Responsible One For The Other

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Even if we attended synagogue services for only a few moments among the many days of holidays recently concluded, only the unseeing, the unfeeling or the sequestered among us could escape feeling at least some aspect of belonging to a larger group called the Jewish People.

A hallmark through the ages of that feeling of belonging has been empathy with and concern for the well-being of communities wherever they are situated on the globe.

Kol Yisrael arevim zeh l’zeh (all of the people Israel cares one for the other) has been the millennial embodiment of that sense of concern for even the most far-flung Jewish community. That saying has been as much of a call to action for us as it has been a statement of values.

Thus, it was with particular worry that we read over the holidays of the attack in Malmo, Sweden, on the offices of the local Jewish community. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

Incredibly, the Malmo police last week said they had “no indication” that the attack was a hate crime.

As reported by the JTA, the police arrested and later released two 18-year-old men suspected of hurling a brick and a large firecracker at the entrance of the office on Sept. 28.

“The suspects never said or indicated they were perpetrating a hate crime,” Anders Lindell, a Malmo police officer and spokesperson, told JTA. The investigation is ongoing, Lindell said.

Willy Silberstein of the Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism, a Stockholm-based NGO, told JTA that he found the police decision “very strange.”

According to the European Jewish Congress (EJC), some 20,000 of the 9.5 million people who live in Sweden are Jews. Several hundred live in Malmo. In 2011, the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention reported that 190 antisemitic crimes were reported in Sweden.

Malmo’s mayor, Ilmar Reepalu, has a singularly troubling history when it comes to the Jewish community there. Jewish communal leaders in Sweden and in Europe have frequently expressed their displeasure with and distrust of him. Indeed, EJC president Moshe Kantor condemned the attack against Malmo’s Jewish community offices by explicitly referring to the mayor.

“The authorities need to take urgent action [to prevent attacks against Jews] on a national and pan-European basis,” Kantor said in an EJC press release.

“However, before there is a way, there must be a will, and the mayor of Malmo has created an atmosphere in which Jews feel threatened without sufficient protection or understanding” Kantor added.

In that press release on Sept. 28, Kantor also explicitly referred to the recent attacks against Jewish schoolchildren in Paris, a man and his six-year-old daughter in Berlin and a rabbi in Vienna.

Last week, the EJC issued another press release warning against a different sort of attack against Jews in Europe, namely, against the rights of Jews to practise their religion. The Congress called on senior European leaders to be vigilant in opposing these non-corporeal attacks too.

In letters sent to leading European public officials, Kantor noted the recent attempts by various local government authorities to limit or prohibit Jewish religious practice. He made specific reference to shchitah (ritual kosher slaughter) and brit milah (circumcision).

“These assaults on our religion are causing untold anxiety to Jewish communities across Europe who are successfully balancing their adherence to European law and principles of their Jewish faith,” Kantor wrote.

The rite of religious circumcision has recently come under legal challenge in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The question of its legality has also been debated in Scandinavia. And as reported by JTA, the main Finnish opposition political party, the True Finns, last week expressed their intention to present a bill to parliament that would make religious circumcision a criminal offence.

Kantor reminded his correspondents “the basic right of freedom of religious expression is not only enshrined in the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights and in the European Convention of Human Rights but is also heavily protected by national legislation in member states.”

We must hope that European legislatures and courts will uphold the human and civil rights of its citizens.

As long as we do not cause harm to any one, as long as we live by the rule of law and contribute to the well-being of the wider community, no one should tell Jews how to practise our Judaism. Especially in Europe.

And when the Jews of Sweden, or anywhere for that matter, must act to protect their right to be Jewish, we should help them. After all, we are all responsible one for the other.