Writer: Only Way to Survive as a Jew in Sweden is to ‘Shut Up and Fade Into the Woodwork’
In a letter published by Mosaic Magazine, Annika Hernroth-Rothstein, a Swedish writer and activist who last year organized the first public pro-Israel demonstration in Sweden in seven years, recounted an incident in which she and her son, who was wearing a yarmulke, were harassed by an anti-Semitic middle-aged Arab man while traveling on a train from their town to another city in Sweden to attend Shabbat services on a Friday afternoon.
“I did not summon the railway police. I did not scream back at the man. I know better. I know that the only way to survive as a Jew in my country is not to be seen as one. Not to be exposed but to shut up and fade into the woodwork. I’ve known this for quite some time. Unfortunately, my son knows it now, too,” she wrote.
In Sweden, a country of nine million people, with a Jewish population of 20,000 and a Muslim population of 900,000, Hernroth-Rothstein says she has learned that while the government speaks of treating people equally, really, Jews are discriminated against. She writes:
[In] Sweden kosher butchering was outlawed in 1937 and has been illegal ever since. The threat is not a threat but a reality—for me as, on a much graver scale, it had been for my grandparents, forced into hiding in a Sweden silently collaborating with the Nazis throughout the world war. The next threat on the horizon is a ban on even importing kosher products, compelling me and many of my friends to smuggle kosher meat from Israel on our return trips from that land. By contrast, hallal slaughter is not banned in Sweden. My government, when asked about the disparity, replies that the methods of slaughter in Judaism are uniquely barbaric.
‘Barbaric’ is also what I was called just this past June. As a political adviser to a Swedish party, I was debating the anti-circumcision bill that had just been proposed by another, right-wing party in our parliament, and things got heated. The bill called for a general ban on all circumcision unless medically prescribed, and it enjoyed much bipartisan support. During the debate, I outed myself as a Jew, only to be informed that what ‘we’ were doing to our children was inhumane and barbaric, and should be summarily outlawed. I did my best to maintain my composure, but ended up crying in the courtyard—not for the first time, or for the last.
Hernroth-Rothstein writes that while the historical Jew is welcome in Sweden, the current Jew is not:
What I see is that the Holocaust wing at the Jewish Museum is crowded with visitors, while the synagogues are empty. I see cute Woody Allen-ish activities being promoted, and actual Jewish life being banned. The dead, suffering Jew is glorified; the healthy, active Jew is vilified.
She says that she fears that the remaining Jews in Sweden could one day find all their practices legislated out of existence:
What frightens me most is that my government is proscribing Jewish life. Yes, by outlawing circumcision, banning kosher slaughter, and telling us forthrightly that the only way to avoid being harassed in the streets is to distance ourselves from Israel, they are reinventing the conditions of the Eastern Europe past that brought our community to this country in the first place. This is what is driving us out: one by one, bill by bill.
She concludes with an appeal to world Jewry to support their brethren in Scandinavia:
We in Sweden are still here, but we are feeling lonely and forgotten. We want a strong Jewish community in the Diaspora. We want to live. We are fighting every day against the pressure to turn us into plaques on the wall of former synagogues or into exhibits in guilt-wallowing museums. We need the help of our kinsmen. My son no longer wears his kippah (yarmulkah) in public. Now he does what the men at my shul have done for years. He carries it in his pocket, donning it only when we are safely within the iron gates. Guarded and hidden from the world.