Should We Stay or Should We Go?
The Jews of Iceland should get out now.
I posed this as a question on Facebook last week when the Icelandic legislation to ban circumcision was scrapped. I’m sure we all agree that the legislation being shot down is a huge win for the Jewish people. But a question remains: what should the Jews of Iceland do in response?
This legislation said one thing only to the Jewish and Muslim communities there: ‘We don’t want you.’ Criminalizing Brit Milah makes the country unlivable for these faiths. In my mind it warrants a response. But is leaving one’s home the answer?
When I posed this question on Facebook, the response was: how could someone ask anyone to leave his or her home? That’s a ridiculous question. The Jews of Europe who survived the Holocaust, for example, all knew what it was like to be forced to leave their homes. It’s emotionally impossible, even when done by choice — and all the more so when it’s done against someone’s will. But I would venture to guess, that all of those survivors, in retrospect, would have been happy if someone had told them to leave their homes before things got as bad as they did.
It’s possible that this question came to mind because my parents just put their house on the market for the first time in any of our lifetimes. That may seem anticlimactic, but when I said ‘any of our lifetimes’ I meant any. My siblings and I were raised in the same house as my mother. She bought it from my grandfather when I was just born and my parents have lived there ever since. That means this house has been in our family for 67 years. As I’m sure you can imagine, it has been an emotional time for all of us. Thinking back over the memories, both old and new, is a surreal experience. I can’t believe that the next time we visit I’ll point to the house from the car and tell my kids, ‘that’s where I grew up but we can’t go in there anymore.’ I don’t think I’m ready for that reality.
But even with all of the hardships entailed in losing one’s childhood home, I’d still say we’re the lucky ones. My family is choosing to leave our home. The Jewish people have not been so lucky in the past and, in some ways, we may not be that lucky right now. These anti-semitic attacks threatening to push the Jews out of certain regions are far from over.
Those who want to ban circumcision started in Iceland for a reason. Many articles in the last few months have reported that there are 250 Jews living in the region, but that is a gross exaggeration. In truth, it’s more like 25 Jews living there. And that’s exactly why this movement started there. The anti-circumcision movement thought that if they could pass this bill in Iceland, which they hoped would be easy with such a small Jewish population, then the trend would move quickly to the other Scandinavian countries. And even if Iceland has scrapped the legislation, similar moves are already under way in places like Norway and Denmark. There’s no doubt that the anti-circumcision movement is not giving up.
If you were to ask me if we Jews should stay or go, some part of me says:‘never give up the fight’. Stay in these in places to the bitter end. To run is to die. But the rest of me remembers the past and thinks of my own family’s leaving and how much worse it would be to be forced out of one’s home. That is not to say that we should ‘break up’ with these places before ‘they break up’ with us. But can we really afford to wait until everyone sees the writing on the wall? If I lived in one of these countries, I’d much rather leave of my own volition than wait for the government to pack my bags for me.
___ This blog originally appeared in the Times of Israel