They call it “fondlegate,”

the scandal that is now shaking Swedish society. After learning about the horrible mass sexual assaults during a New Year’s celebration in Cologne, Germany, the truth seemed to take on a life of its own, and other stories followed. The first to be told was from the small Swedish town of Kalmar, where organized groups of young immigrant men from the Middle East and North Africa had sexually violated at least 11 women, according to police reports, and many more are believed to have gone unreported. The second account came out of Malmo, a city having become infamous for anti-Semitism and racial tension, where young women had been targeted for so called Taharrush-attacks, Taharrush being a “rape-game” with its origin in the Arab world.

However, the third news-story to come out after Cologne put the two former to shame, as it involves both media and politics, and reveals a culture of silence when it comes to systematic sexual abuse.

The allegations that are surfacing say that the Swedish police along with the media are guilty of covering up a mass sexual assault that took place at the youth festival We Are Sthlm, two years ago. Witness statements and police reports are now being uncovered that tell the story of a scene similar to that in Cologne, where gangs of young men from Afghanistan molested girls as young as 11 or 12, some of the assaults even resulting in rape, and that 200 men had been removed from the area by police during the course of one evening.

Despite knowing what had happened, and who the perpetrators were, internal memos from the police now show that they deliberately chose not to mention the sexual assaults, the fact that the perpetrators where exclusively, and I quote “so called refugee youth predominantly from Afghanistan” or that this was the second year these assaults had taken place.

Police chief Peter Agren said to the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter “This is a sensitive topic. We are afraid to tell the truth because it may play into the Sweden Democrat narrative.” When the information finally leaked, the story was pitched to one of Sweden’s largest daily papers, but it was nixed for the very same reason that the police initially decided to shut it down.

So not only did the Swedish police and media cover up a large-scale sexual assault on underage girls, but it also took it upon itself to choose which political parties are acceptable, and which are not. Through their silence they hoped not to bolster the far-right Sweden Democrat’s poll numbers, and through that silence, they accomplished the exact opposite.

There is a reason why after a trauma, we are told to talk about it. Not only do we need to speak, but we ache to be heard. When the story of trauma is heard it is also acknowledged, and the victim feels as if she matters in the eyes of the world.

Both the Swedish police and media are choosing their victims, who are deemed “kosher” and who are not, and they are doing so led by a political agenda. The irony of all this, however, is that not speaking the truth about Muslim men raping European women out of fear of being racist is a racist choice in and of itself, because in that silence lies a false assumption that all Muslims are rapists or would condone such a heinous act. This is a crime of abuse, and so is the cover-up. They both represent a massive failure of what is said to be a progressive state.

Every victim of a crime, be it a group or an individual, should be allowed to speak their pain and be heard. By ignoring the crisis of extremism that is upon us, they are creating a culture of silence, and in that silence there is no healing to be done.

 

This article was first published in Washington Examiner

“Sweden is needed in the UN Security Council because of our credibility on development issues and the work we do for human rights. Sweden speaks with integrity, without a hidden agenda, and therefore our presence on the Security Council can make a big difference for the good of the world.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom writes these words in a recently published op-ed as part of the Swedish bid for a temporary seat on the council during 2017 and 2018, going up against Italy and The Netherlands, the other two EU member states who have thrown their hats in the ring.

Since the inauguration of the Socialist alliance-government in 2014, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven and his cabinet have worked furiously to establish themselves as world actors, acting out through foreign policy, but their methods have been seemingly random in nature, from the foreign minister starting a fight with Saudia Arabia over feminism and having to be bailed out by the King for condemning Israel for “extrajudicial executions” as it attempted to protect its citizens from terrorist killers.

The first action the Socialist government took, before even passing a comprehensive budget, was recognizing Palestine, becoming the first ever EU country to do so. Sweden has a long-standing relationship to the PA, and the Social Democratic party refers to Fatah as its “dear brothers” in several official texts and is currently handing them $180 million yearly in foreign aid, money that helps finance crimes against both their own and other people.

But this is not the only way in which Sweden engages with murky regimes, as shown by its booming export industry. The Swedish government is currently exporting weapons to 26 countries that according to Freedom House are dictatorships, including but not limited to Oman, Algeria, Brunei, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Kuwait, Egypt and Bahrain, something that does not quite jibe with the fact that it also offers up 80,000 Swedish solders to peacekeeping missions for conflicts involving some of those very same states. The military efforts alone are costing the tiny Northern kingdom 100 million USD a year, and that is not counting the considerable hike in foreign aid given to African and Arab countries in order to shore up their loyalty to Sweden within the Security Council for any future vote.

So the question is, why is Sweden so furiously seeking this chair, paying for it with both blood and treasure? Foreign Minister Wallstrom said in her op-ed that Sweden’s strength is not having a “hidden agenda,” but perhaps the real advantage is the open one they adopted as soon as the ballots were in.

Sweden is not relevant in the real world, nor will it ever be. So what the government is doing now — choosing to focus on paper dragons and made up-entities — is somewhat of a brilliant move. The Middle East is the issue of the day, the year and the century, and as such Sweden wants a piece of the peace-making pie. Tying one’s fate to Palestine ensures never having to actually act or make real-world decisions, and knowing that makes the lust for a seat at the UN-table all the more logical and shrewd. The UN Security Council is an impotent colossus, each member state blocking the other to prevent any action or force. What is left is prestige, prestige and hollow legacy, not unlike the equally costly process of an Olympic hosting gig.

In her op-ed, Foreign Minister Wallström writes that Sweden wants a “platform for our values” and I believe that she is speaking the truth. She wants the platform, not a launchpad, to do nothing as everyone watches in awe. That is the UN, and it is Sweden, in a sad and perfect nutshell: Spending $700 million to get invited to the party, just to stand in a corner watching your shoes, praying no one will ask you to dance.

 

This article was first published in Washington Examiner

I’m not sure what it is that makes it so magical. Perhaps it’s the silence, or even the desolate streets, but being a Jew in the Galut on Christmas is a strange and unexpected blessing.

I do the same thing, every year, and I have it down like clockwork. I take a lengthy morning walk in my cold, abandoned city and cook myself burgers before watching all three Lord of The Rings movies in a row. I know, it may sound like any old Sunday, but I guess that is the point and just what makes it so special.

Just five years ago, I was married to a non-Jew and I lived the life of constant compromise that I had grown up with. The holidays were a time when nobody was truly happy, and the symbol of my weakness was a giant tree in the middle of the living room.

With my return to Judaism came the very difficult decision to leave my marriage to live a fully observant life. Full of fear and fulfillment, I started my walk back home at this time of year, five years ago. Ever since, Christmas in the Galut has been a time of reflection on that journey and my tinsel-free apartment, a point of pride in this candy-cane land.

In my community, the intermarriage rate is in the high 80s. Every day, steps are taken to accommodate this rather than combat it. “Jewish-style” weddings and watered-down rules are all part of a system built on the idea that quantity beats quality and fitting in trumps fixing what’s obviously broken. The interesting thing is that with this adaptation and attempt at belonging comes the unexpected loneliness of being between two worlds, the master of none — a feeling I have felt, as it was very close to home. I thought that my life would be easier if I chose to adapt and try as hard as I could to be more like them, but not only did I fail, but ended up with much less of me and very little belonging.

There’s this mythology surrounding Jews on Christmas, from Chinese food and gift-envy to catchy South Park-songs about tribal woes in a jingle bell-world. The narrative is focused on the idea that we want to be like them, and that Christmas is a lonely time for us that needs to be managed and lamented. To me, it’s a missed opportunity to rejoice in what we are, and even more in what we are not.
I love these empty streets in the early hours of the morning, feeling like an alien in a brave new world. I am proud of my alien status, of not being like them and not taking part in a world that does not belong to me. And because of that, because I am free and I’ve stopped pretending. I can feel joy for the sake of Christians without it tinting mine.

I guess that is what true religious co-existence is. It starts with me saying, “I am not like you, nor do I wish to be.” From there, I can greet you without a hint of fear. As a Jew in the Galut on Christmas I feel proud, because it is a testament to the choices I’ve made and the distance I’ve put between me and the scenes inside those tinsel-adorned windows. As Jews, we shouldn’t try to fit in, but feel proud to stand out, and never entertain the idea of a “kosher-style” Christmas.

I love being a Jew on Christmas, because it reminds me that I used to be a bad version of them, but through hard choices and the help of God became the best version of me, and that my beautifully normal Sunday is an act of return and redemption.

So with that I wish my gentile friends a very Merry Christmas, and to myself another beautifully unordinary Jewish year.

 

OMG, but you’re like the most outgoing person I’ve ever met!

I get that all the time. Usually right after I have tried to explain to someone how shy and uncomfortable I often feel in social settings.

And I get it, it doesn’t really make sense. At first glance, I am an extrovert. I talk and laugh and socialize, shaking hands and making jokes, often the life of the party.

And it is absolutely exhausting.

I have been like this for as long as I can remember. As a small child, I would suddenly walk out of play dates, locking myself in my room when I felt I had enough and needed to breathe.

As an adult, you can’t really do that. When I feel socially maxed out at a party or in a meeting I can’t just walk out or lock myself in my office, leaving my boss to explain to the other grownups that I’ll be back when I’ve recharged.

The adult world is challenging to us introverts, because it seems to be constructed for people who can work in groups and who don’t need a week to mentally prepare for a party.

But now and again we find a person who gets us; someone who sees beyond the surface and lets us be just as difficult and awesome as we need to be. The common denominator of all these people is that they know the following things:

1. When we cancel on you, it is not because we don’t want to see you. It is literally not you, it’s me. Inside an introvert there is a constant battle between the side of us that loves socializing and the side that fears it more than death. There’s no knowing which side will win from one day to another. This leads to many cancellations and at least a week of anxiety and guilt over disappointing whoever we were supposed to see.

2. We work best alone. Introverts are usually, in my experience, overachievers. We work hard and are highly intelligent. But we excel when left to our own devices. Almost all of the introverts I have met have jobs where they are allowed to manage their own time and they get more done before noon on Monday than most people do all week.

When I am asked to work in a large team, most of my energy goes into handling the social situation and very little is left to put into the task at hand. I am the happiest when I get to close my door, start my project, and not talk to another human being before I am done.

3. We do not hate you. Many, many times I have heard it said that I am angry, distant, and that people think I dislike them. That is usually not the case. I just live in my own head — a lot. And when I decline an invitation it is not because I don’t like you. I just have a very small amount of social energy to be portioned out over the course of a week.

4. Don’t judge a person by their feed. Introverts excel in social media. There we are allowed to control the output and input. It’s being social while sitting alone at your desk, building relationships where we are allowed to blossom. But it’s important to remember that if you know an introvert on social media, you do not really know her.

5. Introverts are awesome. We are worth the effort. When we befriend someone (and here I mean a real-life, flesh-and-blood friendship), we are fiercely loyal and loving. We have few friends, mostly because there are so many layers to get through and so many hurdles to jump. Once you are there, however, we reward the effort. When we love, whether it is romantic love or friendship, it is for life. The same goes for introverts in the workforce. It takes a special employer to see and accommodate us. We don’t love common lunches or coffee breaks, but on the other hand we need very little hand-holding and thrive under the freedom we are given.

6. What you call a weekend event we call a living hell. Destination weddings, weekend conferences, and three-day sleepovers with friends: this may all sound like great fun to you, but to me it is like being trapped in The Shining. Most introverts have an on and an off-level. When we are on, we are superb; entertaining, charming, and sociable as few others. And even though we enjoy these interactions, they take massive amounts of energy. The perfect situation for an introvert is a three-hour party, knowing you get to go back home to hide and recharge afterwards. To switch off and be alone. A three-day event means being on, constantly bleeding social energy.

7. We will call you back. I sometimes go a week without answering the phone. I may be socially maxed-out, or I may be working on something, needing to economize my social energy. This does not mean I do not like you. I will just call you when I am ready to be on again. This is, by the way, how I knew how close my best friend and I were: the fact that we could be on the phone for hours, usually not saying much of any importance. I had found the one person I did not need to always be on with.

8. We are not sad. ‘Social’ does not equal ‘happy,’ people. I always get confused by the adverts showing large groups of people doing things to music. If someone wants to sell me a soda, they should show one person sitting alone in a room full of books, enjoying it in complete silence. I’m not depressed, I promise. Nor am I an anti-social weirdo destined for evil plots or letter-writing campaigns urging the government to allow single-person households to own more than 25 cats. I just really enjoy my own company. Happily so.

9. We fear your judgement. I can’t tell you how often I have wished I was like the others, the people who don’t need recharging or periods of silence; the people whose best friends aren’t books. I also kind of fear that I will never ever meet someone who will love not only the exuberant and social side of me, but also see — truly get and appreciate — the loner within.

10. We don’t want you to give up on us. I know that being friends with an introvert doesn’t sound all that tempting after this list. But believe me, it’s worth it. Don’t give up on us. What seems like rudeness — the cancellations, not picking up the phone, or acting aloof at the most inopportune time — it’s just how we are. And remember: the more of it you get to see, the closer we are to letting you in and the more we trust you. So don’t stop inviting us, don’t stop calling, don’t give up. Please?

That’s me, at age 12, with hair too big to fit into a ponytail and an awkwardly chubby body that few fashionable outfits could cover or even forgive. They called me the weird kid, at school, and they weren’t necessarily wrong. […]

They canceled Jewish winter camp. It sounds like a little thing, but in Sweden, where we have very few venues in which to lead our Jewish lives, it means a great deal. Winter camp is a yearly highlight, a place where our children can learn and play with other Jewish children, without worry. This year, they won’t be able to go, and for a simple reason—because it’s not safe. […]

Here in Stockholm this fall, we in the Jewish community have enjoyed our 21st annual Jewish film festival, a klezmer concert, and a number of other cultural diversions. I choose the word “diversions” advisedly. It’s thanks to such entertainments that so many of my fellow Jews can allow themselves to say that we’re doing okay here—that there’s no need to rock the boat or cause trouble.

But you know what? We are not okay, and this is not okay. […]

Dear Mr. Gurfinkiel,

On April 26 of this year, I was on a train with my five-year-old son Charlie. We were on our way to spend shabbat with friends in the city. You see, our town, significant in the history of Swedish Jewry, shut its synagogue in the late 90s. All that remains now is a plaque stating that there was once Jewish life here, while we are left with an hour-long train ride every weekend to attend services.

My son was wearing his kippah as we got on the train. He loves his kippah. He is not yet old enough to know the dangers entailed in wearing it, for this is a fact from which I have tried to protect him. But April 26 would change all that.

There was a gentleman sitting in our reserved seat. An Arab, maybe fifty years old, listening to music. Apologizing for the inconvenience, I asked him politely for our seat. He got up, inspected my son, and then leaned over me, saying:

You people always take what you want. You need to learn.

He then walked straight into my son, causing him to fall over, and took the seat behind us.

We sat. Hiding my trembling hands from my son’s sight, I picked up Shabbes for Kids and started to review the week’s Torah portion with him. We hadn’t progressed as far as a page before the man stood up and screamed:

Quiet! I don’t want to hear that! You take what you want and never think of others! Shut up!

He stamped his feet, grunting and glaring at my son. Fighting tears of rage, I assured Charlie that the man was just grumpy and tried to turned the episode into a game, one that required us to remain super quiet for as long as possible. I even managed to coax a conspiratorial smile out of him.

But even this failed to appease our tormentor, who spent the rest of the trip repeatedly kicking the back of my son’s seat. At one point I glanced around our compartment: there were four other people there, four adults witnessing a single mother and her five-year-old child being attacked by a grown man. They did nothing. I tried forcing them to meet my gaze; but they just turned away, put on their headphones, stared at their screens, ignored what was happening in front of them.

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.

In your fascinating and informative article you mention that ritual slaughter, kosher as well as hallal, is under threat in Europe. Well, 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.

In your essay you mention that Jewish religious and cultural activities in Western Europe are everywhere on the rise. This, too, is not my reality. 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.

There are 20,000 Jews in Sweden, a country of close to nine million. As for Muslim immigrants and their children, they, as you point out in your article, amount to 10 percent or more of the population: perhaps as many as a million people, fifty times the number of Jews. Still, I would not say that demography is the only threat to Jewish life in Western Europe, and maybe not even the biggest one. 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.

In the “Comments” section following your essay, I noticed a debate among readers over the perceived harshness of your article. I am writing to you because I do not believe it was harsh enough. I value Jewish thought, but I crave Jewish action. More than I need eloquent eulogies, I need people—the same people who so passionately debate our future in Mosaic and elsewhere—to help me fight.

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 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.

With kind regards,

Annika Hernroth-Rothstein

 

This article was first published in Mosaic Magazine