Posted Dana Hadadi / Israel
The dominant religion in the Swedish society will be – not to believe in god. That, and trying to be OK with everybody. The Swedes’ art will be: walking carefully between the challenges that are offered to you by those who are different to you, as a neo-liberalist without breaking anyone’s eggs.
It’s common in Sweden to be common. Once you have settled that, you are now ready to step down to the bottom of questions in a much more profound way.
Israelis feel suppressed by a religious regime. Fighting for their right to be secular- religion will naturally become their number 1 enemy. Communistic East Europe diminished any chance to express a belief, so nowadays to balance it- excessive support will come on your way to “re-Jew” yourself as if Judaism has become missionary. You will find yourself wondering which event to go according to what food they serve, because it’s clear they want you there, and that it will be free.
While in Stockholm, in order to become a member of the Jewish community you need to pay an additional fee to the already agreed high taxes that go to conventional educational system and health-care. It is a luxurious business and a special privilege to choose an extra- identity, as you are supplied with all what you are physically and spiritually needs.
When I state that, I have to make it clear that all of these cases which were mentioned (Israel, East Europe and Sweden) refer to citizens of the high-economical class. The Swedish community is so secular, that if I’m not mistaking, it is one of the only places they could afford having a program like Paidea, allowing Jews and non-Jews to explore Judaism to its finest details in a non-religious atmosphere.
Debates on Shabat dinner’s table at the Rabi Issak Nachman’ house would deal with the issue of what deprives human rights more: the circumcision of an 8 days old child- determining for him he’s fate- to belong to an ethnic group without his consent (“Just because God said so”) or- depriving a major portion of society their right to perform a traditional ceremony. (“Just because western culture said it’s barbaric”).
Jewish Stockholm was not necessarily the most spiritual experience, for me, but it was most defiantly a great intellectual one. I liked watching Judaism as a side ornament, a spice you add to your life and not something you run into out of fear or confusion. Maybe less emotional, maybe more rational, but it had a flavor I could easily feel comfortable with. No one imposes his rituals, and no one imposes his secularity. No one imposes his Zionism, and no one imposes his Swedish nationality.
I heard only one story about one Reform Rabbi that was insensitive enough to let his guests drink non-Kosher wine for Kidush, because he was performing the service like that (not asking what’s convenient also for the guest)- But that’s a different story.
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February 24, 2012 | 4:55 am
Posted Pavel Pustelik /Cardiff
For a week, London is becoming more Jewish than it usually is. You can spot groups of people talking in Hebrew and crowds are heading to the King’s Place in London. The Jewish Book Week is in full blossom!King’s Cross station has became a landmark of London after the tremendous success of the Harry Potter series. Apart from that it opens the way to the King’s Place that hosts the Jewish Book Week this year. This cultural hub is undoubtedly one of the top places on the hype places in London. The decision to celebrate there the 60th anniversary of the festival was just perfect.
While travelling to London I was wondering what to expect. A book fair? Plenty of people taking pictures of Umberto Eco and Deborah Lipstadt or a rendez-vous arena for the young Jewish people.
Essentially all the expectations have been fulfilled. The event is something more than just a book fair, but you still can find piles of books related to different aspects of Jewish life as well as spot real
bargains. Given the fact that many of the lectures are addressed to the younger audience the halls are filled with laughter and phone numbers are being exchanged. This makes the space more chilled out.
For me seeing the huge interests of people was incredibly uplifting.
Visitors from all walks of life have been genuinely interested in what Judaism is, what are the peculiarities of the Jewish life and naturally what is going on in the Middle East and in Israel. It seemed that the trauma of Holocaust is remembered but fortunately does not dominate the whole atmosphere making it tough for the new-comers. The organizers provided something more than just a place to discuss the issues related to literature where those who read a lot can sit together and comfortably compare and contrast philosophical paradigms. The event opens up discussions about global problems as well as culture, politics or education. This makes the Jewish Book Week gathering an audience that goes beyond Jews.
One of the highlights was a talk with two authors that focus on the problems of coexistence of Jews, Muslims and Christians in the Mediterranean area. David Abulafia from Cambridge University and
Philip Mansel offered tremendously interesting talk on how peaceful the coexistence was and in what ways we can benefit from that. The room was full and two gentlemen have been delving in them peculiarities of Smyrna and Tel Aviv.
It has been almost possible to hear the pebbles rolling down the streets of Beirut and smell the spices used in Palermo. Paradoxically, a lecture on peace ignited a discussion on intolerance and violence against different people. ‘Pessimism is always so trendy in the Jewish milieu’ commented the chair, Felipe Fernández-Armesto, a Jew-lover and appreciator. Everybody was laughing and nodding…
Since the Jewish Book Week is based in London, there must have been an event focusing on the city. Rachel’s Kolsky speciality is going deeperin understanding the urban texture of the city. She unveils, digs more profoundly than the others and reads the stories of people who used to occupy neighbourhoods of London. Even though, the prosecutions of Jewish people have been taking place in the UK many times, there are still visible signs of their presence. Mostly conserved in the London’s Jewish Museum.
The time in King’s Place has found a new dimension. Being surrounded by many eager explorers of the Jewish life is an experience par excellence. Having an opportunity to engage is priceless and finally meeting like-minded people makes you think that there are still so many things that can be done!
If you are in London or somewhere around, do not hesitate to come and see what is in the agenda. The Jewish Book Week continues till February 26th! However, if you cannot come, make sure that you take advantage of the podcasts that are being regularly uploaded on the event’s webite: http://www.jewishbookweek.com/2012/programme.php
February 23, 2012 | 10:22 am
Posted Ian Shulman
“So you are going to Slovakia to make a report about Jewish Winter Olympics in the mountains? Well, a kind of strange excuse for a winter vacation, Ian.”
Indeed, why did I go at all? I never liked sports, I’m not any kind of sport reporter at all, I don’t really get fascinated by mountains, especially when it’s below -20 C. After all, I met some people from local Jewish communities already and wasn’t expecting to hear anything new. When a cog train brought me up to the place called Štrbské Pleso, which name I could hardly pronounce partially because of its frosty climate, my only wish was to hide myself in my hotel and magically reappear in another hotel some 800m away, where the games were taking place.
Maybe the reason why this event surprisingly became my warmest memory of this cold winter was the warm welcome and helpful assistance, which were offered to me by Petra Mullerova, a friendly and active young lady behind the whole organizational process of the Slovak Maccabi Games. Another reason might be the stunning beauty of the High Tatras, the mountain range surrounding the spot. The third segment is finally the home atmosphere of the the largest Jewish event in Slovakia, which seem to avoid any kind of formality or pomposity.
That’s the benefit of being small, one advantage which a bigger community can’t afford. The organizers managed to gather a family-like get-together of 200 people, including the president of the Jewish federation and the ambassador of Israel. “Approach anyone, they are all friendly here” - assured Petra after having assisted me with interviewing some of the non-English speaking guests. Petra appeared to be right: at the closing dinner everyone was just going from table to table and engaging in new conversations. Peter Schwartz from the community of Kosice represents the older generation of Slovak Jews, which constitute a significant part of the community. Schwartz says that sports is something almost everyone likes, regardless of age, and thanks to this fact the Winter Games has become the biggest community event and the best chance for all the generations to meet and spend time together.
A relatively younger ambassador of Israel Alexander Ben-Zvi is an honoured guest at the games, but this status doesn’t interfere him from being ‘a good old friend’. For him the winter games is first of all a good reason to enjoy the close circle of the fellow Jewish people, as well as to fulfil his duty and to speak with them about some peculiarities of the Middle East conflict. I had a chance to speak with the Ukrainian-born ambassador in my native tongue, but did this fact alone contribute to this home-feeling, which lasted during the whole event till the next morning, when I headed towards Kosice?
The word ‘Olympics’ brings only sad associations when mentioned in the Jewish context, like Berlin Olympics of 1936 or Munich Olympics of 1972. In contrast with the official Olympics, Maccabi games is a manifesto. It breaks the anti-Semitic stereotype of a weak and sickly Jewish boy, it breaks the Israeli stereotype of a summer beach as the main sports venue. And if the European Summer Maccabi in Vienna, where I had a chance to volunteer, does it in a pompous and wide-scale manner, which corresponds to the significance of the event, Slovak Winter games does it unintentionally, both for the guests and for everyone around. Just like any Olympics, it is a symbol of strength - here, of strength and unity of the community.
February 22, 2012 | 1:50 pm
Posted Veronique Brüggemann
According to the latest Gallup poll, Americans perceive Iran as the United States greatest enemy, 25 percent listed Iran before others. It also found that Republicans are more likely to support this view than Democrats.
Yet, while very few Americans would wish for a nuclear Iran, it seems highly unlikely they would support military action to prevent a proliferated Islamic Republic. After Afghanistan and more so Iraq it appears Americans are tired of seemingly endless wars in the Middle East.
No doubt American Jews try their best to rally against a nuclear Iran and will continue to do so in the future. And I am sure that Jewish Students at Cornell and other universities would protest a nuclear Iran, as they do now.
Beyond that, I sense a resignation in Ithaca students. To many it feels like little can be done, like Iran almost won the race anyway, like the wrong war has been fought in the last years. Additionally, many worry a nuclear Iran might destabilize the region and lead to an arms race.
“What would happen if…?“ is always a difficult, if not impossible question to answer and at the moment none oft he outcomes are clear. What if Iran could be stopped? Would it be stopped forever? Unlikely. And what really can be done once a country has nuclear weapons?
As we have seen with North Korea and Pakistan, the time for action is before, not after a country proliferates. And generally, international communities silence once the point is reached.
The real concern on the day after will not be Iran, and what threat its proliferation poses to Israel and others. It will be too late for that.
The pressing question on the day after will be how to prevent others from following. A nuclear Iran would not only challenge the security of the entire region, it would challenge the authority and validity of the NPT regime. How can the integrity of the Nonproliferation Treaty be restored after yet another member has decided to break its agreement?
Unfortunately, this concern seems more European than an American. Maybe that would change, “if” Iran acquired Nuclear weapons. But in my opinion, “What if?” is the wrong question.
More of our opinions here: http://www.ajc-access.org/index.php?option=com_lyftenbloggie&view=lyftenbloggie&category=0&Itemid=176
February 20, 2012 | 7:38 am
Posted Dana Hadadi Israel
Why protesting won’t work?
Besieged by international sanctions over the Iranian nuclear program, including a planned embargo by Europe Iran warned its 6 largest European buyers to act first- cutting them of Iranian oil. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that the era of bulling Iran about its nuclear program was over. Protesting against their nuclear intentions is not something they are intimidated by.
Where will it go wrong?
Boycotting Iran has a negative effect on people’s mind, since everyone knows Israel and USA own nuclear technology already, and preventing this technology from an Islamic-Arabic country is perceived as aspiration for domination by the other side.
In the world of 2012 real war ends with the public opinion.
How could it get even worse?
Israel, a nuclear weapons state, regards Iran as threat to its existence and hints at the possibility of a military strike on Iran’s facilities, and already pointed to 4 Iranian scientists. An attack on Iran, off-course will victimize and justify the already existing point of view on the Arabic world on the Western world. (Christian and Zionistic)- Could trigger recursion of the entire-Islamic world to a war against it.
What could be done?
Drop the nuclear threat approach, and start speaking about the influence of Iran on the world politically. Destroying Israel is a political tool by Ahmadinejad to show superiority of the Shia where the Sunni failed. This is a crucial step in becoming an empire.
The world should talk to the Arab-world with this perspective- preventing from this to happen- by encouraging the free minds in Iran and the opposition. Supporting Iranian immigrants in Europe, and let them unite and solve the problem from their side – to take down this leader without external active interference.
No real Islamic would like the scenario of Ahmadinejad to take over the world to happen- Iranian themselves fell he’s bad publicity for them too.
When it’ll happen people will go out on the street dancing, because the nature of human kind is targeted to the wish to be free.
Sanctions won’t make Iran to stop working for nuclear weapon, and for sure we wouldn’t be able to save ourselves if we’ll start a war.
If you want to read more about Iran and our opinions visit :http://www.ajc-access.org/index.php?option=com_lyftenbloggie&view=lyftenbloggie&category=0&Itemid=176
February 15, 2012 | 9:04 am
Posted Ian Shulman/ Austria
I was aware from the very beginning that my first stop in Slovakia is not going to amaze me by its architectural or landscape beauty. However, I knew beforehand that it is going to be something special due to certain fascinating geographical, national and linguistic reasons. If only I’d have remembered the main factor, which can make any god forsaken place special. The human factor.
The town of Komarno was a must see. It lies on the magnificent Danube, which is a natural border between Slovakia and Hungary. In addition to that, the town is equally (around 100km) away from the capitals of both states - Bratislava and Budapest. But despite of the great location, which turned Komarno into an important military and trade port some centuries ago, the city’s 35,000 population is rapidly declining. 40 of those people are members of local Jewish community. It may seem to be a miserable particle of the famous community which the city hosted before the WWII, but would you think that it almost doubled during the last 15 years?
Tamas Paszternak, the leader of Komarno’s community, knows how hard it is to attract new people to a small town in one of the poorest regions of one of the poorest European countries. Even trying to retain the current residents is already a challenge - Tamas himself lives in Budapest. Is a good old word ‘duty’ able to describe the strange force which makes Tamas put all his efforts on sustaining and developing this community? He started with a simple rule - at least one event per month needs to be organized in a former community building, which the community managed to reclaim from the state in the 1990s. Be it a major Jewish holiday, a klezmer concert, an art exhibition or a lecture - one event per month is just like a pulse of the community, a monthly confirmation of its existence. The signal was received and accepted. Today the Jewish center on Eötvösova street attracts dozens of people, many of which come from outside of the community - simply because this organization became probably the most vibrant place of the town.
But Paszternak goes further. Newly restored synagogue, the only monthly Jewish community magazine in Slovakia with 400 printed and numerous e-mailed copies, different activities for all age groups, assistance in roots search - this is only a part of what the community has achieved now. However, not everything goes that smooth. While the involvement of non-Jewish population is high, a certain degree of hostility is still there, claims Tamas. Thus, while some highschools invite him to teach about the history of Jews in Komarno, universities are not willing to have any Jewish-related input to their history course programs. Paszternak’s attempts to prevent a Hungarian Neo-Nazi band from performing in the town was unsuccessful too. But it seems that for this person there is no aim which is too high, there are only aims which he has to reach.
“Being a Hungarian-speaking Jew in Slovakia is not even a double trouble” - smiles Tamas. I remembered these words while walking the empty streets of Komarno’s cozy old town towards the station, hoping deep inside that the freezing wind is the only reason why I hardly met a person in this town. The oddly-yellow building of the town hall, arty-crafty newly-built Europa square with its pretentiously pan-European buildings, the ruins of medieval Komarno fortress, which used to host Soviet barracks, dull docklands, beautiful Danube, and this wind, which can spoil the impression of any city. Is this ‘triple trouble’, is this ruin actually the force which made this man dedicate all his life to the tough mission of revival, which results can only be visible locally, since 100 km is way to far and numbers of 35,000 and 40 are way to small? Is this actually a revival? And will this revival go on?
February 13, 2012 | 9:42 am
Posted Ian Shulman/ Austria
Iran nuclear threat seems to receive an obvious response by all groups of people worldwide. The war is very probable, and while Americans see it clearly due to being a part of the conflict, Europeans may stay a bit aside but still realize the riskiness of the situation. But those who do truly realize this riskiness are Israelis. They are the first probable victims of Iran’s aggression. And being pro-Israeli or not, all Jewish communities and each Jewish person ought to be on Israeli side here. Since a danger for Israel means a danger for the Jewish people, and Iran represents an absolute danger.
Such views are natural for most of communities, including mine. In Vienna, such concerns resulted in forming an organization called ‘Stop the bomb’, aimed at preventing Iran from realization its nuclear program. The organization is actively initiating different protest actions, however it does not obtain a true support neither from generally Iran-friendly Austrian government, nor from overall Austrian society. The movement was supported (and actually partially run) by Jewish community though, but people from outside did not show much of enthusiasm or liking.
Apart from anti-semitism, Middle East controversy or hostility to foreigners there are more common and simple reasons for people to keep aside from the Iranian problem. Each person as well as each country has tangible personal problems, which need to be solved urgently. All other problems, even those of the global scope, naturally remain out of focus. This applies to the Jewish communities as well. People in communities like mine, and most probably elsewhere, feel a certain need to voice against the threat, feel relieved after having fulfilled their one-time duty and easily go back to their routine tasks.
There is also another, neglected but nonetheless important point in Jewish resistance towards the nuclear Iran. Apart from clear personal reasons which make Jewish people one of the most active group of protesters, such as Iranian threat to Israel, Holocaust denial etc, Jewish society should emphasize another, crucial point which can make them stand up - Iranian threat to piece, humaneness and equality in the whole world. This is what lies in Jewish values as well as in human values in general; this is what touches everyone, regardless of his or her national attribution or political views. Finally, this is what is valid for everyone. And this is what war really threatens.
( This article was written for AJC Global Voices Blog and you can find similar articles also here:http://www.ajc-access.org/index.php?option=com_lyftenbloggie&view=lyftenbloggie&category=0&Itemid=176)
February 12, 2012 | 8:42 pm
Posted Pavel Pustelnik- Cardiff
In the United Kingdom the news from Iran have been present in media but their importance has been blurred by the growing tensions in relation to Falklands. Once again Argentina seems to be in a mood for war. The Brits are still proud of Margaret Thatcher who won the previous war and would definitely push the current prime minister David Cameron to act decidedly if the situation worsened. How about Iran? Is the UK ready to oppose illegal nuclear power proliferation and appease to a potential threat?
It might well be that Iran is just playing with the international community and the political elites know well that the Islamic Republic already is another trouble spot on the nuclear map. However, as long as the information is not made public we tend to underestimate the consequences. I truly doubt whether the society would strongly oppose to Iran becoming a nuclear power officially. The political correctness and involvement in the ‘occupy’ movement are both harmonically playing the first fiddle. Nevertheless there might have been an answer from pacifistic environments, the general public would remain thoughtfully silent. Why should we risk if we are not at risk – this could be an argument. The reaction to the attacks on the British embassy in Teheran was laud, but not many specific steps have been taken. The uneasy relationship has remained bruised as always but still keeps going on.
As usually when it comes to controversies related to obtaining nuclear power in the Middle East, the Jewish milieu would be more inclined to share concerns. In this particular case of Iran the answer should be more determined. However, given the fact that the calls to stop construction of the nuclear power plants in Iran were not answered, the further appeals might not be equally strong. Even though the situation is more and more complicated it does not really seem that lay Jewish public is ready to oppose forcefully to the situation taking place in Teheran. Diagnosing the passiveness is an uneasy task but I would be inclined to believe that being silent can be read as being on alert to act if the things went really wrong.
( This article also on http://www.ajc-access.org/index.php?option=com_lyftenbloggie&view=lyftenbloggie&category=0&Itemid=176)