Swedish Jews Get Help To Fight Anti-Semitism

In Diverse City of Malmo, Small Community Endures Taunts

By Donald Snyder

Published September 16, 2011, issue of September 23, 2011.
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Jews in Malmo, Sweden, lately a hotbed of anti-Semitic attacks, are responding positively to the Swedish government’s decision to devote $622,000 to security for Sweden’s Jewish community.

Rabbi Shneur Kesselman, who said he had been taunted by Muslim youth on five separate occasions the very day that he was interviewed by phone, told the Forward this past September 11, “This is a very positive move, because the allocation means that the government recognizes that the Jewish population in Sweden, and especially Malmo, is under threat.”

Kesselman, a 32-year-old Chabad rabbi, said he had experienced the taunts that day as he walked with his wife along the streets of Malmo. He said that such taunts have become a routine part of his life since he came to Malmo seven years ago. The soft-spoken American rabbi, who is easily identifiable as a Jew because of his traditional Hasidic garb, said he had reported the incidents to the police, as he has done in the past.

The Swedish government’s decision, reported in the Swedish press on September 5, specified that the new allocation would serve to enhance security in the Jewish communities of Stockholm, Goteborg and Malmo. Sweden’s third-largest city, Malmo, is a port town of about 300,000 in southern Sweden that is connected to Copenhagen by the Oresund Bridge.

“The amount of money is less relevant than the acknowledgement by the government that we have a problem, said Kesselman.”

Swedish and foreign media have reported that Jews in Malmo are often harassed on their way to the main synagogue on Foreningsgatan, one of the city’s fashionable streets. And Jewish children are subjected to anti-Semitic taunts and attacks from schoolmates.

Muslims are often the perpetrators of these assaults, according to both local Jews and to local Muslim leaders, who condemn the attacks. There are an estimated 45,000 Muslims in Malmo, or 15% of the city’s population. Many of them are Palestinians, Iraqis and Somalis, or come from the former Yugoslavia. There are only 658 Jews in Malmo.

Sweden, with a population of 9 million, has about18,000 Jews and 300,000 Muslims. Fredrik Sieradski, spokesman for the Malmo Jewish community, said in a phone interview with the Forward that the number of Jews in Malmo continues to dwindle. In January 2009 there were 760 Jews in Malmo, a number that shrunk to 658 in December 2010. He cited anti-Semitism as the primary reason.

“We are losing members each month,” Sieradski said. “Our community is shrinking. It is very sad.”

Sieradski commended the government for allocating money to protect Jewish institutions. “We weren’t expecting anything,” he explained. “We have asked for money for several years, because there have been high costs for our physical security.” Currently, members of the community foot the bill.

The government’s decision to allocate money for heightened security came after the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe called upon Sweden to do more to combat anti-Semitism. With 56 participating member states, OSCE is the world’s largest regional security organization.

Further underscoring the problem of anti-Semitism in the country is the fact that the Simon Wiesenthal Center has advised Jews not to travel in southern Sweden.

“We reluctantly are issuing this advisory because religious Jews and other members of the Jewish community have been subjected to anti-Semitic taunts and harassment,” said Shimon Samuels, the Center’s director for international relations, in a prepared statement.

In announcing the allocation of funds, Sweden’s integration minister, Erik Ullenhag, said that anti-Semitism is not acceptable in Sweden. He expressed disappointment that Sweden was perceived as not doing enough for its Jewish minority. Acknowledging Jewish concerns and the fact that fear prevents some Jews from attending synagogue, Ullenhag called this situation “totally unacceptable.”

Contact Donald Snyder at feedback@forward.com


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