Bayit and switch- A story about the importance of showing up

At what point do we stop being victims and start being perpetrators in the story of our demise?

May 22, 2014 17:35
3 minute read.
Great Synagogue of Stockholm

Great Synagogue of Stockholm 370. (photo credit: Molly Gellert)


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They call it the Bayit.

The new Jewish community center, currently being built in Stockholm, has been many years in the making. The prospect on the official homepage describes the Bayit-project as a cutting-edge center for culture and education, meant to stand as a symbol of the future of Swedish Jewry. With its state of the art-design, an open courtyard and plenty of activities for visitors it has become the talk of the town and on top of that, it stands as one of the greatest single investments in the history of the Jewish community. 

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The Bayit is replacing an historic five-story building that has housed both the Jewish school and the orthodox synagogue for many years, thus serving as a link between the past and the future. The orthodox synagogue was asked to move as the project broke ground, under promises that it would receive a permanent home in the new building. It would all be better, they said. It would all be new. 

To make room for the future they tore down the past. 

The 230-year-old orthodox synagogue Adat Jeschurun vacated the premises in the fall of 2013. The interior, saved from Nazi destruction in 1938, was put away in storage and the 190 member strong synagogue was left to its own devises, accepting a two year-exodus for the stability that was to come. Or so they thought.

Last week the board of the Jewish community decided that an orthodox synagogue did not fit the profile of the new Jewish community center. Due to what they called unforeseen circumstances they had to retract the previous promise to house Adat Jeschurun. The reasons given were that religious activity is both costly and space-consuming, and that the new house needs maximal flexibility in order to be functional. 

I am writing this mid-air, on a flight between New York and Frankfurt. With me on this plane are 40 Hassidic Jews from Brooklyn. I met them before takeoff, davened Mincha alongside them at the gate, and then the wives and I had a brief conversation. They told me they were on a trip around Eastern Europe, to visit the graveyards of their ancestors. They go every few years to make sure the graveyards are not vandalized or taken over by local farmers and landowners. So they raise the money to travel to Romania, Hungary, Latvia and Poland and show presence. They refuse to let go of what was because they know it is the key to what they are and what they will be.  If they see that we are still there they leave us alone, said one of the women. So we travel for days, just to show up. 

The Jewish communities around Europe are suffering, we all know that. Many essays and op-eds have been written on the topic of anti-Semitism and structural hate. But I wonder how anyone can steal from us if we are giving it all away? How much of a fight is it, really, if we fail to show up? At what point do we stop being victims and start being perpetrators in the story of our demise? 

That interaction on the plane really moved me. 42 Hassidic Jews, entire families, were showing up and being counted. It struck me as a highly practical expression of a deeply philosophical idea. They literally walked the walk, and they were doing it for all of us. 

To make room for the future they are preserving the past. 

The Bayit-project is set to be finished in 2015, and at that point it will be housing every previous tenant, except for the religious section of the community.  What I see before me is not the pride of Swedish Jewry, but the architecture of assimilation. The deliberate action of excluding religion and building tradition out of the houses we claim to call our own. We are moving into the future untethered to the traditions that got us here; happily throwing away the tools that would allow us to move forward. 

The Hassidim on my flight have made their choice, and as I am I am writing this, so have we. The future of Swedish Jewry has been chosen, built and funded, and with that Jewish religion is being left by the wayside. 

They call it the Bayit.
But it takes more than bricks and mortar to make a house a home. 

Annika Hernroth-Rothstein is a political adviser, writer and activist. An alumni of the Young Jewish diplomatic seminar (organized by the Mizrad Hahutz) and Tikvah seminars in NYC. She lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with her two children. Follow her on Twitter.

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