Swedish Jews – between ethnicity, religion, race, and utter chaos

Paula Cáceres has recently published her Master’s study titled: Jewish Identities and their Co-constructors A Qualitative Study of the Social Constructions of Jewish Identities in Sweden (supervisor: Charlotte Melander).  In the study she explores the opinion of 10 young adults who define themselves as Jews. Sweden has about 6,000 Jews and one of the highest rates of intermarriages, although it is unclear why this represents a problem for the interviewees who are not religious, live in a country where religion is just too weird, may think of themselves as part of an ethnicity, not not a race. At the end it seems that “Jewishness” is a feeling and affiliation to a certain set of values, which was not defined.

One of the interviewees said: “

…Whereas in a Jewish company, it’s a classic, they gonna get exactly what I mean and I guess that one is more understood. One can stick to a certain jargon which I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to, simply because we have similar experiences, similar knowledge

Another interviewee was a bit more specific:

I see myself as a Jewish person in Sweden. My dad is Scandinavian and so is my mom but to me it doesn’t matter whether they are Scandinavians or not, they could have been from Germany, or whatever, but I live a Jewish life and that’s the life I want to live. The Swedish traditions don’t really concern me at all, it’s nice that people celebrate them but it doesn’t concern me, the Swedish [traditions]. I only feel Swedish when I’m outside of Sweden. Can you say that? Cause, when I was living abroad I was so proud of being Swedish, everything that had to do with IKEA, Pippi Longstocking it was like, it was me! And then I got back (to Sweden) and I’m never really Swedish in most of my friends’ eyes. When they look at me they see that I have darker hair, slightly darker features and they go “naah, you’re not Swedish” even though I am. But I still don’t feel like a Swedish person, Jewishness is what comes first.

As one who lives between 3 airports I think I know what she means. It seems that Antisemitism is one of the most powerful constructs of Jewish identity:

As much as authors claim that being Jewish or having a Jewish identity is a choice (Boyarin & Boyarin 1993; Dencik 2003; Liebman 2003; Miller 2003), it is difficult to completely agree that it is a choice, unless a person converts so to say. From my point of view, when a person learns that s/he is Jewish, then the choice of being Jewish is taken away from them. Why? Because as soon as a person knows that s/he is Jewish, it is difficult to emotionally distance themselves from external threats. This was clearly seen when those respondents who claimed that their Jewish identities were not a big part of their lives. Anti-Semitism affected them as much as it affected those respondents who claimed that they had a strong Jewish identity, because anti-Semitism raised their awareness of being Jewish. Many of my respondents had the choice of staying or keeping Jewish traditions, those who chose to not keep timeconsuming traditions or who chose to not observe anything Jewish were as much affected by anti-Semitism as those who claimed that their Jewish identity was everything to them. Many of the respondents felt loyal to their Jewish identity, even when some claimed that it was not a big part of their lives, however, the way they spoke about it during the interviews showed that it was important for them. It seemed like, even if they chose, they did not choose. Jewish issues affected them all, whether they claimed that they were more or less Jewish.

Which reminded me what Shlomo Sand said that a non-religious Jewish identity is mostly a trauma-based one. Is this the type of identity we want? He gave his answer in his third book. He opted out.

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