In 2013, Annika Hernroth-Rothstein contributed to a Mosaic symposium on the precarious situation of European Jewry, writing of her native Sweden that “the only way to survive as a Jew in my country is not to be seen as one.” Over the course of the next two years, she wrote three additional articles for Mosaic on the worsening situation there. She now revisits the question of whether Jews have a future in Europe after a recent visit to London, and is more pessimistic than ever:
In Europe . . . Jewish observance is an act of rebellion. We Jews bond together like refuseniks, fighting for survival in a place that has never stopped trying to get rid of us. Governments across Europe are attempting—and sometimes succeeding—to ban foundational Jewish practices such as kosher slaughter and male circumcision, making traditional Jewish life extremely difficult. Jews attending prayers, Jewish schools, or community centers do so behind bulletproof glass with armed guards at the door. When they are victims of anti-Semitic attacks, they are often assumed to have provoked the attackers simply by being Jews.
Given these pressures, European Jews have increasingly abandoned their old homes for the old/new country: Israel is the one place on earth where it is safe to breathe while Jewish. The pandemic has only pushed the issue of aliyah to the front of our collective mind. The closing of borders gave us the first taste of what it’s like to live in a world where Israel is not an option.
With the Jewish population of Europe feeling as if it’s on its way to an eventual extinction, we have to wonder whether our absence will be felt—and whether it matters. The answer, simply and clearly, is that we were never wanted in the first place and that our contribution to and success within European society is at the very heart of Europe’s disdain for us. The Jews of Europe have been hated and persecuted for over 2,000 years, because of our unique ability to survive and thrive in forced exile and our tradition of neither proselytizing nor intermarrying. . . . We will be missed—not as citizens, but as enemies.
I have deep roots in Sweden, my country of birth, going back three generations. . . . Today, [however], I am forced to make a choice between the country of my birth and the land of my ancestors, because Europe does not allow me to have both. . . . In America, people carry the duality I seek: they call themselves Jewish-American, Muslim-American, Sikh-American. The very names express a built-in acceptance. But in Europe, we must make a choice, or the choice will be made for us.