Sweden: From burning Torah scrolls to tasty traditions

Jewsweek Podcast, Episode #2

 Jewsweek Podcast, episode #2 (photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)
Jewsweek Podcast, episode #2
(photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)

Are you ready to delve into the diverse and intriguing world of Jewish communities worldwide? Look no further than the Jewsweek Podcast, where we bring you captivating interviews with influential figures from Jewish communities around the globe. In our latest episode, we had the privilege of sitting down with Aron Verständig, the esteemed president of the Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, for an illuminating conversation that sheds light on the unique challenges and triumphs of the Swedish Jewish community.

Hosted by Zvika Klein, Jewish World Analyst for The Jerusalem Post, this episode offers an eye-opening look into the vibrant Jewish life in Sweden. Verständig, a young and dynamic leader, shares his insights on various aspects that shape the Swedish Jewish community, making this a must-listen for anyone interested in Jewish heritage and culture.

During the interview, Verständig discussed several issues, including Sweden granting permission to burn a Torah scroll as an act of protest.

"The burning of a Torah scroll is an appalling act of hate," he said. "We strongly condemn such actions, which aim to harm the Jewish community and also undermine the principles of religious freedom and tolerance in our society. While we advocate freedom of speech, it is essential to differentiate between expressing opinions and engaging in hate-driven acts that incite violence and disrespect towards any religion."

Regarding the rise of Quran burnings he said that "in recent times, we have witnessed a disturbing trend of Quran burnings orchestrated by some individuals in Sweden.” 

“This book-burning pandemic, influenced by Islamophobic politicians, has caused significant tensions and negative consequences in our international relations,” he added. “It is crucial to address this issue seriously and find ways to prevent such hateful actions from taking place in our country."

Verständig also highlighted how interfaith relations and dialogue have been crucial to address this disturbing phenomenon.

"In the face of these incidents, we stand firm in promoting interfaith connections and constructive dialogues with the Muslim community,” he said. “Together, we aim to build bridges of understanding and respect, fostering unity in our diverse society. Interfaith engagement is an essential tool to counter hatred and promote peace in our communities.”

"It's a bit unfortunate that the media often focuses on negative incidents," he added, discussing how the media tend to portray Sweden as a place that isn't safe for Jews. "Over the last decade, people have associated Malmo and other parts of Sweden with antisemitism. We must stay vigilant, condemn acts of hatred, and work together with the Muslim and Christian communities to create a more peaceful environment."

Verständig explained the uniqueness of his Jewish community.

"One distinctive aspect of the Swedish Jewish communities is our model of unity and inclusivity,” he said. “Unlike some other places, we don't have competing communities; rather, we have a unified community that encompasses Jews from diverse backgrounds, affiliations, and traditions.”

Verständig said that the Swedish Jewish community is open to everyone.

“For example, in Stockholm, we have Orthodox rabbis and we also recently hired a progressive rabbi,” he noted. “We have two Orthodox synagogues, one Masorti synagogue, and also a progressive group. Our community does not have one specific religious affiliation. We have a school, kindergarten, and so on. We are a single community that does everything - synagogue, summer camp, cemetery, education, and more. This unity allows us to come together and celebrate our shared heritage, fostering a sense of belonging and camaraderie among our members."

However, there are also challenges for Jews in Sweden. According to Verständig, "we need to find ways for young Jews to maintain their Jewish identity and continue the tradition of Swedish Jewry.”

“In a secular society, it's crucial to offer opportunities for young Jews to connect with their heritage and culture," he added, emphasizing that he and his community are "proud to celebrate 250 years of Jewish history in Sweden.” 

“From the days of King Gustaf III granting permission for the first Jew to settle in Sweden to the present day, our community has grown, thrived, and contributed to the nation's diverse fabric," he said.

He concluded by describing the most popular Jewish-Swedish dish.

"When it comes to our delectable Jewish cuisine, there's one dish that always brings a smile to our faces: salmon!” he said. “Smoked salmon during Shabbat lunch in the summer is a true delicacy. It perfectly combines the flavors of Sweden with our cherished Jewish traditions, making it a favorite among our community members."

Subscribe to the Jewsweek Podcast on your favorite podcast platform to stay updated on our upcoming episodes, as we continue to explore the richness of Jewish communities worldwide. Whether you're a history enthusiast, a culture aficionado, or just passionate about understanding different societies, our podcast promises to deliver fascinating insights that will leave you inspired and informed.

join us on this remarkable journey as we embrace the tapestry of Jewish life around the globe. 

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