Malmo synagogue in Sweden..
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Two philanthropists, one Jewish and the other non-Jewish, are donating $4 million over the next 10 years to strengthen the Jewish community in Malmö, Sweden.
The philanthropists, Lennart Blecher and Dan Olofsson, told the Swedish Dagens Nyheter newspaper that they had “joined together to... unite the city of Malmö and the business community in the fight against antisemitism and to secure the future of the Jewish congregation.”
“We hope that we can instill some hope in the Jewish population, so they feel that even if the politicians do not want to do something, there are people who are prepared to stand up for them,” Olofsson told the newspaper.
The money will go toward the Jewish community’s “activities, as well as security work.”
According to Olofsson, there are only about 380 Jews remaining in Malmö today, down from 2,000 several decades ago.
Rabbi Michael Melchior, head of the Beit Din in Scandinavian Countries, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that Blecher and Olofsson were also giving “an interest-free loan to the community to refurbish the Jewish Community Center and to strengthen Jewish Malmö.”
Speaking from Copenhagen, Melchior said he had met with Malmö’s Jewish community leaders last week and that the money being given will also go toward supporting education programs.
“I’m not a spokesperson for the community,” he emphasized, “but what I was told is that they [Blecher and Olofsson] believe the authorities in Malmö should be doing this. They’ve done this to challenge them. They’re saying ‘We’re doing what we can to help, we’re doing everything that is humanly possible to ensure Jewish life and a Jewish future in Malmö.’”
During his interview with Dagens Nyheter, Olofsson confirmed this, saying he’d hoped the Malmö Municipality would join them in bringing about a “massive education and information campaign” in schools.
“I have spent two months and sat with Malmö’s leading politicians a number of times to get them to make a real commitment,” Olofsson said. “But that is not possible... the politicians have not responded.”
MELCHIOR WENT on to explain that on the other hand, the authorities have stepped up in other ways to fight antisemitism.
“There are good initiatives like Amana,” a state-funded interfaith learning program for Jews and Muslims that Melchior said has helped a lot, and that such a model should be used in Europe as well. “And they [the authorities] have stepped up their protection.... They’re also getting ready for 20th Antisemitism Conference, which will be held in Malmö in October 2020. But there is still a lot more to do,” he emphasized.
Melchior told the Post that there is a more worrying situation growing for Jewish children in local schools. “Some of the [Jewish] youth feel that there is an unsafe atmosphere – that the general atmosphere it is not safe for Jews,” he said. “The name of Judaism is still used in a negative way and it still has negative connotations – the [Jewish] youth are feeling this way.”
“This must be taken seriously,” he stressed. “But change does not take place overnight, there needs to be an in-depth, serious investment [in youth programs] to change this, and it’s not just antisemitism – all types of racism needs to be stopped, it’s a deep sickness in society and we need to use all we have to get rid of this.”
Melchior’s comments came following a May Day parade in which Malmö’s youth wing of Sweden’s largest party, the Social Democrats, chanted “Long live Palestine, crush Zionism,” during their procession.
Although the youth chair initially defended the singing of the song, she later apologized and promised that the song would not be sung again, adding that they would open dialogue with the Jewish community, Sweden’s The Local reported.
The rabbi made it clear that there “needs to be a lot of steps taken to build a foundation for our society,” and to build a society in which racism and antisemitism are no longer accepted.
“I think this is what the philanthropists are doing,” he explained. “They want a Jewish future in Malmö. They are putting their money where their mouth is and telling the state – municipality and government – to do the same.”
“What they are doing is remarkable and wonderful, I know that the Jewish community are very grateful and hopeful,” Melchior concluded.
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