Jarod Guillette

When I talk with Jews from Europe in Korea and then talk to an American who studied in Sweden (Part 1)

A crappy image taken with my blackberry!
A crappy image taken with my blackberry!

The Jewish community in Seoul is served by a wonderful Chabad family. The community here is truly blessed. Rabbi Litzman is front and centre of Jewish-Korean relations and education and there is always something interesting going on at the bayit Chabbad in Seoul. The community here is also a true gem.

Since I lived in east-coast Canada and the United States I’m used to a fairly homogenous community of Ashkenazim with the odd peppering of Sephardim and the odd Israeli. In Seoul the community is a true reflection of the diverse fabric of the Jewish people. I’ve met Mizrahim, Chinese-Jews, Korean-Jews, Sephardim, more Israelis, Jews from all over the world.

Each Shabbat dinner is a collection of new faces and stories. I’ve even met the 2011 Nobel Prize winner for chemistry Dan Schectman, twice, both at random street corners in obscure neighbourhoods in Seoul (that’s another story soon to come). Seoul and Korea in general is place where Jews can be found doing all sorts of interesting things. From the obvious of teaching English to researching cosmetics, working at K-Pop music crowd-marketing start-ups, being professors in particle-physics at Korea’s version of the Technion, a really awesome black guy who teaches dancing and is converting to Judiasm, to in my case being a graduate student in landscape architecture and putting people to sleep with my very boring blog on Korean landscapes and ecology and now canceled 5 am radio show on architecture theory. Apparently every time I was broadcast single vehicle car-accidents spiked in Seoul. The drivers were falling asleep at the wheel. I didn’t know architecture theory was so deadly. Neither here nor there… So living in Seoul has allowed me to meet some really interesting people and moreover some really amazing Jews.

Of these people I’ve met I’ve become friends with a lot of Jews from France. Maybe it is because je parles la langue avec un accent tres canadienne…I’m not sure. One such was a family man with three lively sons and an amazing wife and the other a lovely and intelligent dermatology chemist type cosmetic researcher, I’m not exactly sure what her job was to be honest but we could talk about products and boy howdy another great thing about living in Korea is for a vain man like myself there is no end of amazing skin care products. Oy, my tangents! So I’m back. I try to skirt around the serious stuff whenever we are together but it is hard not to sometimes touch on the situation that they face living in France and Europe in general.

To the one family when I asked about what life was like, they said in general ok but that they worried. Their oldest son was going to high-school next year and there was no Jewish school for that level in their city. They feared for his safety and well-being. Most parents worry a bit when their child starts a new school, will there be bullies etc, but why does a family in 2015 have to worry, will my child face anti-Jewish violence? When I asked if they had plans to leave France if the situation deteriorated further they said yes, either back to Korea or Israel. My heart dropped. I know there was an article written about anti-Semitism in Korea and recently The Tablet put a different spin on things. Also an article written by a journalist whom I’ve met in the WSJ explains things further. Let’s just say the biggest worry I have living in Korea is that my daughter Leah will be exposed to pork because it is nearly everything. Dining out is tough here. Korea is as safe as it gets. I mean I’ve met quite a few Koreans who speak Hebrew and have visited Israel more than my quick birthright trip one-off.

When I asked my friend once about what her life was like in France during our discussion about facial emulsion and the best morning regimen for skin-care, my heart stopped. She told me about the “rioting” that occurred this summer in Paris. Her story recounted the events one day when on her walk home from work to the mostly Jewish neighbourhood she lived in the police informed her she could not enter the neighbourhood, it was sectioned off because of the “protesting.” She also told of an experience where the “protesters” where doing their thing while she was in a grocery store and while in the store the customers and staff had to barricade the doors and windows for protection because the “protesters” were basically storm-trooping through the area burning and attacking everything. Furthermore, this lady is from Toulouse and knew people who attended the school where the murder shooting of a Rabbi, his sons and the director’s daughter occurred by Mohammed Merah  (who was a lunatic, but not a lone wolf) Also why a lone wolf used as the analogy? Wolves are amazing animals. They don’t deserve such a comparison.

I have more friends from Europe, some Jews and some not, and I hear plenty of other stories about the new-old-new never ending idiocy of Europe. Europe never fails to disappoint me as a collective society. It’s like this continent just doesn’t learn. I mean how insane is it to keep going down the same path over and over again yet always getting the same crappy result in the end? I thought David Mamet was going a little overboard when I first read The Wicked Son: Antisemitism, Self-Hatred and the Jews in calling this obsession with Jews, the kill then feel guilt and repeat as an ongoing masturbatory game, was a bit overboard, but maybe he was getting at something. Any scan of the headlines shows a dim picture for the Jews of Europe. I mean when even The Guardian publishes an article that pretty much summarizes the landscape that many European Jews live in these days a person has got to start to wonder. What’s going on in that continent? We must sound the alarms! I hear this and I go into my “Danger Will Robinson!” mode,

So what does a person do to combat all this? Well I turn to facebook! The armchair warrior! Well I don’t have an armchair more of an office chair kindly given to me by one of my French Friend Connections. Every time I would see an alarming article about violence or bigotry against Jews in Europe or  anywhere in the world I would go into facebook share over load with a long Jeremiad. They always garnered the like and comment from mom and maybe a few other viewers, but in general were ignored or in the end lost me “friends” on FB. I didn’t know my warnings, alarms and lamentations were loosing me friends until recently when I started wondering about an old “pal” from my days at Iowa State University, a place where Dan Schectman and I can both play Jewish Geography. Sorry, I know tangents. Wait…where was I? Right FB. So I inquired to this pal of mine and said, “You defriended me Ha!” His response was that he wasn’t into my rants and didn’t share my “views” That’s how he said it. My rants and “views” cost us our “friendship.” Now, why is this important?

I might be a bit of a pessimist about the fate of Europe’s Jews, heck ask my wife I’m a hypochondriac. But if the observation that a Jew living in Korea has about what Jews from Europe report and what I see in the news is considered a “view” by someone, then Helsinki, we have a problem. As Yascha Mounk highlights in his Foreign Affairs article Europe’s Jewish Problem: The Misunderstood rise of European Anti-Semitism, the problem comes from more than just segments of the immigrant-Muslim population that drink from the kool-aid of radical Islam, but large portions of the society in general where around 50% of the population of Spain and 20% of Germany hold anti-Jewish sentiments, yet the Muslim population is less than 3% and 6% respectively.  It doesn’t make sense. The numbers don’t add up. Despite the growing problem with portions of Europe’s Muslims communities and hatred and violence towards Jews, especially when Hamas decides it wants to play with its rocket sets and use Qatari purchased cement for social infrastructure projects, and the “protests” that ensue, Europe clearly hasn’t gotten over its own issues. Here is where I would normally ask why but I know better by now, crazy is just crazy. I asked my friend what does the government do to protect Jews and prevent these types of incidents from happening? What does society do? Apparently it is lip service and then nothing. This is not surprising. What’s the political motivation to do the moral and actually in the long-run smart thing when a good number of your constituents are not exactly shedding any tears.

European society has some real issues, across the board. How can these nations that claim to be bastions of secular liberalism allow such a problem to fester and continue? It is so illogical that the paranoid section of my thinking process starts to take over, is it intentional? Does Europe intentionally want to self-destruct? Lord Rabbi Johnathan Sacks hits it home in a WSJ article with, “Anti-Semitism was always only obliquely about Jews. They were its victims but not its cause. The politics of hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews. It wasn’t Jews alone who suffered under Hitler and Stalin. It is hardly Jews alone who are suffering today under their successors, the radical Islamists of Hamas, Hezbollah, al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Islamic State and their fellow travelers in a seemingly endless list of new mutations.

The assault on Israel and Jews world-wide is part of a larger pattern that includes attacks on Christians and other minority faiths in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia—a religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing. Ultimately, this campaign amounts to an attack on Western democratic freedoms as a whole. If not halted now, it will be Europe itself that will be pushed back toward the Dark Ages.”

I care deeply for the fate of European Jews but also for other Europeans. It is exasperating to see a continent that gives the world so much in fashion, food, music, literature (except the whole Jew as the typical bad guy character) and art keep on making the same mistake. Also, how can any European leader say with a straight face that Europe is a leader in human rights and stands for the defense of minorities and self-determination of all peoples? The real question is not why anymore. I think we are beginning to know why. A lot of people just need to see a shrink and take some SSRIs. Heck come to Korea. A person catches a cold and the doctor prescribes daizepam, not kidding. The real question is what do we do about it?I know FB isn’t the answer. I’m not sure a TOI blog article is either. Anyone have any good ideas? (That don’t involve violence!)

About the Author
Jarod Guillette is originally from a small town in Maine near Canada. He met his wife, who is Korean, in Canada and they wound up in Korea. There, he is a graduate student of landscape architecture, a husband and now a father. He runs a small design/media thingy that does environmental research and comedy all related to landscape architecture and the environment.
Related Topics
Related Posts