Summer is ending. The rain has washed summer away and the air is crisp and cool. You can almost feel the autumn sweeping in. You are walking to the local grocery store as you do every other day and suddenly everything is changed. The beautiful surroundings you find yourself in don’t match the hateful commentaries you get both from Jews and non-Jews on social media and elsewhere. They certainly doesn’t match the story of a Jew being attacked because of wearing a Magen David necklace some 500 meters outside your house. Who could imagine this could happen in the middle of Sweden?
In a quarter that is heavily patrolled by police officers day and night? Once you were a Jew, now you are a baby-killer. Once you were a Swede, now you’ve become an Israeli. A long time ago you were accepted, part of society, now you are an outsider, once again. When you once came here you couldn’t reconcile the beautiful, perfectly-cut grass lanes and the tidiness of the street and the hard-working, marginalized people who surrounded you.
In the summer they used to burn cars, or even throw stones at bus drivers just for the sake of it, forgetting that these very bus drivers actually lived the same hard lives they did. All were striving through the Swedish societal maze of language, customs and behavioral codes.
Once upon a time, when Jewish people in Europe were accused of baby-killing, or of housing Zionist nationalistic sentiments – they were persecuted and eventually murdered for it. Today, Jewish people in Europe are once more persecuted for their nationalistic sentiments and perceived as outsiders for their religious choices.
Being a Jew in Sweden started as a privilege given to a single man, Aaron Isaac, at the end of the 18th century, and might end as a privilege accorded only to those Jews that don’t dare to be Jews. Such Jews apparently don’t realize they are acting exactly like their Spanish predecessors did at the end of the 15th century. They, too, were prevented – by law, as opposed to custom as is the case now – not to practice their religion in the open, and eventually had to flee for their lives. Hiding behind the Swedish custom of keeping religion a private matter, or trying to blend in, even going so far as letting go of some basic practices like circumcision or kosher slaughter are just a few examples.
The Jewish practice of circumcision is compared in Sweden to female genital mutilation. Kosher slaughter is forbidden for hygienic reasons even though there are many research papers about Jewish customs and how they are intended to improve hygiene. A ban on circumcision has made it to the headlines a few times, resulting in a feeling of threat, though to date no legislation has been forthcoming.
Kosher slaughter is forbidden by law.
Swedish Jews need to rise to the challenge; the challenge of protecting their life, lifestyle and right to choose freely, as can any Muslim or Christian in this country. If you feel you “stand with Israel” or “together we will win,” then you should know it’s all right and you shouldn’t fear for your life, your well-being or the consequences it will have on your family members. That is the meaning of freedom.
Being free, in Israel or in Sweden, is hard work. You need to earn your freedom. You need to work hard in order to blend in, you need to be “lagom” (a Swedish word meaning “not too little and not too much”). In Israel the matter is protecting your life, and the little piece of sanity you have in order to go on functioning in society. In Sweden it’s about protecting your spiritual life and your mere existence as a Swedish Jew. Some would say these are actually the same.
When autumn begins, you usually feel it is a fresh start. The new school year is coming, a new year commences at work after the long summer vacation. If you are Jewish then it is actually a new calendar year. In Sweden one can literally feel it in the air. This autumn, however, doesn’t feel refreshing. This autumn feels like history is just repeating itself. Living in Sweden today, having been born almost 40 years after Second World War and the Holocaust ended, makes it no better. The general feeling is “I don’t have a place in this world.”
The writer is a cultural entrepreneur living and working in Uppsala, Sweden.