Culture, Global, Identity, Mishegas

Sweden's Jews Say, "I'm a learner, not a fighter!"

Filmmaker Alexander Bodin Saphir presents on the rescue of the Danish Jews at OresundsLimmud 2013
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.

4 thoughts on “Sweden's Jews Say, "I'm a learner, not a fighter!"

  1. Dear Rifkele:
    Thanks for your post. Apologies for missing your comment all those weeks ago. I’ve got no messages, e-mails, voicemails, or tweets from you on this issue so I am not sure whom you’ve been trying to reach, but I’m not so hard to find. Nevertheless, you’re right to say I did cite The Local’s story, it had been sent to me by a friend who saw a post I wrote last year about the kippah walks in Berlin. I thought the story was interesting and had no reason to doubt it, so I did direct people to it. I didn’t claim at any point that it was *my* story just that a story had been written about it (such is the nature of blogging). There have been a lot of stories by countless outlets about Swedish Jewry from before and after last year’s explosion–I heard a few when I visited Copenhagen and Malmo last summer–so I’m not sure what singular journalistic phenomenon you’re ascribing to me or Tablet, but if you yourself admit that there are people there talking about their troubles, just because Limmud doesn’t have a panel on it, doesn’t mean there still isn’t trouble.
    Nevertheless, I’d love your take on life there if your Google prowess ever leads you to my easily accessible contact information. Thanks Adam

  2. Adam,
    Twitter is a service I do not use, so I sent the same message many times to the general Tablet e-mail (Tablet itself offered no other contact information.) I do not have the time to seek out bloggers, and a cursory Google search kept pointing to Tablet. Nobody among the various journalists and bloggers I asked knew how to contact you apart from Twitter. There are many Adam Chandlers on Facebook. In any case, the message was similar to what I posted in my comments: That I wanted to talk to you about this. It included my personal contact information.
    I hadn’t realized that you were playing hide and seek.
    I am not. If you still want my take on on life here in Malmö, use the e-mail address I posted for you: [email protected]. I am happy to arrange for a chat or a Skype or Viber conversation.
    Before you do, please click on my name and read my previous posts about Jewish life southern Sweden, the kippah walks, and the “explosion” at the Jewish community center, where I live. They will give you a basic sense of how many of we Jews who live in Malmö experience the media attention.
    FYI, I work with the Egalitarian Synagogue of Malmö, teach Jewish Studies at nearby Lund University, and also work with the Copenhagen Jewish community. I have lived in southern Sweden for two years, have previously spent a good deal of time in Denmark–where I have family–and understand Danish and Swedish. Just to save you a Google search.
    Moadim l’simcha/happy Passover week,
    Rebecca Lillian, rabbi a/k/a Rifkele

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