2016 was ending and my daughter was travelling to Copenhagen to meet with hundreds of other young adult Jews to socialise, eat, drink, celebrate and dance in the new year – and maybe find someone to look deep into the eyes.
I myself had just finished an exercise within our small community where we practiced how to act if, God forbid, a terrorist attack should happen in Sweden – and how we would then be able to assist.
After the attack in Copenhagen the year before, safety awareness was (and still is) higher than ever. It could have ended in a massacre since the terrorist after shooting the guard (may his memory be a blessing) intended to enter the building and the ongoing Jewish bat-mitzvah party. The house was filled with teenagers and their families.
– Why are you surprised? said Sarah at the Jewish nursing home, when I, filled with anguish still after the attack, was upset and anxious.
– What distinguishes this generation from the past ones? she asked rhetorically. Sarah spent her entire youth – six years – in the Nazi death camps.
– Nothing! she answered herself. – Antisemitism is always anti-Semitism, but you have to protest against it the same way we have always done. Love life. We did that, she said, we, the survivors. We started over again, but we were and we are still damaged. But we’re still here.
– But Stefan – you have something we had not. You have Israel! Don’t you ever forget it. Never forget that!
– So how are you? I asked anxiously my daughter over the phone.
– Great! she replied. The hotel is excellent, the food is really good and it’s so much fun meeting all my old friends from the Jewish summer camp, the football teams and our trips to Israel together! Soooo much fun!
But one question hung in the air, a subject she would not broach.
– Security? I asked. – What about it?
– It’s okay, Dad, there are machine gun armed police on every floor, and they are on duty around the clock. They tell the other hotel guests there’s a state visit, she said, and laughed.
I told one of my colleagues the following day, mostly to test how conscious Swedes are about how the world has changed – and my colleague just opened her mouth and looked at me. Speechless.
– Submachine gun armed police!? she asked with an incredulous look that betrayed her outrage and shock.
– Because young people want to meet and have fun together!? I don’t know what to say… I’m shocked!
Well, I thought, but our children are accustomed to this life. There is always security around Jewish events. It is natural for them, and a necessity. It is always this way, for it must be this way – and we have become accustomed to it and so have our children.
They understand that we will never let what happened to Sarah happen again and that we must actively promote a safe everyday life.
– It IS a state visit, I said. You are important and people in Denmark think you are important. The police there are prepared to protect you with their lives if necessary. I’m happy that they want to defend us and our democracy, I said.
You do what Jews have always done, you are protesting by holding life sacred. You protest by meeting and having fun together, you stand up for life, that it must continue and that you will not let those who want to polarise our society, succeed. We fight them by continuing and loving the life that we believe in – and they hate this and this is what they want to destroy. But we will not let them. We plan to continue living.
– Have fun, I said, but could not resist adding: – But be careful.
– It’s okay dad, she said, my daughter. – It’s okay.