Malmo synagogue in Sweden..
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
This story goes back to January 2012, when government officials first knocked on the door of the Namdar family’s home in Gothenburg, Sweden. The Namdars are Chabad shluchim (emissaries), living and working in Sweden since 1991. The reason for the visit was the fact that Rabbi Alexander Namdar and Rebbetzin Leah Namdar have chosen to home-school their children, thus giving them a Jewish education and ensuring they can still live full Jewish lives.
One might think that the reason for this government intervention would be a will to ensure that the Namdar children get a good education, but then one would be mistaken. Six of the family’s 11 children have been home-schooled through international online schools; receiving the common core base of the secular curriculum, and they now attend international high schools abroad, pursuing careers in education. The children study math, social studies, geography and science as any other child in the country and are, alongside the online school, also being privately tutored in order to pass national standardized tests.
So why would the city of Gothenburg and the government of Sweden try to force these children into public school? The Namdar kids, who by age five have been fluent in Swedish, English, Hebrew and Yiddish, are most likely more well educated than most Swedish children – so their well-being can’t be the cause. So what is it, really?
Sweden has very tight restrictions on home-schooling, allowing it only in what they call “extraordinary circumstances.” In the ultra-secular country of Sweden, religion is not considered an extraordinary circumstance. Home-schooling is legal, unless you believe in G-d.
The city of Gothenburg is threatening to fine the Namdar family 2400 dollars per week if they do not comply and put their children in public school, which to me seems like nothing short of forced assimilation. If, chas v’chalilah (G-d forbid), the Namdar children are put in public school they would not be able to uphold their orthodox Jewish lives. The city of Gothenburg is not only taking radical steps to assimilate the Namdar family, they are also putting their children at risk of anti-Semitic bullying, or worse. The crime they are committing is trying to give their children a Jewish education and ensuring they stay Jewish in a secular society, all while being a haven for other Jews in the area, providing kosher meals, religious services and learning. For this, they are being persecuted. For this, they may have to leave.
The Namdar family won the first round against the city of Gothenburg, but the city appealed and the case is now being tried in the Supreme Administrative Court on January 27th. If they lose this case they may end up having to leave Sweden in order to live Jewish lives and raise their children according to their faith and tradition, and the country would lose yet another Jew to the oppression of the secular consensus. Sweden as a country has a fear of religion and in rejecting the rights of this Jewish family, the city of Gothenburg is also rejecting religious pluralism in society as a whole. One size fits all-secularism is seen as the bedrock of a healthy society, while the values instilled in children through religion; charity, peace, globalism and education, are the values being lauded by liberal societies everywhere.
It’s a shameful thing to withhold human rights, whether it is the right to speak your mind, write your truth or worship according to your own heart's desire. Sweden is making the choice to use bureaucracy to assimilate and force Jews out. It is doing so openly, and it is doing so without a hint of hesitation.
If the events of the past weeks have taught us anything, it should be that human rights are worth fighting for, and that oppression must be fought in daylight as well as in shadows. The case being tried against the Namdars is not merely about education, but about secular nations waking up to the idea that G-d is a factor in many people’s lives, and that this factor can contribute to society and help shape a world for the better. As such it should not be driven out of town, but be used as a tool to build it.