• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Jewish convert fears Sweden Democrat surge

Ann Törnkvist · 25 Apr 2014, 11:26

Published: 25 Apr 2014 07:26 GMT+02:00
Updated: 25 Apr 2014 11:26 GMT+02:00

Eva and her husband once welcomed a house guest who asked if was alright to store some pork in their fridge. Used to people in Sweden not taking Jewish dietary guidelines seriously, Eva simply said:

"Would you feel comfortable if I put a dead rat in your fridge?"

She says that religious restrictions are often questioned in Sweden, whereas no one would question if a person simply said they didn't like, for example, Serrano ham - which Eva used to enjoy before she converted to Judaism. Eva got the best tip on how to deal with such attitudes from a Muslim friend. 

"To explain the concept of impure, imagine if you drop your toothbrush in the toilet," Eva says. "It doesn't matter if you wash it, boil it in hot water, dunk it in alcoholic disinfectant, you still won't use it." 

She tries to eat kosher food - "trying to keep a vegetarian diet" - and manages to remain a bit more observant than her husband.

"I don't ask what he eats for lunch," says Eva, who has chosen a vegetarian restaurant for the interview. 

The couple had known each other since their early teens. It wasn't until Eva, an accountant, had spent her twenties, thirties, and a chunk of her forties working herself nearly to death that they meet again. 

She had been forced to take sick leave after a two-month stint during which she worked 173 hours overtime, on top of her political engagements for the Moderate Party. Burned out, she retreated to the countryside to lick her wounds. 

"When you're alone in a cabin in the woods you're very exposed to, let's call them forces.... there's a blizzard, the fox eats the hens, the moon shines so brightly you can do things at night," she explains. 

Life in town had been quiet different.

"In my quietest moment, I had my musings about God, but I didn't have that many quiet moments," she says. "I just worked and worked and worked and because I was single there were no brakes." 

While her husband has Jewish parents, who had suffered the Holocaust but been spared the concentration camps, he was not particularly observant. But the culture and the Jewish people mattered to him. After he and Eva got together, she started studying Judaism. She'd never been quite at ease with the Christian teachings of her childhood.

"I never bought the Trinity," says Eva. "First you learn there is one God, then all of a sudden there are three parts. And nobody could explain the Holy Spirit to me in a way that I found satisfying."

She says that the priest in charge of her studies ahead of confirmation thought she was a bit of a handful. 

"I think he thought I was a bit annoying, but I think he did his best."

Eva was one of few students who'd ask difficult questions. She never got her head around the holy spirit. As she started studying Judaism three decades later, monotheism was a definite draw.

And she does feel that her Christian confirmation gave her good basic knowledge, which became useful in her recent studies. She feels at best pity, at worst irritation, at many Swedes' ill-defined agnosticism.

"How many Swedes say they believe in 'something' but aren't sure what that 'something' is?" she queries. "There are package solutions, you can shop around, you don't have to figure it out yourself." 

"People haven't understood that religion is important, everyone's too busy buying new apartments," she adds.

"Everyone is so busy, then something awful happens, and people go light a candle in the street, and you wonder, where is the Swedish Church? There are rituals for this but people are forced to make them up for themselves."

Six months after she began her studies, she told her husband she had decided to convert.

"I have never seen someone so happy," she says. 

The draw for her was the Jewish focus on the here and now, rather than a promised heaven or paradise. And she liked the direct communication with God. 

"If I break one of the rules, then it's my problem, it really doesn't concern anyone else. I can't go to someone else and say "Oy oy oy, forgive me'," Eva says. "I'm the one who has to talk to God."

As Eva went through the year-long studies, her parents were a bit concerned.

"My mum asked why I'd join a community that is so persecuted," says Eva,

She was much more upset than her husband was at the latest incidents of swastika graffiti  - scrawled on, among other places, the doors of Stockholm's Central Mosque and the Vasa Real school in Stockholm, which has classes specifically for Jewish pupils. 

"I'm so new, I feel naked, but my husband shrugs it off," says Eva, who wears a chunky Star of David around her neck, only half visible behind the lapels of her functional and chic grey suit jacket.

When she was active in politics she heard her share of nasty comments.

"In the 1970s, we had a few very extreme individuals who'd come to Moderate Party meetings and spout off behind closed doors," she recalls. "It offered them a kind of pressure valve, to blow off steam, but you'd never send them out on the campaign."

"Those people have now gone over to the Sweden Democrats."

A few years ago, Eva read the Sweden Democrats' party programme and balked at the demand that all religious congregations should build houses of worship that looked like traditional Swedish churches. That point has now been excluded.

Eva has hopes for a multicultural Sweden. She credits Muslims in Sweden for reawakening the debate about religion. And she hopes that one day they will be considered as much a part of Swedish history as the Swedish Jewish community, which traces its roots back to the late 18th century.

But she is worried that the Sweden Democrats may gain ground in the next elections.

"They mix myth, number crunching and rhetoric in a very troubling way."

Ann Törnkvist (ann.tornkvist@thelocal.com)

Today's headlines
Masked men on mopeds shoot four in Malmö
Censorgatan in Fosie is a relatively quiet residential area in Malmö. Photo: Google Maps

At least four people have been injured in a shooting in southern Malmö.

78-year-old crowned Sweden's best grower of oilseed rape
Gunnar Henningson celebrates his well-deserved victory. Photo: Svensk Raps

"This is one of the happiest days of my life,” said 78-year- old Gunnar Henningson, after being crowned Sweden's "Rapsmästaren".

Sweden to bring in tighter rape laws to up convictions
Mari Heidenborg, president of the Sexual Offences Committee wants to drop the Swedish term fro rape Våldtakt. Photo: Claudio Bresciani / TT

Swedish lawmakers are to propose adding a controversial consent clause to the country’s rape laws.

Sweden's centre-right voters up for deals with populist SD
Jimmie Åkesson with Centre Party leader Annie Lööf and Moderate leader Anna Kinberg Batra. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

A growing majority of voters for Sweden’s four-party centre-right Alliance support working with the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats.

Coeliac disease not caused by early weaning: Swedish study
Carin Andrén Aronsson now plans to investigate why Sweden has such high levels of coeliac disease. Photo: Polarbrod

Mothers who stop breastfeeding early are not to blame for their children developing gluten intolerance, a new Swedish study has found.

Zlatan look-a-like storms pitch as Man U take on champions
A grinning Zlatan pushed the man away with the palm of his hand. Photo: YouTube

Zlatan fever has hit the UK, with a look-a-like storming the pitch on Saturday only to be palmed off by the grinning Swedish star.

Russian Sweden Democrat aide resigns over suspect deal
'Egor Putilov' had access to all areas of the Swedish parliament: Photo: Riksdag

A Russian-born political secretary for the Sweden Democrats has resigned after making six million kronor ($0.7m) in a property deal with a St Petersburg businessman.

Trump an 'embarrassment' Springsteen tells Sweden
Bruce Springsteen tells SVT talk show host that Trump is an 'embarrassment' to the US. Photo: SVT/Youtube

Rock legend Bruce Springsteen has described Donald Trump as an embarrassment to the United States in an interview on Sweden's Skavlan talk show.

'World class' developer told to leave Sweden over admin slip
Software developer Tayyab Shabab. Photo: Private

Tayyab Shabab has a house, a job and pays tax in Sweden, but he has now been told he must leave within three weeks.

Police release men held over bomb threat on refugee home
Police officers outside the building. Photo: Robert Nyholm/TT

UPDATED: Two men arrested after a bomb threat was made against a home for refugees in Boden, northern Sweden, have been allowed to leave custody.

Sponsored Article
Let's Talk: a personal Swedish language tutor in your pocket
National
Muslim teacher leaves job after not shaking male colleague's hand
Sponsored Article
‘I view the world in a different way now’
Travel
Why we adore autumn in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: September 21st
Blog updates

7 September

Svensk or svenska? (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hejsan! My inbox is full of questions :-). Here’s one about when to use “svensk” and…" READ »

 

23 August

A Summer in Sweden (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"For our first year here in Sweden we decided to have all our holidays in Sweden.…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
'Creating a sense of home': Collective living in Stockholm
National
Stockholmers hunt killer badger after attack on neighbourhood hipster cat
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
The Local Voices
Why this Russian developer is committed to helping refugees - with tech
National
Six key points in Sweden's budget plan
The Local Voices
How a Swedish name finally made recruiters notice this Iranian's CV
Sponsored Article
Gran Canaria: 'So much more than beaches'
Gallery
Property of the week: Luleå
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Gallery
People-watching: September 16th-18th
Culture
Why Swedish TV has given these kids' trucks a sex swap
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
National
TIMELINE: Everything you need to know about the Julian Assange case
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Gallery
People-watching: September 14th
Politics
Why Sweden is putting troops on holiday dream island Gotland
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
The Local Voices
'What I mean when I say: I came here to blow myself up'
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
Society
VIDEO: Are Swedes that unfriendly?
Sponsored Article
7 reasons you should join Sweden’s ’a-kassa’
Features
INTERVIEW: How Arthur the jungle dog opened hearts and minds
Gallery
Property of the week: Smögen, Västra Götaland
Society
Sweden's ancient forest tongue Elfdalian fights for survival
National
Where Sweden's foreigners are from
Gallery
People-watching: September 9th-11th
The Local Voices
Shakib, 23, works and pays taxes — but will Sweden let him stay?
National
Watch this Swede roll his kayak without spilling his beer. Respect.
Gallery
People-watching: September 7th
The Local Voices
'Swedes are polarized on refugees - it's the welcome mat or the exit door'
National
WATCH: Yes, this Swedish rising star really is Abba legend's grandson
The Local Voices
'Whenever I apply for jobs I’m treated like an unwanted stranger'
The Local Voices
Is Swedish bosses' ignorance keeping refugees out of jobs?
2,970
jobs available