In this Swedish city, a rabbi and an imam are working to overcome integration troubles

July 4, 2018

An Israeli rabbi explains why he swapped the West Bank settlement of Tekoa for strengthening cross-community ties in Malmö
“We, the Jews and Muslims in Malmö, have only one thing to say to one another: Salaam, Shalom.”
Those were the words chosen by the Jewish and Muslim communities for their public declaration in the southern Swedish city of Malmö last month, inspired by an earlier advertisement in the Daily Telegraph in the UK.
In previous years, the integration problems faced by Malmö’s large, mainly Muslim migrant population have earned it a reputation as a “problematic city”, with frequent reports of antisemitic attacks against people and property.
But the advert, published in the Swedish daily Sydsvenskan on a Friday last month to mark the end of Eid, was part of an effort to project a different image for the city.
“We, the Jews and Muslims living in Malmö, are uniting against any display of discrimination, hatred, prejudice and xenophobia,” the advertisement read.
“Jews and Muslims in Malmö stand together in the fight against antisemitism, Islamophobia, and any form of racism and discrimination against minorities.
“We believe meeting and getting to know one another and our traditions will help us better appreciate and respect one another.
“We are convinced this is the only way forward for a shared, better and safer future in the city of Malmö. Shabbat Shalom, Eid Mubarak.”
It was signed by Malmö’s Jewish and Muslim communities as well as Amanah, a project aimed at building trust and better relations between the two.
Such an advertisement would not have been possible even a year ago, Amanah’s Israeli co-director Moshe David Hacohen said.
Rabbi Hacohen, 38, started the organisation with local prominent imam Salahuddin Barakat after moving to Malmö from the West Bank settlement of Tekoa with his family in the spring of 2017.
His explicit mandate was to both serve as the city's rabbi and to foster dialogue with the Muslim community.
Since then, he and Imam Barakat have visited dozens of schools and organised text-based learning nights covering topics relevant to both faiths — such as the binding of Isaac (or Ishmael, according to the Muslim tradition); circumcision; and rules relating to food.
According to the rabbi, the advertisement shows that the work to build trust between the two communities and to change the conversation about them is bearing fruits.
“We didn’t want people to think that our initiative was carried out by individuals without the backing of the larger communities,” he said.
“For this reason, after Salahuddin and I came up with the idea of an ad similar to the one published in the UK, we brought it before the boards of the Jewish Community of Malmö, and the Malmö Muslim Network.
“After all the work we have done together, they approved it without thinking twice.”
He also attended an iftar, the meal that breaks the Ramadan fast of every evening, with the representatives of ten different Muslim communities.
But not everything has gone smoothly.
Rabbi Hacohen had been invited to speak at a major Eid celebration attended by over 10,000 people, but the invitation was rescinded by organisers after some protests.
“Some people call me naïve and think that I should be more demanding,” the rabbi said.
“I believe it is crucial to understand how difficult it is for many Muslims to accept someone like me, not only a rabbi, but an Israeli, a settler even,” he explained.
“However, at the same event, before the same audience, the mayor of Malmö Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh mentioned the ad and the importance of our work and for me this is already a step forward.”
“We still have a long way to cover, but it is important to acknowledge the progress we are making.”
The article was published on The JC

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It’s sad that Holocaust denial needs to be criminalized.

Chief Rabbi Jacobs:
Last Thursday was a special day. I was in Leeuwarden, a city in the north of The Netherlands, for the unveiling of a monument with 544 names of Jews who were murdered, 80% of what used to be a flourishing Jewish Community. It was not only an impressive ceremony, but a full day filling program. First a reception in the former Jewish School, then a tour of the former Jewish quarter where in front of the various houses and shops large photos of the former Jewish residents were placed: all murdered! And then: the unveiling wasn't supposed to start till 4pm and it was only 2pm? After the tour of the Jewish neighbourhood, we were directed to a nearby hall. Just before the occupation, in 1939, the wedding reception of Barend Boers and Mimi Dwinger, had taken place in this hall. More than a hundred guests were present. And in that same hall, we set now, awaiting the unveiling of the monument. And then, quite unexpectedly, it started. We were in the middle of a play. The chuppah took place around us, we were the guests, and the lives of the bride and groom were acted. But it was not all festive. The Nazis occupied The Netherlands. Jews were arrested. The young couple decided to escape. Their flight from the Netherlands, their trek across the Pyrenees, we saw it all happen. The various people whose houses we had just passed by, performed and talked about their lives and their deaths in Sobibor, Auschwitz or elsewhere. I actually would have preferred not to experience this performance because it hit me hard. It was a tough confrontation.
And then, after the confrontational play, we left the hall in silence and walked to the unveiling of the monument. And there, at that ceremony, 6 students pretended to be former residents of the Jewish Community of Leeuwarden: my name is x and in 1943 I was murdered in Sobibor. The mayor of Leeuwarden talked about his Jewish grandmother and the secret surrounding her Jewishness. When the mayor's aunt passed away, of natural causes, not so long ago, a briefcase was found and her Jewishness, her carefully hidden identity, was revealed. Because my ancestors originated from Leeuwarden, I had this personal feeling: how nice that my ancestors finally, after more then 75 years, got a gravestone, a matsewa! But a gravestone without a grave. A memorial prayer was recited followed by an intensive silence.
How could a large Jewish Congregation be massacred, gassed, exterminated? It was not just the fault of the small percentage of collaborators. The problem lay with the large silent mob that showed herd behaviour and chose the path that yielded them the most at the time: Fl.7.50 money per head for every betrayed Jew. And in better times even Fl. 40 pp!
Because of that herd mentality, which drove society in the completely wrong direction during the occupation, there was something like a collective guilt among the average Dutchman after the war. A few months ago, when 18 Orthodox Jewish girls were expelled from a KLM flight, I spoke to a former Minister and told him that thanks to my network I was able to arrange for them not to have to stay at Amsterdam Airport on Shabbat. And, I went on, whether it was right or wrong for the girls to be kicked off the plane, I don't know, because they might have misbehaved themselves. But I was corrected fairly brutally by the former statesman with the words: As a Dutch society we must always stand up for the Jew, because during the Holocaust we, the Dutch, failed miserably. I fully agree with that failure, but to go so far that it is no longer allowed to check whether straight is crooked and crooked straight is a bit too far for me.
I agree that it is justified that also in the Netherlands it is being considered nowadays to criminalize denial of the Holocaust. But the fact that this needs consideration, is sad, because apparently it is no longer felt how radically, inhumane and criminally the Nazi regime acted, supported by the majority of the Dutch population. Result: 544 names of murdered Jews. The monument is impressive, but the history unacceptable.

#DefineItToFightIT

Facebook should have a clear policy to fight antisemitism!
We at EJA are calling Facebook to adopt the IHRA definition for antisemitism!
Define it to fight it!!!
join us and many other organizations around the world in our call for Facebook- lets make a change.

Europe: Preparing for Passover in the shadow of Corona Crisis

Alongside logistical challenges European Jews face anti-Semitic propaganda that attributes the Corona epidemic to a “Jewish conspiracy.”
In the shadow of the Corona crisis, and much like most of the free world, European Jews have also been in quarantine for a number of weeks and have been trying to preserve a Jewish lifestyle as much as possible as well as prepare themselves for Passover with a growing shortage of kosher products. But alongside the logistical challenges and the impact on the daily life by the required isolation practices, European Jews are also facing anti-Semitic propaganda that attributes the Corona epidemic to a “Jewish conspiracy”.
In France, posts on social networks with anti-Semitic cartoons portraying the Jewish former French health minister, Agnès Buzyn, as responsible for the Corona epidemic have gone viral among far-right groups in the country. The Jewish community in Belgium is also reporting an increase in anti-Semitic discourse on the social networks.
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, Chairman of the European Jewish Association (EJA): "Unfortunately, the usage of international crisis to promote anti-Semitic agendas is nothing new. The EJA Virtual situation room, which we established at the beginning of the epidemic, receives daily reports of logistical difficulties from Jewish organizations and community leaders, but unfortunately also anti-Semitic voices that attributing the virus to a Zionist-Jewish conspiracy."
Rabbi Margolin also mentions that despite the difficulties and the closure of much of the borders, the EJA managed to send over 100,000 kits of matzah and kosher groceries for Passover to hundreds of Jewish communities across the continent: "Despite the severe crisis, Jews are responsible for one another and practice “arvut hadadit”. There are hundreds of students and volunteers - members of Jewish communities from all over Europe who are purchasing food and medicines for those in need and distributing it in their communities.
Naturally, the Jewish community in Italy has experienced the greatest difficulties so far. David Liscia, The President of the Jewish Community of Florence and Simone Santoro, member of the Jewish Community of Turin, Italy, point out that: "Due to the precarious and difficult situation in Italy, each of us, from the Jewish communities stays at home. With that, we make efforts to ensure that Jewish life is continued in the best possible way. In the morning kindergarten teachers gives live lessons to the children, while in the afternoon there are Talmud, and Torah lessons as well as Passover lessons in order to be able to maintain a proper Seder in isolation. Some of the smaller Jewish communities do not have a kosher supermarket or special stores for Passover. We usually buy all the commodities in bulk and sell them to community members. This year of course it was not possible - so we try to arrange groceries for everyone, which is not easy. We also deal with the problematic economic situation like the rest of the country."
In Spain, which stands next to Italy as the country most severely affected by the Corona virus so far in Europe, the Jewish community, which has been quarantined for three weeks, works hard to preserve Jewish life. The President of the Jewish Community in Madrid, Leon Benelbas says: "The Jewish community in Spain is working to strengthen community solidarity. The Jewish School in Madrid continues to work through digital platforms that allow students to continue studying history, Judaism, and Hebrew. We also use the ZOOM platform for collective prayers and rabbinic classes, at least twice a day. At the same time, the “EZRA” organization organizes grocery deliveries to all the Jewish families who are in need, and it is important to note that the “Kadisha company” continues to perform burial ceremonies according to Halacha requirements, and so far we are taking all precautions according to the administration's instructions.
The Jewish community in the Netherlands is also facing difficulties as a result of the quarantine. Anne Ornstein, member of the Amsterdam Jewish community: "Older people can no longer receive visits in order to prevent infection - a directive that profoundly affects those people in the Jewish community and we are organizing groups of young members from our community to help the elderly by volunteering. Like every other city in Europe, the synagogues are closed, and someone told me that this is the first time since World War II that this is happening. We are also preparing ourselves for Passover with the "Make Seder yourself" initiative of Chabad and other Jewish communities in the Netherlands to make sure that people who lives alone or families in need will everything they need for Passover Seder. "
Oliver Bradley, an activist in the Jewish community in Berlin: "The Jewish community in Berlin is not suffering like all other Jewish communities in Europe because there is still no full closure and no long queues at the supermarket. The Jewish supermarket in Berlin has been full of kosher products for Passover two weeks ago, and many Jews have already stocked up with supplies for the holiday season. You can't tell what will happen in the future. Of course, schools are closed, most kindergartens are closed (open only to children whose parents work in necessary jobs), but as mentioned, that can change at any moment. "
The article was published on Arutz 7

EJA asks President Duda to defer final decision on Holocaust law until meeting takes place, explores legal challenge at Polish Constitutional court

European Jewish Association asks President Duda to defer final decision on Holocaust law until meeting takes place, explores legal challenge at Polish Constitutional court

European Jewish Association (EJA) Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin has written to Polish President Duda asking him to defer any final decision on new laws passed at the weekend in the House and approved last night by the Senate with regards to the Holocaust and designation of concentration camps until a meeting with Jewish leaders takes place.

Rabbi Margolin also said that if all attempts at reasoning failed, the European Jewish Association would mount a legal challenge to the legislation in Poland’s Constitutional court, as it did when it won a ruling against Polish legislation affecting Kosher slaughter.  In a statement Rabbi Margolin said,

“It is with deep regret that I must write to the President of Poland and record the insult caused to the memory of those who died though this clumsy, ill thought out legislation. I have urged President Duda to defer any final decision on ratifying the legislation until at least having met with me and a delegation of Jewish leaders.

“I also note that despite being a member of the IHRA, Poland has yet to adopt formally the definition of Anti-Semitism Lithuania, Germany, Austria, Romania and the United Kingdom have formally adopted the definition. Given the damage being done to Polish-Jewish relations because of the bill, we believe that Polish adoption of the IHRA definition would assuage some of the concerns being expressed by European Jewry when it comes to Poland. 

“However, if reasoning and dialogue fails, the EJA will, as we successfully did in the past on efforts to ban Kosher slaughter, challenge this matter to Poland’s Constitutional court.”

Rabbi Margolin has also written to the heads of all the EU Institutions: Council President Tusk, Commission President Juncker, Justice Commissioner Jourova and European Parliament President Tajani, asking them to reprimand the Polish government.  “It seems inconceivable that an EU Member State can be permitted to, in such a crass way, wash its hands of what happened by slapping draconian legislation that threatens to imprison people for holding an alternative view, in this case, a majority of European Jews”, said Margolin. 

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