding followed by single loud bang. “Firecracker” was my first thought. There were no further noises, so I did not investigate it.
By morning, I had forgotten about it.  Around 9 AM a friend texted me a one-liner from Stockholm: “Are you OK?” I had no idea what she was referring to; perhaps the Yom Kippur services I had led?
My visitor and I had been schmoozing over a slow breakfast so we had not heard the news yet. Something about that text message still unnerved me, so I asked,  “Do you think something happened, maybe even something major, and we just haven’t heard about it yet?”
That is when we learned that someone had set off a very week blast at the front door of the community building, likely preceded by stones thrown at the glass.  The Jewish center  houses several apartments, the offices of the Jewish community, Chabad House, a Jewish pre-school, and a kosher caterer. Nobody had been hurt. The only real damage was the glass at the front door. By the time we got downstairs, it had been cleaned up, the window sealed with special tape. The pre-school was operating as usual and the ground floor smelled of baking challah, as it does every Friday. Apart from the taped up door, the only evidence of criminal activity were the two police offers stationed in front of the building.
Messages of concern began pouring in, but I had not anticipated the notice from Malmo’s Network for Faith and Understanding.  A solidarity vigil was already planned for 6 PM that evening. Rebecka H, the organizer, called to say that she wanted to hold the vigil immediately and on site, but she also wanted to respect Shabbat. She understood many Jewish people might be at home preparing;  her intention was to bring the community together to show their support and concern for us.
Indeed they did. About 70 women, men and children gathered in front of the building with large candles. Leaders of several Christian churches, two Muslim groups, and other spiritual and social organizations offered speeches, all brief and moving. Rebecka herself sang a poignant tune, accompanied by musician on a small drum. Journalist Barbro Posner represented the Jewish community. Rebekah  invited me to speak, but I had nothing to add to the absolute rightness of the moment.
Rebecka ended the vigil just prior to Shabbat, requesting that the crowd be aware that the Jewish Sabbath was beginning.  After many hugs and a few words with the local press, I went upstairs to finish preparing dinner. My friend from London, who doesn’t understand Swedish, was moved to tears.
The real jolt came after Shabbat, as I read the Jewish press. That ubiquitous hyperbolic headline about the blast “rocking” our building irritated me, but the articles were essentially accurate. I was disappointed that nobody had followed up with a story about the multi-faceted vigil. Readers all over the world who have been following the story of anti-Semitic hate crimes in Malmö should also learn about our concerned neighbors who literally rushed to our side. What made me explode, though, was that the Jewish Journal of LA had the chutspa  to publish a Reuter’s photo of the vigil next to an  indefensible rant  by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper.
Rabbi Cooper has already declared Malmö an unsafe travel destination for Jews. Now he suggests that those of us who live here might soon need to flee for Israel or elsewhere. “Ayn Soamchin Al Haness—we cannot rely on miracles to secure the safety of Jewish children. Clearly time is running out for Malmö,” he writes, along with other overstated claims. Rabbi Cooper must know that it is dry season in the Jewish blogosphere. Pamela Gellar, she of the Isalmophobic ads on New York City busses,  borrowed from Cooper’s screed to come to the offensive conclusion that “Malmo has become as bad for Jews as Berlin at the height of the WWII. With its very large Muslim population, Islamic attacks against the Jews are part of the social fabric in Malmo. It’s pure hell.”  Such mendacity desecrates the memory of those Jews who died in Berlin and dishonors those who survived. She cynically uses their name to buttress her anti-Muslim fabrications, which have zero to do with the Jewish community of Malmö.
Time has not run out for us. On the contrary, while the bursts of hate are anonymous and cowardly, the eloquent expressions of support are said aloud by well-known community leaders and residents from all over the region. It is time for Cooper and Gellar and the countless Jewish bloggers who quote them to stop crying wolf.
Yes, there are hate crimes against Jews here. Yes, the mayor has repeatedly exacerbated this problem with odious speech of his own. It is understandable that some Holocaust survivors and their children have been traumatized and felt the need to leave.  A  rabbi who has been the victim of countless incidents of verbal and physical attacks to his person and his property feels that he and his family are under siege, and I have great empathy for them.  Yet he always encourages me to be “out” as Jewish everywhere, especially among my Arab and Iranian classmates at my Swedish for Immigrants school.
Jewish communal leaders who declare that the municipality and the Swedish government must provide Malmo’s Jews with a more robust security program, including at the building in which I live, are correct.
But Jews should not feel chased out of Malmo. Rather, the Wiesenthal Center should remove the absurd Travel Advisory that it slapped on my adopted hometown, and instead encourage more Jews to visit.  Anyone who does will see that Malmö is a diverse city with all of the joys and challenges that this brings.
*Maybe for  Limmud Oresund 2013.

12 thoughts on “Please Come to Malmö in the Springtime*

  1. Unfortunately, there are too many Swedes who consider Israel, its politicians and Jewish citizens to be racist. Many, unfortunately, see the Palestinians as oppressed people, but they don’t know, for instance, that the inhabitants of El Fachem have declined the opportunity to become part of the Palestinian West Bank because they would lose all the benefits provided by the Jewish state, or that Hezbollah and Hamas regularly shoot Katuscha rockets into Israel.
    Our job is to dispel these misconceptions, support the Jews in Malmö, and counter any anti-Jewish propaganda.

  2. I visited Malmo in August with my son, Benjamin, who leads Egalitarian services there, and I must concur with the writer’s claim that I did not feel threatened or scared at all during my stay there. We walked to and from the Jewish Community Center ( the very building that was “under attack” ) several times during our visit. I greatly enjoyed my stay with the warm and welcoming members of the Malmo Jewish community and I would hope other travelers will take the time to experience this lovely city and show support for the Jewish Community at at time when they need it the most, instead of isolating and ostracizing them.
    Debbie Gerber

  3. Shalom, speaking as a journalist who covered the Second Intifada in Israel, when I would read distorted copy intended to blur the lines and cause panic I would send the editor of the offending publication a notice prior to my report on the inaccuracy and give the publisher an opportunity to correct the statements. Did you write the publisher and ask who was questioned at the site and who gave the information? Many times, most pulishers have an unwritten agenda. Nonetheless, when a reader – especially a journalist or a witness gives information contradicting an article usually the publisher will print a correction. It is pertinent to your readers for you to answer this question. And perhaps, if you have not – now would be the Moment to contact the publisher. We are all thankful that you were not harmed and that you were able to simply go back to sleep. Certainly there are thousands upon thousands of Jews who after experiencing a hate crime first hand, who were not shielded as you were – learn a much harsher lesson about nature of the Enemy, the loss of Life and the loss of Loved Ones on this Elevation. This question is a rhetorical one and need not be made public…. I have nothing to prove. Shana tova, Aviva Lee; Journalist & Writer

  4. 1/ Apparently Rebecca Lillian (‘Rivkele’-you should put it on your masthead) is not well-versed in Swedish (she says she goes to a ‘Swedish for immigrants’ school). So how can she know exactly what happened other than there was an explosion and other various basic physical facts, to say nothing about the backstory?
    2/ Malmo has over 300K residents. 70 people showed up. Let me get out my calculator. That small a percentage. Wow.
    3/ Her friends at JVP (Rebecca Lillian is a leading member) haven’t mentioned a word of this on their website (News and Updates). Why not?
    4/ I think its bad journalism to write ‘the mayor has repeatedly exacerbated this situation with odious speech of his own’ without mentioning anything ‘odious’ that he’s said. It leaves it up to the reader to imagine, and for all we know its something that could be found on websites not too dissimilar to ones that other JVP’ers have appeared on.

  5. Ah. I remember your last post. The one in which you noted that in Malmo, there is this event called a “Kippah Walk” in which “Jews and their allies” done Kippot and walk around the city.
    If it were a safe community, there would be no need for such Solidarity Theatre.
    Now you come to tell us that some anti-semites came, threw rocks, set off some kind of firecracker, and really, everything is quite all right because it was not nearly as bad as the American Jewish press reported, and besides these allies came by and held a vigil.
    Pay attention to that Mayor, and pay attention to that trend, be grateful that you have identified the community’s גרי צדק, but do not imagine that everything is hunky dory.

  6. @dave boxthorn – Rebecca has never attempted to mask her identity. Many bloggers here and elsewhere simply choose a handle by which they may be known online and even in the real world, including Rifkele. Furthermore, Rabbi Lillian has put her words into action and herself on the line, identifying herself publicly and as Jew in Malmo. If Malmo is as safe as she says, she is proving it by putting herself at risk, kol vchomer if it is dangerous. That’s fairly brave and shows great faith.
    That is in contrast to many armchair commentators, critics and trolls who like you take aggressive and provocative stances but then hide behind pseudonyms and fake email addresses neither of which can be found anywhere else on the web. And I have checked. Perhaps before YOU throw any more rocks, you should identify yourself as publicly as you insist posters have done.
    @Rich Its clear there is a problem in Scandanavia, perhaps a legacy of its recent Nazi past, perhaps a lasting legacy of its less recent pagan past, perhaps the result of political positions seeking the votes of recent immigrants. Maybe all three. Maybe its the Acqvavit.
    Sadly the sort of incident Rifkele describes happens 2-3 times a year in Chicago, a city 10x the general and Jewish population (b’ir). Chicago, which has elected a Jew as its Mayor, could hardly be called broadly anti-Semitic. There are always a few bad actors everywhere.
    The truth may be somewhere in the middle. Not all is well in Sweden, but it might not be as bad as Ferdinand’s Spain. Yet…

  7. 1/ My email address is real, not fake. Indeed I’ve been sent emails from Jewschool (not complimentary, but…).
    2/ I suggested she put her name on the masthead since she is a regular contributor.
    3/ Since she lives in a place whose language she doesn’t know she has no idea if she’s safe or not. That’s not ‘bravery’. That’s something else.

  8. “Anyone who does will see that Malmö is a diverse city with all of the joys and challenges that this brings.”
    “Diversity”, hmm? Gosh, I’d thought “diversity” meant finding Thai, Chinese, Moroccan and French restaurants all on the same street. But I guess it also means pyrotechnic devices exploding at Jewish centers?…
    If so, doesn’t it seem like “diversity” is hazardous to one’s health?

  9. Meanwhile, other Swedish Jews apparently agree with Rabbi Cooper, and recommend getting out while the getting is relatively safe:
    “Daisy Balkin Rung, a Jewish woman who grew up in Malmo but left years ago, came to a different conclusion after the attack….. It’s sad to admit: The kipah walks are a good thing, but they are not changing the situation in Malmo,” Rung told JTA. “I’m afraid Malmo is one battle which the other side has won.”
    I don’t know what the right answer is for the remaining Jews in Malmo. But I doubt it’ll be provided by platitudes of “diversity”…

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