I arrived with my parents in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city, as a 13-year-old immigrant from war-ravaged Poland, not knowing the language and with very little education. Though I’ve lived in other cities and other countries since, in many ways, Gothenburg, where my parents are buried, is the only place I could reasonably refer to as my home town.
It was in the synagogue in Gothenburg that I discovered prayer and began to see Judaism as a privilege and a blessing, rather than a burden. It was there that I read Torah for the first time, and it was there that I made friends. The community’s rabbi encouraged me to follow in his footsteps, for which I’m immeasurably grateful.
It thus pains me to read that the synagogue in Gothenburg, as in other places in Sweden and around the world, has been the target of anti-Semitism. On Yom Kippur, the local neo-Nazis wanted to march past the synagogue. In the end, authorities moved the demonstration some distance away, but the discomfort in the Jewish community remained.
It was greatly heightened when, just before Hanukkah, the synagogue was firebombed, while a youth group was meeting there. This time, it was Muslims who were ostensibly protesting against U.S. President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. As Bruce Bawer, an American writer who lives in Norway, put it: “Yes, in Western Europe, in 2017, a group of young Jews stood in a basement, helpless, amid the gasoline fumes from firebombs.”
Jews get it from many sides – neo-Nazis and Muslims. As fashion guru Karl Lagerfeld said, “One cannot – even if there are decades between them – kill millions of Jews so you can bring millions of their worst enemies in their place.” The implication is that governments that are hostile to Israel are fostering this new form of anti-Semitism by tolerating Muslims who’ve settled in their lands and bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the streets of European cities.
At the same time, European politicians across the political spectrum mouth condemnations of anti-Semitism and insist that their criticism of Israeli policies aren’t targeting the Jews living in their countries. But people on the ground experience it differently, even though many spokespeople for local Jewish communities choose not to blame their governments.
According to Bawer, “The attack on the Gothenburg synagogue may have been immediately triggered by Trump’s recognition of Israel’s capital, but it is part of a pattern of persecution and savagery that has been in place, and that has been systematically ignored, denied or played down by the news media and public officials, ever since the Islamization of Western Europe began.”
Some link this unfairly named “Islamization” to the low birthrate of many European nations. Europe needs more workers than it has people, especially to work menial jobs. Therefore, sometimes in the guise of humanitarian concerns, European governments bring in immigrants to do the work. If they take their anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments with them, so be it.
What the politicians seem to forget – or ignore – is that, traditionally, the Jews have arguably been the most ardent Europeans. Modern Judaism, including modern Zionism, was born in Europe. Most of the founding parents of the Jewish state across the political spectrum came from Europe and were determined that Israel would be a European state in the Middle East.
Even the Holocaust hasn’t changed the Jews’ European orientation. Small communities like the one in Gothenburg exist, and often thrive, across the continent. The number of Israelis in Berlin and many other cities in Europe is said to be considerable. They seem to prefer anti-Israel demonstrations and local firebombs to rockets from Gaza and stabbings in Jerusalem. Sadly, the inspiration for both kinds of attacks seems to come from the same source.