Christian Reporter Disguised as a Jew in Malmö, Sweden: Wearing Kippah Made Me Fearful
In 2010 the Simon Wiesenthal Centre issued a travel warning for Malmö urging “extreme caution.” A year later a Hollywood film company scrapped plans to shoot a Jewish themed movie in the city because of concerns about anti-Semitism there. In 2012 Swedish police recorded 60 hate crimes against Jews, up from an average of 22 in 2010 and 2011, and during the first six months of 2013, police reported 35 such attacks in Malmö, putting the city on pace to break last year’s record.
All of this, plus a letter to the editor from a Jewish reader in America, expressing hesitation over visiting Sweden because of its much reported anti-Semitism, inspired a Christian reporter at Sweden’s The Local newspaper to spend a day in the shoes of a Jew , wearing a kippah and exploring the Muslim-populated immigrant neighborhoods of the city.
“The idea,” journalist Patrick Reilly wrote in The Local, “was to go about my normal day and also visit places which a potential tourist may go to, albeit with one major difference – the kippah clipped to the back of my head,” while avoiding more dangerous flashpoints on the outskirts of the city.
Before embarking on his quest, Reilly sought advice from chef Shmuel Goldberg, who, as a kippah wearing Jew regularly exposes himself to possible violence.
“Don’t do anything you wouldn’t ordinarily do. Be careful as at times it can be unpleasant,” he advised Reilly.
Reilly’s first stop was Möllevången, “the bohemian quarter of Malmö with a bustling fruit and veg market manned largely by immigrants by day and pubs serving cheap beer by night.”
“On several occasions people stopped and looked back at me with a mixture of disbelief and menace,” Reilly reports.
One vendor laughed at Reilly on two separate occasions, going so far as to invite a colleague over to observe him.
Reilly’s friend who he employed to shadow him in case of escalation reported that a gang of men were “staring solidly at [Reilly] for 30 minutes.”
“After a while I began to forget I was wearing the kippah until a burly man walked aggressively in my direction and mouthed ‘f*cking Jew’ to his friend. It was a reminder that making your Jewish identity in Malmö obvious carries its own risk. Frankly, it was a relief to take it off,” he wrote.
“As an Irish person abroad,” Reilly concludes, “I’ve never felt remotely threatened but wearing the kippah for a few hours was enough to instill feelings of fear. Even when I didn’t feel afraid I was made to feel different and unwelcome.”
Yet, Reilly notes that the city does not lurch silently on an inexorable path towards another Kristallnacht.
“But it would be wrong to leave with the impression, as many on the other side of the Atlantic seem to have done, that anti-Semitism is going unchallenged in Malmö. Indeed, the reports of anti-Semitism have led to much soul-searching,” he wrote. “‘Kippah walks’ involving hundreds of Malmö residents and other Swedes are held on a regular basis to show support for the city’s Jewish community, which is estimated to have dwindled to 600 people.”
He also writes that new Malmö mayor Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh “said she was keen to mend relations with the Jewish community and promised to do more to tackle hate crime.”
“I think we started a debate which is very important by focusing on hate crime. Even a single one is one too much,” she said in a previous interview with his newspaper.
“Let’s be clear. Beyond stares and a mindless insult, nothing truly serious happened when I wore the kippah for a few hours,” Reilly writes. “But enough unsavory incidents have occurred in Malmö to suggest that something could have happened.”