Anti-Racist Blog: Gone, But Definitely Not Forgotten

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.

Letter from Stockholm

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.

Some Thoughts on Irène Némirovsky

If you’ve read my review of Suite Française (it’s linked elsewhere on this blog), or followed my comments on my “other” blog (the one that focuses on the practice of writing), you already know that as much as I admire this novel, my positive feelings are more qualified insofar as its author, Irène Némirovsky, is concerned. This new Jewish Week article pretty much sums up the situation and the questions I’m still asking myself. (Thanks to MD for making sure I didn’t miss it!)

A Visit to the Center for Jewish History

Last Sunday my parents and I headed downtown to the Center for Jewish History on West 16th Street. We had two goals: to visit the exhibit on “Alfred Dreyfus: The Fight for Justice,” and to see the one on “Jewish Chaplains at War: Unsung Heroes of the ‘Greatest Generation,’ 1941-45.”

For those new to it, the CJH is, according to its Web site, “a unique partnership of five major institutions of Jewish scholarship, history, and art: the American Jewish Historical Society, the American Sephardi Federation, the Leo Baeck Institute, the Yeshiva University Museum, and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.” The Dreyfus exhibit belongs to the Yeshiva University Museum segment; “Jewish Chaplains at War” is linked with the AJHS.

Since the exhibit on the chaplains was on the main floor, we started there. The story of Jewish chaplains in World War II is not entirely new to me. Still, I was incredibly moved by the photographs and objects on display. One photograph of a Jewish chaplain leading services for Buchenwald survivors was overwhelming. (Although much of the exhibit appears to be online, that piece of it does not seem to be.)

Then we continued on to the Dreyfus exhibition. According to the brochure I picked up there, the exhibition was organized by the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme in Paris. Which might explain the fact that I was able to read/understand much more of what was on view than were my (non-French-speaking) parents.

I’ve known a lot about this historical episode for a long time. And yet, it still affects me profoundly. Maybe it affected me even more this time, seeing some of the actual fabric ripped from Alfred Dreyfus’s uniform during his dégradation in January 1895.

It’s an extensive exhibition, one that will take you much more time to absorb than you’ll need for “Jewish Chaplains at War.” You can catch it until February 17. And while it will help you to have some facility with French, that’s really not required. Je vous le promets.

In the News

When I moved (back) to New York last winter, my parents immediately subscribed me to The Jewish Week (thanks, Mom and Dad!). And I have to admit that as each week nears its end, I really appreciate its arrival in my mailbox. Among the items that particularly caught my attention this week:

–Rabbi David Goldstrom’s description of Chanukah in Baghdad;
–Rabbi David Wolpe’s explanation of why we place pebbles on graves; and
–A story I’ve followed elsewhere in the New York press, about an anti-Semitic attack on the subway (and the Muslim passenger who interceded on the victims’ behalf).