I hadn’t visited Anti-Racist Blog for a few days, so I was surprised, upon clicking over today, to see the blog basically dismantled. And I’m sad and angry (though unfortunately not so surprised, given some of my own experiences) about what has driven the blogger to take this serious step. You can read all about the blog and the reason it’s been taken down here.
But of course I respect the blogger’s decision. Thanks for all your work, Anti-Racist blogger. Todah rabah, indeed.
Guest commentary from BJ Epstein, sent via e-mail from Sweden during her recent visit back there.
During my years living in Sweden, I was never quite sure what people found more objectionable — the fact that I was born and raised in the United States or the fact that I am Jewish. Together, those two items proved to be an unpleasant combination.
Jews are a small percentage of the Swedish population (around 0.2%), and a pretty invisible group here. Swedes take pride in their “neutrality” during World War II and in the White Bus movement and so forth, but to them, that was a long time ago. Now, in part because of the situation in Israel and also because of how the United States and its foreign policy is viewed abroad, Swedish Jews receive no sympathy and instead can have serious problems.
Here are a few examples of events that happened while I lived here: a Jewish store-owner was badly beaten up and his store damaged; two young Jewish teachers-in-training were teaching in an inner-city school and were so frequently harassed by their students (who were nearly all from Muslim backgrounds) that they both quit; a man wearing a yarmulke was violently attacked at a subway station; and in one of the major squares in a large city, someone drew graffiti that showed a swastika, a star of David, and an American flag with equal signs between each of the symbols. Not one of these appalling occurrences was discussed in any of the major newspapers, as far as I could tell. I only learned about them from the tiny Jewish press (and, in the last case, from seeing the graffiti myself).
I certainly received a lot of questions about Jews (such as “Jews celebrate Easter, right?” and “Jews are just another kind of Christian, aren’t they?”) that showed that people had learned little about Judaism in school, and I heard a lot of criticism about Israel and about Jews. The critical remarks often proved to me that though people claim that disliking Israeli or its various policies is not the same as being anti-Semitic (and, yes, this is of course true), many people nevertheless offered comments that were both anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic, while disingenuously pretending that this was not the case and that Jews were just oversensitive.
I have now lived elsewhere for over a year and a half, and I was disappointed on my recent trip to Stockholm to see that little has changed. The Mediterranean Museum does not mention a single word about Israel or about Jews and although I know that the small museum can not feature every single country in the Mediterranean area, it does have a prominent exhibit on Islam and on the Muslims of Sweden. Also, there was a large protest against the United States a few days ago, and I saw protesters carrying signs that showed how disgruntled they were with what they termed “Usrael.”
The “foreign” population of Sweden is currently around 10%, and it is growing all the time. I can’t help but wish that all the minorities in Sweden, including the Jews, received better treatment, and could feel more comfortable and welcomed here.
Life is short, so I try to be selective about the books I dedicate my time to. And from what I’ve been reading about Nicholson Baker’s latest, including Adam Kirsch’s review, I don’t think I’ll be adding that title to my TBR list, as much as I’ve appreciated some of Baker’s previous work. As a trained historian with a particular interest in World War II–and as a granddaughter of Jews who fled from Nazi Germany–I’m afraid Baker’s new book might infuriate me. And I just don’t have the time or energy for that right now.
Last week I saw an announcement on H-Net about a new online resource for learning Hebrew: Hebrew Podcasts. “The audio lessons are designed for all ages and consist of a Hebrew dialog with English narration explaining the dialog and the grammar that it is using. The lessons teach contemporary, Israeli, spoken Hebrew. Students listen to these audio podcasts on a portable mp3 player or on their computer.”
The good news is that the podcast audio lessons are free. Lesson guides to enrich the lesson come with site membership (for which there’s a fee).
I’ve listened to one podcast so far, and I’m tempted to return for more. And yes, I’m tempted to buy a membership.