There are 11 people around the table in the small south-side apartment. It’s warm and loud and smells of fragrant kubbeh. Somewhere in the other room, a child has discovered the magic of her own feet. It is home to us, to so many of us, the place that we go after Shabbat services and the radically un-Swedish interior stands in stark contrast to the opaque calm that dominates outside. Most Swedes would never see these scenes or know these people that I call family but we belong here just as they do, we play a role in the larger society and in some sense save it from itself, our antiquated ways and deeply rooted rituals balancing out the modernity and ennui of contemporary life.

I have spent the better part of five years trying to make the case for our survival, speaking of and writing about the life of European Jews. At first I got little more than a courteous nod, and now, after terror and totalitarianism has reared its many heads, the response to our plight is an immediate call to leave and stay gone forever. Perhaps I have failed to capture what it is I’m fighting for in a clear and snappy sentence and perhaps that is why the right to remain is not perceived as a human right for us Jews, once the right to return has given and defined. Or perhaps it is one of those things that cannot be captured in words but rather needs to be felt through experiences, and those are unavailable to many and of too little interest to most. So we are locked into an either-or, where we are somehow expected to stay and assimilate or, if our Jewishness persists, leave for Israel and be happy with our lot.

But there is more. There is this. Us. The 11 people at this table, hearing the kiddush, singing and eating and praying together, and we have every right to be here if that is what we choose to do, being a integral part of a society that is nothing like us. The debate has been focused on the negative, the pain and the plight, and I, too, have been guilty of trying to achieve understanding by telling the worst scenario and citing statistics of crimes, horror and hate. Those things matter, but I may have come further if I had told the stories that matter even more.

Later that same day, I go to my friend Isidor’s house to attend his wife’s yahrzeit and to lend a helping hand. An hour later, there’s a prayer service in his living room, praying in one ancient voice, and I stand to the side just watching the scene and wishing I could capture what it is to me and why this deserves to be preserved.

European Jewish life is its own thing, our very own strain of Yiddishkeit with a tapestry of memories and meaning that we only share between ourselves. We walk the line between soul and society, purpose and practice, and the way we do this is a testament to the strength of who and what we are.

Isidor is telling jokes in Yiddish and though mine is quite rusty, I can tell that he works blue. We are eating gefilte fish from his grandmother’s recipe and drinking l’chaims made on traditional Swedish spices and nothing could more exquisitely describe the gorgeous complexity of our Swedish-Jewish lives. There are five countries and backgrounds represented at this table and so many untold stories folded and hidden beneath our mother tongue. We are not facts on the ground or mere statistics but people with pasts and futures that we should be allowed to master on our own.

I wish you could have been there, I really, really do. I wish all those who tell us to leave or who minimize the loss of freedom in our lives could have experienced the beauty of our joy and of our struggle. The right of return can never replace the right to remain, and both should hold a place in the Jewish psyche on the list of priorities of anyone who cares about our people’s fate.

 The men who came to pray and to honor Isidor’s wife took time out of their lives to tend to not only him, but to our rituals, and that is why we are family and why we will remain. We show up for each other, be it in synagogues or crowded apartments or a memorial prayer service for a loved one or a brother we don’t know. We show up for each other because we all know this life and we all walk this line, as European Jews in a time and a place that urges us to be either extinct or irrelevant.

But we won’t be, not just yet, not as long as there is life and breath within us. We show up for one another, and I expect the world to show up for us, fighting for our right to Jewish life and not merely Jewish survival.

 

This article was first published in Israel Hayom

Yesterday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I sit at my desk and think about all the media coverage that this anniversary generated, and how quiet it is now, the day after.

Yesterday I read ten articles about the Holocaust, about the victims and the need to remember.

But today when I skim through the news feed, I find nothing at all.

Does that mean there is nothing to write about?

Yesterday a prominent parliamentarian spoke at the Great Synagogue.

In past years other dignitaries have made that same speech

flanked by the Swedish royal family.

But where are they today?

When it comes to defending the Jewish minority’s human rights, are they just as easy to reach?

Do they stand up for the right to circumcision?

Do they fight to repeal the shameful 1937 ban of kosher slaughter?

Do they promise to ensure the Jewish minority’s safety?

Or is it that simple, that it is politically more favorable to mourn the dead Jews than to ensure continued Jewish life?

I have all the respect in the world for what the Living History Forum of Sweden is doing by organizing this memorial, but I lack a forum for a living future.

The difference between actively remembering, and passively mourning, is vast.

To actively remember is to every day reaffirm your identity, and to live it.

Not allowing commemorations to serve as a political platforms, but be promise for the future.

For what greater respect can we show those we have lost but to keep living?

Proud and visible.

I am pleased that the synagogue was packed yesterday

but I hope that we honor the memory by filling it every week.

Many beautiful words were written in our newspapers on Monday

but I hope that our fate is considered news worthy every single day.

Politics and the royal family stood by our side in Raul Wallenberg Square

I sincerely hope that they also do so in the halls of our parliament.

This is my hope, amidst all the despair.

That proximity to death will be a call to life.

Yesterday people spoke eloquently about the need to remember, but what is done to make sure that the rest of us will not become memories of the past?

Who will love the Jews, the morning after?

 

“I’m in a fight for my life – not for their death. I want to live, of course, but I don’t want another life lost, be it Jewish or Arab or Christian”.

 

Eyal Gelman and I are the same the age, but I feel oddly young and naïve, sitting at his desk in the Kiryat Arba security office. I’m there to meet him in his role as a security officer in one of the most dangerous areas in Israel, but also because he has been personally affected by the terror most of us only read about or catch snippets of on the 8’ocklock news.

 

2 weeks before I got there, Eyal’s brother Eliav was catching a bus back from his military base when he was attacked by a Palestinian man, 26-year-old Mamduh Amro, at the Gush Etzion junction. While fighting off his attacker who was wielding a knife, Eliav was shot by an errand bullet from the weapon of an IDF officer who had arrived at the scene, and a few hours later he was pronounced dead at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. Eliav was the father of two, a deeply religious man and a decorated soldier, who had lived his entire life in and around Kiryat Arba, and his was the 29th death from Palestinian terror in 2016.

 

 

“My brother always said that people like us have to do more so that other people may be able to live normal lives, and I truly believe that. Heroism does not necessarily mean to do extraordinary things, it just means you do more”.

 

His brother is not the only person Eyal Gelman has lost in recent years. Gelman’s brother-in-law was Benaya Sarel, an IDF soldier killed during the 2014 Gaza war who was also from Kiryat Arba, and I ask Eyal the question that has brought me there to begin with – how do you stay and raise your family in a place where death is your door at any given time?

 

“Bereavement is the spinal chord of our nation, Annika, and just because I am hurting it does not mean I am wrong or that I should allow the hurt to change who I am or what I do”.

 

And more share his sentiment, it seems, as Kiryat Arba has been growing steadily in the past 20 years, along with other settlements in Judea and Samaria. Since 1993 and the Oslo accord, the settlement population has grown from 100.000 to 430,000, and at this point the waiting list for housing in both Kiryat Arba and the nearby Hebron is permanently full, and I ask Eyal what he thinks the draw is to come here, despite the constant waves of terror?

 

“People want more, they want to feel connected, and here the life is built on connectivity. We are not about the immediate satisfaction or the selfish, but a bigger picture that spans 3000 years. And that is also why we are not disheartened, because our perspective is longer than most, we see our victories through history and feel confident about our future in our ancient homeland. And it’s not merely a religious issue – 35% of those who live here are secular- it is about fighting for something larger than yourself”.

 

As we walk out of the simple office structure Eyal greets a white-bearded man sitting on a bench outside. The man has a friendly face and a loud laugh and when we’re introduced I realize he is Shalom Sarel, Eliav Gelman’s father in law and the father of Benaya Sarel, the soldier killed in the 2014 Gaza war. I sit with him for a moment, overlooking Hebron and the land that we both love and so many have died for, and I ask him how he got here and why he’s decided to stay.

 

“I came here as a newlywed, looking for a cheap house, because my wife and I couldn’t afford a place in the city. Many years and 8 children later I am in love, and I could never live anywhere else. It was a practical choice at the time, but a few months later we found ourselves on the frontline of the 1st intifada, and from then on, every time I leave the house I know I can be the victim of terror. It is a daily reality here, ever since”.

 

Shalom Zarel speaks perfect English and he smiles with his entire face, gesturing lively as he points out the houses of his family and friends. Kiryat Arba may be a war-zone in the news, but to Shalom, Eyal and the others living here, it is a tight-knit neighborhood and it is home. And to me, an outsider, it looks weirdly normal. Perfect rows of houses and well-kept gardens, plenty of playgrounds with monkey bars and colorful swings. It’s noisy, but not from gunshots or war, but the laughter and conflicts to be found wherever children meet to hammer out the details of an intricate game.

 

 

As we head for the car I say my goodbyes and I thank Shalom for living here, doing what most cannot stomach, but he laughs at me and shakes at head.

“You don’t get it, Annika. On Yom Kippur in 1941, Nazis murdered my great grandfather. Today I live here, in Kiryat Arba, with 8 children who have all contributed greatly to the Jewish state. This is not a sacrifice – it’s a privilege”.

 

The road between Hebron and Jerusalem is as treacherous as it is beautiful. Passing the infamous Al-Arroub camp, known to be a home for terrorists and then coming up on the hill overlooking Gush Etzion, the sun coloring the nearby valleys in deep pink and purple. Every bus stop here is fortified with concrete and hidden behind barriers, a way to create a normal-style life in the era of car-rammings and “spontaneous” stabbing attacks. As we re-enter Jerusalem I feel myself exhaling, ever so slightly, feeling as if I have visited a different world just 20 minutes away. But we don’t stop long, as we are headed to Samaria – the heart and midriff of Israel – to see more of the spinal chord that runs through this land.

 

“Would you like to see her room”?

 

Adva Biton is a beautiful woman, wearing a grey sheath dress, black high heels and a colorful jacket as she greets us in her house in Yakir, a village high in the Samarian Mountains. Last year, Adva’s 4-year old daughter Adele died as a result of a terror attack. Adele was critically hurt in a terror attack two years earlier, on March 14, 2013 near the town of Ariel when a truck driver suddenly hit the brakes after stones hurled by Palestinians struck his vehicle. The car behind him, carrying Adele, her two sisters and their mother Adva Biton, lost control and collided with the truck, wedging their car under the truck. The two other sisters, Avigail and Naama – aged four and five – sustained moderate injuries.

 

“There was an ambulance nurse there, an Arab man with the calmest voice, he took care of us. He carried Adele out of the car and saved the life of her sisters. He is my hero, and we still speak, he came to the funeral and he calls us every now and then and asks how we are”.

 

Adva tells me about Adele, about all that this little girl gave to the world in the short time she was in it, and how her life and death has helped others and changed the lives of many she never even knew. Tears start rolling down her cheek as she retells details. Her favorite game, the dress she wore that day, the party they were on their way home from. I’m fighting back my own sadness and anxiety, digging my nails into my palm as not to cry, however her words kill me I feel I don’t have the right to break down or break whatever professional barrier I’ve built. I have two children at home; one not much older than Adele, and to even imagine that loss or that heartbreak is to stand on the edge of a bottomless pit.

 

 

My train of thought is interrupted by a neighbor walking in unannounced, carrying a bag of groceries and gifts for the Purim holiday, and Adva, now 5 months pregnant, carefully gets out of her chair to greet her guest. We all chat for a while and I ask them both what I had asked Eyal, how do you stay here and raise your children, living in the heartland of this conflict?

 

“I wonder how they live in other places, how they survive grief and catastrophe in places where no one knows their neighbors”. Adva turns to her guest and says “look at this – it happens every day- people bring food and comfort and care for us here, because we are family and we have all chosen to be here, we are all in it together”.

 

For a period of a year and a half, Adele was hospitalized in various institutions, the attack having left her severely disabled and only partially conscious. Her parents Adva and Rafi immersed themselves in a battle they hoped would return Adele to life, Adva leaving her job as a doctor of medical chemistry to spend her days nursing Adele. In the middle of this battle, the family welcomed a new baby, a few weeks after the birth, Adele succumb to her injures and died, at the age of 4.

 

From the Oslo Accords in 1993 until September 2000 – nearly 300 Israelis were killed in terror attacks, and another 1,100 were murdered during the Palestinian Al-Aqsa Intifada (Sept. 2000 – Dec. 2005). Since December 2005, Palestinian terrorist attacks have claimed at least another 203 Israeli lives and injured three times as many.

 

According to data compiled by the Israeli Shin Bet Security Agency, 2015 was the deadliest year for terrorism since 2008. Twenty-eight people were killed in terror attacks in Israel during 2015: two foreigners, one Palestinian, three members of Israeli security services, and twenty-two civilians. So far, 34 people have been killed in terror attacks in Israel in 2016, and according to a report on terrorism published by the Israel Ministry of foreign affairs earlier this year, there have been 156 stabbing attacks (including 76 attempted attacks), 98 shootings, 46 vehicular (ramming) attacks and one vehicle (bus) bombing. These terrorist attacks are part of the Palestinian Authority’s strategy of “popular resistance” adopted by the PA and Fatah at the Sixth Fatah conference in August 2009. After every attack, spokespersons from Fatah and Hamas have issued statements describing the attacks as “heroic actions” and “the natural response to Israel’s crimes”.

 

On our way back, we stop for dinner in Tapuach, a small Samarian settlement with approximately 1,200 inhabitants, about 40 minutes North of Jerusalem. The modest restaurant opened just a few weeks ago, serving simple food grown on the premises, and the owners run a 2nd hand clothes shop out of an adjacent room. The girl serving us our food is no older than 15, she does not speak English but smiles at me, shyly, as she puts overflowing bowls and plates on our table. An older woman is standing in the doorway, watching us, and she doesn’t smile yet I feel that she is friendly. Her face is sad, her long hair tied and meticulously covered and she seems very protective of the young girl by my side.

 

“Her name is Raaya”.

 

My friend sees me watching her, and nods in the woman’s direction.

 

“Raaya’s sister and brother were murdered in a terrorist attack at the Tapuach Junction 13 years ago, leaving 6 children orphaned, including a 2-month old baby. Rayya dropped everything and moved with her husband and 8 children from the Galil to Tapuach to raise her sister’s children as her own”.

 

 

It’s everywhere – the sadness and the tragedy and the stories of insurmountable human loss, and suddenly I feel I need some air. Outside there is perfect spring air, pink flowers and hills for days, and I see why this place inspired songs and prayer and the hopeful dreams of my ancestors. In the distance I see Tapuach Junction, one of the most dangerous places in Israel, but right here I feel safe and calm and at home like few times before.

 

“I just love the air up here”.

 

Rayya is next to me now, watching the view as the sun slowly sets.

 

“I love the air up here, it’s the tension in it that I can’t stand”.

 

These people, my people, are so often dehumanized in the media simply based on where they live. But regardless of geography or where your political alliances lie, their lives need to matter, their loved ones have the right to be mourned and remembered as more than “settlers” on the 10th page of a newspaper or a meme in a media-feed.

 

The Palestinian Authority is waging a war, without uniforms or tanks, but with plenty of soldiers acting on orders from their leaders. Incitement leads to murder and murder leads to shattered families and broken homes, and the more we dehumanize their victims the more effective this warfare will be, taking more lives and causing more hurt.

When I sit down to write this piece my phone vibrates and I see a newsflash, saying that there has been another death. On June 30th, 13-year old Israeli girl Hallel Yaffa Ariel was stabbed to death in her bed at her home in Kiryat Arba, by 19-year old Palestinian Mohammad Tarayreh, who had broken into the family’s house. The attacker was from a nearby village, and climbed the fence into Kiryat Arba before breaking into Ariel’s home and locking himself inside, where she was alone. After the murder of Hallel Yaffa, her killer was hailed as a hero by Hamas and candy was passed out in the streets of Gaza as part of their celebration of the martyred terrorist.

 

Hallel leaves a devastated family behind, a life cut short and a story untold, as Adele, Eliav, Benaya and the hundred of other’s murdered by terrorists in Israel in the past years. These are stories that deserve to be told, faces that deserve to be known and human heartbreak that deserves its place in history. Not because of politics, nor geography, but because Jewish lives should matter, too.
In September, I met with Ami Horowitz for an interview about Sweden and immigration, for a documentary he was making on the topic. Horowitz had heard of the work I had done on the issue, such as my reports in the Washington Examiner on the recent mass sexual attacks at music festivals in Sweden that the media and police covered up, as well as my essays on Sweden’s growing problem of jihadi tourism.

 

Horowitz and I met up in a sleepy Swedish town and spoke for almost half an hour, of which four minutes ended up in the final cut of his documentary, Stockholm Syndrome. The film also includes an interview with two Swedish policemen and the director’s own running commentary. The documentary received some attention at the time it was released, but not much more than the occasional link appearing in my newsfeed. But — as we now know — that has since changed.

 

President Trump mentioned Sweden in a speech in Florida on February 18. I first learned about it from my father, who called me early the next morning to ask whether I was perhaps involved in an international incident. As soon as I went on Twitter and saw the outrage, I started to connect the dots. After sifting through the many angry tweets, I could conclude that not only had the international media severely misconstrued what Donald Trump had said about Sweden but also that the newly elected president had put his finger on exactly what ails Sweden as well as the entire European continent. For the past week, I have been under tremendous pressure to rescind my statements and to swear off not only Amy Horowitz but also the entire premise that Sweden has problems relating to its immigration policies. Trump’s statement, however confusing, highlighted the most taboo topic in Swedish society and the well-oiled apparatus that does its utmost to keep it under wraps. And now that the world has its collective eye fixed on our country, the Swedish establishment is fighting hard to convey the party line.

 

Part of the reason for the outrage is that Sweden has a long-standing, complicated, love-hate relationship with the United States, defined by an equal mix of envy and distain — the U.S. being both that place we are better than and the country we secretly long to be. Sweden’s self-image is that of a country with solid liberal values, institutionalized equality, and social justice. Having an American president question that is a direct affront to the one thing we had going for us: our carefully cultivated sense of moral and intellectual superiority. The solution to this conundrum is to belittle and mock President Trump, making him seem ignorant and racist, poking fun at his statements through a barrage of colorful memes. But what all of these methods fail to address is the underlying issue and the truth at the heart of the president’s words.

 

As Swedish-Iranian economist Tino Sanandaji observed at NRO last week, we see a remarkable lack of statistics showing a correlation between immigration and crime in Sweden — not because there is no such correlation, but because there are no statistics. There are no statistics because the government has consistently chosen not to release them or bring the issue to light. This secrecy has sparked the rise of a populist right in Sweden, and it has also failed the most vulnerable — the immigrants subjected to extremism and crime in urban neighborhoods where the pundits and politicians never go — sacrificing them on the altar of political correctness. Because the truth is that Donald Trump was right to compare the Swedish crisis to that of the rest of Europe, and the reactions to his words were out of panic rather than persuasion. Something has come undone in Sweden, and that is the fault not of an American president but of the failed policies of the political establishment, going on 25 years. The results of these policies are now visible in individual lives and on city streets, and we see them clearly in ballots. The far-right party Sverigedemokraterna (The Sweden Democrats) has tripled in popularity in three elections and is now the second-largest party in the country. Most of the votes it has gained have migrated from the Social Democrats, the working-class party, suggesting that the political climate in Sweden is far less removed from its American counterpart than the Swedish political and intellectual establishment would have us believe.

 

The truth is that Donald Trump was right to compare the Swedish crisis to that of the rest of Europe, and the reactions to his words were out of panic rather than persuasion.
While Sweden is not, as hyperbolic far-right sites claim, the “rape capitol of the world,” it is suffering from a serious social and economic crisis that is related to the influx of immigrants. It’s not anti-immigrant to debate this and to criticize the policies that led to this crisis; it’s a defense of classic liberal values at a time when they are under attack. In 2015 and 2016, Sweden took in 150,000 immigrants from countries whose populations have views on women, sexuality, equality, and the separation of church and state that are starkly different from the views that Swedish society claims to protect and uphold. There is an inevitable clash of values, and the refusal to acknowledge that clash is only intensifying it, victimizing those who are least likely to have their voices heard. We now find ourselves with societies within the society, policed by gangs and plagued by violence; we see honor killings on the rise, sexual assaults being covered up by the police and the media, and public bathhouses gender-segregated to accommodate religious fervor. These are issues that deserve to be brought to light, and refusing to do so does nothing but spread the darkness.

 

In the week since Trump’s infamous Sweden-gate, I have reflected on the irony of the Swedish media’s criticizing him for silencing certain media outlets — after all, conservative voices in Sweden have been consistently silenced for as long as I can remember. And rather than face the evident problems caused by systemic political mismanagement in Sweden, the establishment is using President Trump as a bogey man; he is a welcome diversion from the failure of its own ideological paradigm. Swedish pundits and politicians are now describing a war between two images of Sweden, but that very thesis perfectly encapsulates the core of the problem. Sweden is not the dystopian hell shown in Horowitz’s documentary, but it is also not the perfect liberal society touted by people furiously defending Swedish honor from Trumpian insults.

 

 

A country with two such competing images of itself is in danger of becoming exactly what it condemns in others: a propaganda machine in defense of a false narrative. Since the beginning of the immigration crisis, Sweden has cut 950 million U.S. dollars from its foreign aid to allocate to immigration services, and much more will have to be cut from other welfare programs to deal with a projected massive influx of refugees. No available studies show the current immigration as anything but a net loss for the country. The idea that immigration is noble has become a truth in Sweden and in much of Europe, and any critique against it is interpreted as racism. In this climate, we close our eyes to real solutions, such as devoting resources (military or financial or both) to aid individuals where they are. Western nations are now, at great expense, creating a problem within their own borders — to fulfill some sort of idea of themselves as being “good” countries — rather than doing actual good elsewhere.

 

Europe is not dealing with the reason for the immigration crisis but is only delaying its solution indefinitely. On November 12, 2015, the Swedish government announced that it would reinstate border control for the first time since joining the Schengen Agreement in 1996, a treaty that led to the creation of Schengen Area in Europe in which internal border checks have largely been abolished. In restoring border control, Sweden cited “threats to inner order and security.”
This action, while sudden and drastic, does not change the right to seek asylum, nor is it guaranteed to stop or even lessen the influx or relieve the acute costs of settling refugees. If we go by the current estimates, Sweden in two years will spend on immigration alone the equivalent of two annual defense budgets or the entire cost of unemployment benefits. There are no signs that the number of immigrants will diminish, and there is no plan to cut federal costs or raise taxes to pay for this.

 

Our country is currently operating at a loss, both economically and socially, and the biggest losers are those farthest from the halls of power and the newsrooms that laud this failure as a success. That is why I stand by my statements in Ami Horowitz’s documentary and why I give President Trump credit for putting his finger on the issue we’ve been avoiding for far too long. The Swedish debate on immigration is so contentious that even relaying statistics can lead to one’s being branded a bigot, which might be why journalists and politicians often insist that immigration is good for the country, creating jobs and paying for itself in the long run. When the reality of people’s daily life fails to comport with the picture painted by reporters and lawmakers, it creates a disconnect between the people and the powerful, and it stokes anger among voters. The ongoing crisis is changing the political landscape, intensifying social tensions and causing a rise in crime — eerily reminiscent of days past. The inability to address the root cause of the problem or even to utter its name is pushing Sweden toward disaster, full steam ahead.

 

After World War II, Europe rejected borders and decided on a brave new world, based on an idea. What European leaders failed to understand, though, is that no matter how much they wished that the divisions had forever died in the war, the divisions still mattered. What we are now witnessing is a continent scrambling to rebuild something it long ago deemed obsolete. Trump won, at least in part, because he recognized that a nation has a right to control its borders. Europe is losing its soul as a result of its denial, giving up on a liberalism that has been its essence since the Enlightenment.
The immigration crisis highlights the grave problems in Sweden’s and Europe’s immigration policies, problems that may very well cause the eventual dissolution of the EU.
The European peace project has ended up exacerbating the refugee crisis while abandoning the Syrian people on the ground, the Kurds in the hills, and the children dying to reach a European dream — a dream that never really existed beyond the pages of a post-war manifesto.

 

This article was first published in National Review

“Jewish dignity and honor must be protected in all circumstances. The seeds of Jewish destruction lie in passively enabling the enemy to humiliate us. Only when the enemy succeeds in turning the spirit of the Jew into dust and ashes in life, can he turn the Jew into dust and ashes in death.” – Menachem Begin

As I dropped off my 6-year-old son at school the other day, I was called aside by his teacher. Apparently there had been an “incident”, as she put it, when my son had refused to participate in the annual Saint Lucia celebration; him saying that “we don’t do stuff like that in my family”. He had, after some negotiation, agreed to sit in the room with his peers as long as he could wear his blazer, his nice shirt, and his new tie and did not have to dress up in Christmas gear like the other kids.

Hearing this, I was proud and amazed at the ease with which my son had affirmed his identity. At 6, he knows who he is and who he is not — and he was willing to stand up to authority in order to stay true to that conviction.

We are approaching Hanukkah. At this time last year, I took some unorthodox action, attempting to change the status quo. I filed for asylum in my own country, citing religious persecution, in order to fight the growing anti-Semitism and demand action from my government. No such action came, nor did it garner any significant reaction from the Jewish community itself.

In the past 12 months, Europe has seen not a mere rise in anti-Semitism, but an explosion in overt hatred: murders in Belgium and France; riots, torched synagogues, and defaced Holocaust memorial sites; and all this alongside a dramatic spike in hate crimes all over the continent. Jews are once again being denied entrance to restaurants, service in stores, and treatment in hospitals. They are even losing their livelihoods for no other reason than that they are Jews.

My asylum case coincided not only with Hanukkah, but also with the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943. As I ended up reading both narratives simultaneously I saw one clue to our demise running through these stories of rebellion.

The Germans had planned to destroy the Warsaw ghetto in three days, but the Jewish resistance held out for more than a month. Even after the end of the uprising on May 16, 1943, individual Jews hid out in the ruins of the ghetto and continued attacking Nazi soldiers as they patrolled the area. More than 56,000 Jews from the Warsaw ghetto were ultimately killed, but that symbolic uprising inspired others from Bialystok to Treblinka and created hope among the dying in German-occupied Europe.

The Jewish resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto was fought for and through Jewish dignity. The fought even when they knew they were outnumbered, because they understood that, while the Nazis would ultimately kill them, they still had the choice not to enable their enemy to humiliate them. Perhaps most importantly — unlike the Jews of today — they chose to do so without the backdrop of the Holocaust.

We know what happened. We have already been to the gates of hell. Yet there is no Jewish resistance to the pogroms of our time. Perhaps the reason why lies within that statement itself.

Jewish life in Europe after the Holocaust is often described as a rebirth, but with that the Shoah became our ground zero and our main point of reference as a people, creating a litmus test that deems everything short of death camps as acceptable. If we say that we were reborn, then we accept that what came before was a death and not one of history’s most stunning acts of survival. By the focus on Holocaust remembrance we have engaged in a dangerous forgetfulness that includes most of our history and all of our greatness.

There is no lack of death and destruction in Jewish history, but these are now hailed as examples of Jewish survival. We gather around the table to tell stories of how they tried to kill us, and how we lived; tales of slavery and triumphant freedom. In the case of the Holocaust, the Jews of Europe remember only death, and the days of remembrance focus not on the freedom we took but the freedom we were given. For 70 years we have been uttering the words ‘never again’ as if it was an all-encompassing incantation. While using the Holocaust as the sole comparison, the new and evolved forms of anti-Semitism have been flying well beneath the radar.

Forty men and women from the Treblinka rebellion survived the war, hiding in the woods after fighting the SS guards while on the brink of death. Seventeen Nazi soldiers were killed by the Jewish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto. During the Auschwitz Sonderkommando revolt in 1944 the prisoners managed to kill 77 Nazis after blowing up a crematorium and attacking the soldiers with makeshift weapons.

These are a few of many stories of Jewish dignity and amazing survival during the Holocaust. These are stories to be told around a table with our children, and they should be told as part of a long history of trials and triumph.

Redefining our relationship to the Shoah is not forgetting, nor is it forgiving. It’s merely choosing not to be defined by the evils of others, but by the strength of ourselves. If we choose to tell stories of our heroes instead of the stories of our captors it does not lessen their responsibility, but it frees us from the legacy they tried to bestow upon us and helps connect us to our own.

It’s a known fact that victims of violence and trauma often stay in that day they were hurt, recreating the moment and thus becoming revictimized over and over again. I fear that the Jews of Europe are in this state of arrested development, unable to mount a resistance to persecution as they are so focused on death that everything resembling survival passes as life.

In a few days, my sons will help me light that first candle and we will remember those who fought for our right to be who we are. We will honor the losses but revel in the victories that were, as we prepare for those to come.

I believe that, while we may not have a future in Europe, we do have a say in our demise. By releasing the bonds of the Shoah, rising up and not enabling further humiliation, we can leave not as clouds or ashes but as doves. If the heroes of Warsaw, Czestochowa, and Treblinka taught us anything, it’s that there is value in fighting even a losing battle — and that Jewish dignity and honor will still matter long after we are gone.

On December 14th, Sweden’s largest daily newspaper published an interview with Bjorn Soder, vice speaker of the Parliament and member of the Swedish Democrat Party. Maybe some of you have heard of it, or at least seen the international headlines that said “Speaker of Swedish Parliament says Jews have to abandon their faith in order to be Swedish?” or perhaps the more popular “Jews not Swedish, according to Swedish politician”
Well, let’s just take a step back and look at what Mr. Soder actually said:

There are examples of people that belong to the Sami or Jewish Nation living in Sweden. I believe that most people with Jewish heritage that become Swedish leave their Jewish identity. But if they don’t it does not have to be a problem. One has to make a distinction between peoplehood and citizenship; they can still be Swedish citizens and live in Sweden. The Sami and The Jews have lived in Sweden for a very long time.

So what Mr. Soder is saying in this statement and throughout the interview is that he does not believe that one can be both a Jew and a part of the Swedish nation, but one can be a citizen and enjoy all the benefits and responsibilities of any other citizen. That distinction — and an important distinction it is — seems to have been lost on the frantic readers.

Within hours after this article was published, the avalanche of criticism came rolling down the medial mountain, and Jews and non-Jews alike were calling racism on the top of their lungs.

I read the article over and over again but was unable to find the source of this national upheaval. Instead I found that Bjorn Soder was saying pretty much exactly what I have always said, albeit with some eloquence left to be desired.You see, I am not Swedish. I’m Jewish. I am a part of the Jewish people who happens to be a citizen of Sweden. I pay my taxes and I follow the laws, but that does not make me Swedish. Nor do I have any desire to ever claim that title. Instead I value and protect my Jewish identity and it is with pride that I affirm that through action, faith and tradition.

So why the upheaval?

Bjorn Soder is saying that the Jews are a people, not merely a religion, and that there are commonalities such as language, history, loyalty, and culture that bond us together and set us aside. In his interview, Soder is using terms such as ‘peoplehood’, ‘nation-state’, and ‘national identity’ — and this touches a nerve in post-Holocaust Europe. World War II changed not only the Jewish but also the entire European narrative, and for the past 70 years religion, nation-states, and national identity have been deemed the culprit and the key to the dark European history that had brought on unparalleled suffering. The old was replaced with the new; a cultural relativism where no tradition, belief, or state should stake a claim on any moral high ground but all ideas and cultures are equally unimportant compared to the globalist, multicultural ideal.

Post-war Europe sees identity, religion and tradition as bad, and assimilation as good. In this John Lennon-esque ideal we are all different yet we all the same, like snowflakes that may be unique close-up but indistinguishable for all intents and purposes.

 

Right after the interview with Mr. Soder was published, the Jews of Sweden were fighting for the right to be identified as Swedish, and when doing so they quite happily aligned with politicians and intellectuals who were quick to score points in this much-publicized debate. The Left party and the Social Democrats, known for their ties to Hamas and Fatah, were suddenly the Jew’s best friends. We Jews, however, were, as always, our own worst enemies. Instead of fighting to be Swedish, we should fight for our rights to be Jews in Sweden, enjoying minority rights and protected minority status. Instead we fight for the right to be assimilated, joining any dodgy alliance that is willing to give us the time of day.

This is not a puff-piece for Bjorn Soder, nor is it an excuse for the ban on both circumcision and the import of kosher meat proposed by the party he represents. Instead it is an attempt to lift the debate above the comfortable knee-jerk reactions caused by post-war trauma and to realize that there are more than two choices in the oh-so-popular identity game.

My grandmother always told me that he who stands for nothing falls for everything, and I believe that by saying that I have no desire to be like you I am giving you the freedom to be who you are. I stand for me, thus I stand by you. Not by being the same, but by being an equal. If that is a distinction we as a country do not grasp, our problems are much bigger than one man’s words or a viral interview.

Bjorn Soder was attacked for a principle that readers lacked the political will or intellectual integrity to fully understand. Thus was the opportunity to debate him on policy lost in a sea of opportunism and hyperbole.

I agree with Mr. Soder on the principles of peoplehood and the nation-state, yet I disagree with him on much of his politics. We should be capable of holding those two thoughts in our heads simultaneously, shouldn’t we? Just like we should be able to be Jews in Sweden without being Swedish or live in one land while calling another our home.

I have a Swedish address and a Jewish identity. My home is Israel and my passport says Sweden. This should not scare anyone, but instead affirm the values we share as we revel in our differences. The more firmly I stand for me, the closer I can stand by you. Not like you, but for you, as an equal.

It really isn’t that hard.

 

This article was first published on Ricochet

 

In 1981, the very year I was born, a whisky-class Soviet submarine ran aground in restricted waters near a Swedish naval base on the Baltic Coast. This event was dubbed “Whisky on the Rocks”, and was one of many known Soviet intrusions on Swedish territory during the Cold War. It was later made public through reports published after the fall of the Soviet Union – 50-odd Soviet operations had taken place in our waters after the end of World War II. Once the submarine was found, the Soviets apologized for what they called “an honest mistake.” While the explanation was accepted as an official matter, we everyday Swedes went back to warily watching our powerful neighbor flex its muscles in apparent provocation.

As the wall came down along with the Soviet Union, Swedish authorities exhaled and saw an opportunity to drastically cut military spending: scrapping compulsory military service, halting ongoing defense programs, and slashing billions off the defense budget, all while claiming that the threat had been removed and the money would be better spent elsewhere. Military personnel went public, blowing the whistle on what they saw as an historic mistake, but politicians took no heed. Or most of them, I should say. In 2007, continued cuts lead to the resignation of Defense Minister Mikael Odenberg of the Conservative Party, who said “I have to be able to look myself in the mirror and defend these cuts to our military personnel. I cannot, and therefore I must resign”.

Roughly 10 days ago I was, along with the rest of Sweden, thrown back 30 years in time. A foreign submarine was spotted in Swedish waters and, within days, the Swedish Navy was said to have had three more sightings. Along with those incidents, various media outlets reported that radio transmissions in Russian had been detected a day before the first sighting and that a distress call from a Russian submarine had been intercepted by Swedish counterintelligence. With that, the search for what was referred to as “foreign underwater activity” was on in full-scale.

At first, I made several jokes on social media about the whole operation. The reports were just too comical: The King had been informed (I dare anyone not to make a meme out of that one) that there were frogmen running lose in the archipelago; the reporters stood on rubber dinghys talking about “mysterious foam.” But then, a few days in, I watched the live broadcast of the military briefing on the operation, and everything suddenly felt way too real.

The military was calling the sightings “extremely reliable” and saying that there was more to be done in order to find these submarines — but saying that they lacked necessary equipment, and were doing all they could with what they had. I — probably like most of my fellow countrymen — was asking myself: What do we do when we find them? With what do we defend ourselves if they attack? For 30 years we have cut more and more out of an already small pie and we are basically left with a white flag and a ’90s answering machine saying “We give up” in four different languages. Russia is in our backyard, in our waters, and what have they come for? Why are they here?

A few days ago, the search for the underwater vessel was called off after an unsuccessful weeklong operation. The military released a statement saying that it was “probable” that Russian submarines had invaded our waters, and that this was unacceptable, but that the search for the submarines in question was now being halted. Again, we were all having ’80s flashbacks; yet another Russian intrusion, yet another failed hunt for Red October.

Sweden is famously (or rather infamously) neutral. The world around us is not, however, and failure to accept that simple fact has left us with a bewildered rock and stick army forced to “do the best they can with what they have.” In a world where Russia has violated Swedish and Finnish airspace, invaded Crimea, and walked all over Estonian sovereignty — all in just a little over a year — that just isn’t good enough. But while deconstructing an army takes little more than a vote, rebuilding it takes generations.

The Kremlin, of course, denied having anything to do with this incident and released a statement saying it was probably the Dutch. As if they aren’t really trying to lie convincingly; as if they know that Sweden is theirs for the taking, a rubber ducky sitting in the fjord.

We enter parliament in order to supply ourselves, in the arsenal of democracy, with its own weapons. If democracy is so stupid as to give us free tickets and salaries for this bear’s work, that is its affair. We do not come as friends, nor even as neutrals. We come as enemies. As the wolf bursts into the flock, so we come. — Joseph Goebbels, on Democracy

A few weeks ago, my country of Sweden got a new government. Or, it’s not so much a new government, but a return to a past I had hoped was long forgotten. Chances are most outsiders wouldn’t have heard of this electoral upheaval, had it not been for one of the new government’s first forays into foreign policy: recognizing the state of Palestine, making it the first major European country to do so. But for those of familiar with Sweden’s the political landscape, this has been a long time coming.

The Social Democrats are a party with a long pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli tradition and a seemingly never-ending flexibility toward anti-Semitic attitudes within the flock; from former Prime Minister Olof Palme’s close friendship with Yasser Arafat and his comparisons between Nazi Germany and Israel, to the infamous anti-Zionist policies of Malmö mayor Ilmar Reepalu. More recently, the popular politician Adrian Kaba publicly claimed that Mossad trained ISIS to kill Muslims and that the Islamic State is a pawn in a Jewish-European right-wing conspiracy.

One might think that such outlandish statements would cause national outrage, but they don’t. One might also draw the conclusion that spreading anti-Semitic myths might lead to Adrian Kaba leaving the Social Democratic party in disgrace, but one would by sadly mistaken. Instead, Kaba is heading up the Malmö Taskforce Against Anti-Semitism and Islamofobia. No, that’s not a typo; that’s the political environment of the country I live in.

As a proud, public, and outspoken Swedish Jew, I am often asked if I worry about getting attacked on the street for wearing my Star of David, or having my home vandalized for flying a large Israeli flag. My answer is always the same: as much as I fear violent anti-Semitic individuals, it doesn’t compare to how much I fear the systemic anti-Semitism eating its way into our political system.

The Swedish decision to recognize the State of Palestine may seem like a thoughtless stunt from a small country, but it speaks to a larger trend with grave consequences for us all. As the anti-Semitism of yesterday dresses up as the anti-Zionism of tomorrow, the latter gains political momentum to do what the former never could. The coalition of the Social Democrats, the Left, and the Environmental Party was elected not in spite of these policies, but because of them. They are not attempting a coup; they are fulfilling a promise.

One of the newly appointed ministers in the new coalition government is Mehmet Kaplan of the Environmental Party (MP). Mr. Kaplan is no longer allowed entry into Israel after his active and repeated involvement in Ship to Gaza. He has compared Swedish Muslims going overseas to fight global jihad with Swedish freedom fighters during the Finnish Winter War and he is often a prominent speaker at anti-Israel rallies across the country. During one of these rallies Mehmet Kaplan said his dream was to one day see Jerusalem “liberated,” without caring to specify whom the capitol of Israel needed to be liberated from. This former head of the Swedish Muslim council and current member of the Free Gaza movement has now been appointed the Swedish Minister of housing and development, making him one of the most powerful people in our land.

This is what keeps me up at night. If I get attacked for wearing my Magen David, I turn to the police who can correct the wrong that was done to me. But what to I do when my attacker is appointed to one of the highest offices in the land? Who will protect me when I am no longer considered the victim, but the criminal?

In 1933, they cast their votes for death and ruin, but they did so claiming ignorance of what was yet to come. Those who are now putting hatred in power all over Europe do so to the backdrop of the Holocaust; as the last witnesses draw breath, history is allowed to repeat itself by ballot and popular vote.

However expected, this latest turn in Swedish foreign policy is chilling in all its calm deliberation. Because this is how it starts and how it ends. Not by committing illegal acts toward us, but by making us illegal, and by going after the home we flee to once we have no place left to go.

In 2014, they cast their votes for hate and ruin. And as the wolf bursts into the flock, so they have come.

 

This article was first published on Ricochet