The day was bleak and windy. At best, I figured, there would be maybe six hours of daylight. The clouds above me swirled, preparing to unleash a fresh snowfall as I sat in the warm Synagogue in Oslo, Norway. It was a typical Saturday morning service, but the crowd was limited to 40 members due the countrywide Christmas break. In the small, sacred space a mix of Hebrew, Norwegian and even a few words of English drifted up, filling the space with prayers.
I am a Norwegian-American Jew. I live in New Jersey, but I have had the privilege of traveling to Norway multiple times every year with my family. Through my experiences, I have acquired an undying love for Norway, its vibrant culture, its rich history and its remarkable people. I also care deeply about my Judaism. Over the years I have struggled to juxtapose my Judaism with my ethnic nationalism. On one side, Norway is a beautiful, free nation, but its government and people have historically endorsed occasional efforts to undermine Judaism and Israel. For instance, the Norwegian government continues to impose a law that forbids the kosher butchering and there was recently a serious public discussion about the banning of circumcision. Additionally, common opinion in some municipalities is very hostile toward Israel, as is shown in Trondheim, Norway’s third largest city, which has enacted a boycott on Israeli goods.
My Jewish faith has led me to become a strong advocate for Israel. It, therefore, often becomes difficult to both support Norway and defend Israel. It is especially unfair, because both countries are so small that the actions of a few frequently lead to generalizations. If a Norwegian group denounces Israel or spreads messages of hatred towards Jews, my friends at Jewish day school will immediately say, “Is this the country you support? They are just a bunch of Nazis.” That parallel between anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism is incredibly insulting. Norway was under Nazi occupation and thousands lost their lives to protect their freedom. This comparison irritates me. I view these comments as personal attacks on my non-Jewish Norwegian family. So, I swiftly speak out against those who offend me.
If the Norwegian media attacks Israel, I am also insulted. In these instances, I take a stance against Norway. The constant oscillation between two sides, Norway and Judaism/Israel, is very tiring and often conflicting. To me, Judaism and Israel are very much the same in this matter, because the line between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is thin. Attacks on Israel quickly turn to hate against Jews. This animosity has forced the Norwegian Jewish community to secure their synagogue with heavily armed police officers. This is no way to live, but is vital for safety of the remaining Jews.
The dichotomy of being Jewish and Norwegian does not always have to be one of conflict. Often, I find great inspiration and hope from my dual identity in the toughest times. As I write this piece, I am recalled to a time in Norway driving through the snow-laden towns of the southeast. Breathing the Norwegian air, I know I am at home. I know that this land is one of freedom and opportunity, and it does not hate. Some of its people may, but the land itself does not. Sitting in the pews of the synagogue made me feel a deeper connection to Judaism, as well. On on particular day, the sun had just risen and the city remained dark, but the lights of the synagogue shone far and bright. Their light penetrated through the darkness and illuminated the street. So too, it is for the Jews of Norway who sometimes encounter the darkness of evil hatred around them. Through their dedication to both God and country, however, they find peace.