• Sweden's news in English
 
Fear and giggles: A day as a Jew in Malmö

Fear and giggles: A day as a Jew in Malmö

Published: 14 Oct 2013 17:22 GMT+02:00

Last month The Local received an email from a Jewish reader in America who is contemplating a visit to Sweden.

"With the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, and some very scary stuff in Sweden (Malmö comes to mind), why should a Jewish guy visit Sweden with his family? I don't wear tzitzit or a yarmulka, but I look ethnic. I am asking this without sarcasm," said the reader.

In 2010 the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which represents Jewish interests abroad, issued a travel warning for Malmö urging “extreme caution.” A year later a Hollywood film company scrapped plans to shoot a Jewish themed movie in the city because of concerns about anti-Semitism there.

Last year the Wiesenthal Centre said “they see no reason to relax or revoke” their travel warning to Jews considering a visit to southern Sweden.

A few months afterwards the Jewish community centre was attacked in a bomb blast. Former mayor Ilmar Reepalu was accused of anti-Semitism during his latter years in office, which coincided with a rise in hate crimes targeted against Jews – although few ever made it to a prosecutor.

Jews who are open about their identity in Malmö are few and far between. There is the Rabbi Shneur Kesselman, who dresses in full traditional Jewish attire, and there is chef Shmuel Goldberg who wears a kippah.

Both have experienced harassment. Kesselman had the word 'Palestina' carved into his car while Goldberg says he is frequently verbally abused. Earlier this year he was confronted in central Malmö by an angry man in an incident which almost became violent. He was encouraged to report it to the police who classified it as a hate crime.

When I told Goldberg I intended to wear a kippah for a day he was initially concerned.

"Don't do anything you wouldn't ordinarily do. Be careful as at times it can be unpleasant," he advised.

The idea was to go about my normal day and also visit places which a potential tourist may go to, albeit with one major difference - the kippah clipped to the back of my head.

My intention was not to take the biggest risk possible by venturing into a suburb like Kroksbäck where a Gambian national was recently assaulted along with his young son and nearly thrown off a bridge in a racially motivated crime. Besides, Kroksbäck along with say Rosengård are not exactly tourist hotspots.

Well, it didn't take long before I got the feeling that I was on display as I walked towards Möllevången. Möllan, as it is referred to by locals, is the bohemian quarter of Malmö with a bustling fruit and veg market manned largely by immigrants by day and pubs serving cheap beer by night.

I've walked down this street countless times in my normal garb, without causing as much as a backwards glance. Now, it was as if I had two heads judging by the number of stares arrowed in my direction.

As I passed a well-known bar I spotted some lunchtime coffee drinkers looking open mouthed in my direction. Navigating the fruit and vegetable stalls it was obvious that I was being stared at by shoppers and stall workers.

When it came time to make a purchase something strange happened. The stall worker started to giggle and beckoned his boss to come over and witness this transaction. Both were friendly to the point where it was almost too much.

Stares I'd expected but good-natured laughter I certainly hadn't. This was strange.

For safety reasons I asked a friend to shadow me from a discrete distance just in case things got ugly. Whilst in Möllan we went to one of the local coffee shops sandwiched between the falafel and ethnic food stores.

As we waited for our drinks I was spotted by two men in the corner of the small coffee shop. I could feel their eyes burning into the back of my borrowed shiny white kippah but - again - nothing was said or done that could be construed as anti-Semitism, or at least not of a sort that would make me fear for my safety.

Nevertheless, I was nervous and those feelings only intensified as we sat outside in the public square to drink our coffees.

On several occasions people stopped and looked back at me with a mixture of disbelief and menace. Another woman promptly broke into a fit of giggles like it was the funniest thing she had seen in ages. Then a group of men with large dogs lingered, for what seemed like an eternity, just in front of me.

Perhaps it was because they spoke fast in a language I didn't understand or it was the close proximity of the dogs which made me feel scared. Whether the threat was real or imagined the fear was genuine and that stemmed from what I was wearing on my head.

This was hardly helped when my friend told me that another group of men had been staring solidly at me for 30 minutes from a cafe across the street.

It was time to leave Möllan but I wanted to buy some flatbread before then. Once again the young man in the ethnic food store broke into laughter when I handed him the ten kronor for the fresh bread. A (faux) Jew in this part of town certainly had a curiosity factor.

Next I walked up the big shopping street, Södra Förstadsgatan, to the main square at Gustav Adolfs Torg. More stares followed, particularly from a woman as I ate lunch, but I did feel safer in this part of town.

After a while I began to forget I was wearing the kippah until a burly man walked aggressively in my direction and mouthed "fucking Jew" to his friend. It was a reminder that making your Jewish identity in Malmö obvious carries its own risk. Frankly, it was a relief to take it off.

I've lived in Malmö for almost two years and in that time there have been numerous shootings and violent crimes. As an Irish person abroad I've never felt remotely threatened but wearing the kippah for a few hours was enough to instill feelings of fear. Even when I didn't feel afraid I was made to feel different and unwelcome.

The statistics show that my fear is well-placed. Sixty anti-Semitic hate crimes were registered in Malmö in 2012 - almost three times the number in previous years. None of these resulted in a conviction.

Goldberg intends to keep wearing his kippah, despite the threats. Jews who do not wear a kippah or other Jewish clothing, like recently-arrived Spaniard Juan Lopez*, rarely face harassment:

"I've never felt scared in Malmö because I don't lead a traditional Jewish life. Put simply, nobody knows I am Jewish, not that there isn't a real threat to the Jewish population in Malmö," Lopez told The Local.

Problems certainly endure. A school teacher told me some parents pulled their children out of her classroom once they discovered she was Jewish and she quit working in Malmö as a result.

Meanwhile, the sole Jewish kindergarten is protected with bullet-proof doors after the bomb attack last year. When the children go out on field trips wearing their high visibility vests the name of the Jewish preschool isn't written on the vests for fear of potential attacks.

But it would be wrong to leave with the impression, as many on the other side of the Atlantic seem to have done, that anti-Semitism is going unchallenged in Malmö. Indeed, the reports of anti-Semitism have led to much soul-searching.

'Kippah walks' involving hundreds of Malmö residents and other Swedes are held on a regular basis to show support for the city's Jewish community, which is estimated to have dwindled to 600 people.

On the issue of hate crime, police and politicians are promising to do better. In a wide-ranging interview with The Local recently, new Malmö mayor Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh said she was keen to mend relations with the Jewish community and promised to do more to tackle hate crime.

“I think we started a debate which is very important by focusing on hate crime. Even a single one is one too much,” she said.

Let's be clear. Beyond stares and a mindless insult, nothing truly serious happened when I wore the kippah for a few hours. But enough unsavoury incidents have occurred in Malmö to suggest that something could have happened.

Jews who visit Malmö, at least those whose identity is visible, should be prepared for stares at least and violence at worst.

*Editor's Note: Some names have been changed in order to protect identities.

Patrick Reilly

Follow Patrick on Twitter

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Stockholm gold store hit by masked raiders
Police outside the Kista Galleria in northern Stockholm on Sunday. Christine Olsson / TT

Stockholm gold store hit by masked raiders

A gold shop in a mall in Kista in northern Stockholm has been robbed by several masked men. The robbers beat staff, grabbed gold and then fled in a car. READ  

'Rape worse in Sweden than India', says Gandhi
Stop rape photo: Shutterstock

'Rape worse in Sweden than India', says Gandhi

India's women's minister Maneka Gandhi says that Sweden has worse problems with rape than India. READ  

How the world reacted to Sweden's Eurovision win
Måns Zelmerlöw celebrates his victory. Photo: Jessica Gow / TT / Kod 10070

How the world reacted to Sweden's Eurovision win

The world's press were - more or less - united in their praise for Måns Zelmerlöw's Heroes, Sweden's winning entry in this year's Eurovision READ  

Stockholm beggars hit in firecracker attacks
A person unrelated to the story begging in Stockholm. Photo: TT

Stockholm beggars hit in firecracker attacks

A beggar outside a Stockholm supermarket was targeted with a firecracker on Saturday, one of a spate of similar attacks. READ  

Hollywood stars join Stockholm Gumballers
Photo: TT

Hollywood stars join Stockholm Gumballers

The 17th Gumball rally starts in Stockholm on Sunday and among the more famous participants in their luxury rides are Hollywood notables Dolph Lundgren and David Hasselhoff. READ  

Armless man denied disabled parking spot
Photo: Magnus Manske/Wikipedia

Armless man denied disabled parking spot

A Swedish man has had his disabled parking permit revoked despite lacking both arms and thus unable to pay for a ticket. READ  

Armed robbers attack Stockholm money truck
Police investigating a previous raid in 2013. Photo: TT

Armed robbers attack Stockholm money truck

Police in the Swedish capital are investigating a raid on a van transporting cash in the city, with at least two robbers suspected to have made off with a bag of money. READ  

Swedes among least likely to die from cold
A woman stuck in snow in Malmö during the winter. Photo: TT

Swedes among least likely to die from cold

Cold weather kills 20 times more people as hot weather, according to a new global study, but despite Sweden's harsh climate its inhabitants are less likely to die in chilly temperatures than Brits, Spaniards or Italians. READ  

'It's good that Swedish defence is quick to react'
Swedish PM Stefan Löfven speaking to reporters on Friday. Photo: Wiktor Nummelin/TT

'It's good that Swedish defence is quick to react'

Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has praised the Swedish Air Force after two Jas Gripen aircraft warned off a pair of Russian fighter jets that strayed close to Swedish airspace this week. READ  

Frozen berry sales up despite deadly sickness
Raspberries are a popular snack in Sweden. Photo: TT

Frozen berry sales up despite deadly sickness

UPDATED: Sales of frozen berries are rising at one of Sweden's biggest supermarket chains, despite the fruits causing a deadly bug outbreak at an elderly care home, which has led to other EU nations reviewing their safety guidelines. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
How two million Swedes are designing a 'house of clicks'
National
What's on in Sweden this week
Sponsored Article
Kristin Amparo: 'Swedes are afraid to be proud'
National
Five facts you need to know about Sweden's Eurovision entry
Bupa
Sponsored Article
Healthcare: Nine questions every expat should ask
Blog updates

22 May

Editor’s blog, May 22nd (The Local Sweden) »

"Greetings from Stockholm, The hot topic in Europe this week is whether or not the UK will..." READ »

 

8 May

 (Joel Sherwood) »

"Daycare called today. They ordered me to drop all activities and come pick up my child...." READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
What it's like to be a student in Malmö
National
Why do one in three Swedes want to join Nato?
Sponsored Article
'No one tells expats about unemployment benefits'
Features
What to do in Stockholm this summer
Sponsored Article
Why expat women are choosing Swedish natural birth control
Gallery
People-watching: May 20th
National
How Sweden and Saudi Arabia got back on speaking term after row
Gallery
Property of the week: Västra hamnen, Malmö
Sponsored Article
'There is no such thing as Swedish values'
National
Why is support for the Sweden Democrats at a record high?
Sponsored Article
ConnectSweden: Examining Sweden's place in the world
Gallery
People-watching: May 15th - 17th
National
VIDEO: Swedish man's roar scares off charging bear
National
'Gang conflict' linked to latest Gothenburg attack
National
RECIPE: How to make Panna cotta with cloudberry jam
Sponsored Article
'Educated immigrants get stuck in limbo in Sweden'
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Your May sun snaps
National
Sweden backs migrant sharing plan
National
Swedish boozing on the rise
National
Why Sweden's deputy PM was forced to apologize for Auschwitz analogy
National
End of the road for Julian Assange's arrest appeal?
Features
Booked to go to one of Sweden's sizzling music festivals yet?
National
Is Avicii set to play at Sweden's royal wedding?
National
Meet the Swedish boy who used to be a girl
Sponsored Article
How to change the world: Malmö to Mogadishu
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Princess Estelle through the years
National
Why is obesity ballooning in Sweden?
National
VIDEO: The bizarre Swedish nurses song that's gone viral
National
Ecuador stray dog Arthur in Swedish charity race
National
UK expert: 'Sweden's current military state is alarming'
National
Elfdalian: a real language spoken in central Sweden in 2015
National
Is King's love for house tracks behind new military music?
Gallery
Property of the week: Hjortnäs, Leksand
National
Sex-crazed grouse terrorizes Swedes
National
IN PICTURES: Sweden's King Carl XVI turns 69
National
Dolphins spotted in Baltic
Gallery
People-watching: May 1st-3rd
Sponsored Article
'Never waste a good crisis'
National
Road trippers flock to 'The Bridge'
National
Why are Swedish supermarkets banning paracetamol pills?
Gallery
People watching: April 29th
National
"In many ways Swedes and Americans are kindred spirits"
Politics
Did you know four Swedish party leaders are women?
National
Swedish rescue team stuck on way to Nepal quake zone
National
Why Sweden's brown bear population is in danger
National
TIMELINE: Julian Assange sex allegations in Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Forshaga
National
Here's how a Swede became the world's boxing champion
Swedish Hasbeens
Sponsored Article
Is the world wrong to connect Sweden with sex?
Sponsored Article
'Impossible' to run Skanska without Bromma Airport
Sponsored Article
Want to study in Sweden? Read why Stockholm is the best choice
Sponsored Article
'Sweden must embrace openness and diversity'
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

3,351
jobs available
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se