Despite last week's attack in Gothenburg, Jews have never been so welcome

The Masorti Jewish community's spiritual leader praises the authorities' response to recent attacks in the city

December 15, 2017 12:50

It has been a rough few months for the 1000 members of the Gothenburg Jewish community. In September, police gave a violent Neo-Nazi group permission to demonstrate in the heart of the city on Yom Kippur, just a few blocks away from our synagogue.

Then last weekend, days after Donald Trump made his announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Molotov cocktails were hurled at the shul.

The community building next door was hosting a youth party and the teenagers and youth leaders were forced to cower in the basement.

Police arrested three suspects aged between 18 and 21 although only two have been charged. Their identities and motives are not yet public, but it would come as no shock to anybody if they targeted Swedish Jews as a proxy for Israel.

Yet when antisemitism rears its ugly head, I resist the ancient Jewish urge instilled over millennia of persecution to pack my bags and search for safety elsewhere. At times like these, I hear from those who have already made aliyah offering up unhelpful I-told-you-sos in lieu of support, but I challenge them to find me a period in our very long history when we were as welcome to participate in Western society as we are today.

To those in Sweden who say that it feels like the 1930s all over again, I point out that pogroms and persecution used to be sanctioned, sometimes even carried out by the authorities in states where Jews lived. Only when a police van alarms rather than calms me will I reach for my luggage.

This is certainly not the case today. Working in the Jewish community, the most challenging aspect of the neo-Nazis and the synagogue firebombing was the intense but sympathetic spotlight that landed on us. The requests for media interviews and the sheer volume of letters and calls of support from non-Jews all over Sweden were overwhelming. The walls outside our community weren’t covered in hateful graffiti but by hearts and messages of love from anonymous passers-by.

Throngs of demonstrators took to the streets to peacefully express their disgust for right-wing extremism. Leaders of local Muslim groups have also visited and expressed their support.

I was deeply moved by Minister of Culture Alice Bah Kuhnke’s unsolicited concern when I told her that the few remaining Holocaust survivors at our Jewish old-age home were experiencing PTSD at the thought of going to synagogue while Nazis marched nearby.

She visited the residents that same day to reassure them.

Gothenburg mayor Ann-Sofie Hermansson was with us on the first night of Chanukah at a lighting ceremony in the main square and strongly condemned the Molotov cocktail attack.

We clearly don’t stand alone. Are these responses effective or enough? It is certainly a good start.

In all the crazy intensity of the response to the fire-bombing, one offer of support really made me smile: a “master balloon sculptor” wants to know when she could come and perform for our children. She can’t make it for Chanukah, so we booked her for Tu Bishvat.

I can’t wait to tell the kids.

Benjamin Gerber is the spiritual leader of Gothenburg's Masorti Jewish community

December 15, 2017 12:50

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