Jews of Copenhagen
by Alex Archer
We went for a Baltic cruise this year. The journey from London to Harwich was probably the most boring road trip you can do in England. We were lucky - just 1½ hours in sheet rain, but given the frequency of traffic incidents mentioned on this route (the A12), it could have been a lot worst.
For those of you who have not had the pleasure of visiting Harwich, I believe the "things to do in Harwich" according to the cruise website sums it up. Visit the Tower of London!
In keeping with the good British weather, the first day of cruising was cold and rainy. On the 2nd morning we woke to brilliant sunshine. We were in Copenhagen. "What's here?" asked Isabel. "The Little Mermaid statue" I replied. "That's it?" she responded. "uh oh, mum's got us going to shul again!"
Actually not quite, I couldn't organise it this time - but almost.
We took the short shuttle bus ride into town, followed by a 20 minute walk through a pedestrian shopping centre - the Danes are really not into cars. "Stop! There he is. It's Hans Christian Andersen waiting on the corner." Well almost - I would say he is a reincarnation, except.....this one's Jewish!
We started our tour of Copenhagen at City Hall, an absolutely humongous building and as we moved on we saw a statue of two Vikings playing a type of trumpet (photo 1) . Proof that they didn't all go around raping and pillaging
Actually did you know that Vikings share a similar trait to us Jews....people believed they had horns out of their head too! In fact people still think this way, many people buy souvenir Viking helmets with horns.
However to be fair to these latter day dim-wits - apparently there is a joke about some Bronze Age Vikings having headgear with horns. I'm not sure that the same can be said about Bronze Age Jews.....
took us all around Copenhagen giving us a fascinating insight into the culture of the Danes. We didn't know just how tolerant they are. Not only are they happy to pay 50% tax to pay for each other's education, health and general well-being, but they tolerate all people's views, beliefs and religions.
Bishop Absalon, a Catholic, introduced Monotheism to the Danes. He was followed by the Lutheran church and the Danes peacefully changed their allegiance. The Sephardi Jews travelled to Denmark and were subject to a Lutheran conversion programme with little success and the Jews were allowed to continue their way of life without any interference and were welcomed into society.
Life continued peacefully until World War II. Denmark claimed neutrality but the Nazis invaded all the same. Thankfully their plans to quickly round up all the Jews were leaked. The Jews had 3 days to leave their homes and jobs or be rounded up. Their Lutheran country folk hid the Jews and smuggled them out of Denmark to Sweden in small boats. Of the 7000 Jews, only 400 were captured. At the end of the war, Denmark welcomed back all the Jews - gave them all back their homes and jobs. No other country can claim this level of tolerance.
We weren't able to go into the Old Synagogue. It was all locked up. Generally it is closed outside service times.
The main building was, as usual unidentifiable (photo 2),
but above the door, in large gold lettering is ברוך הבא בשם יי Blessed be he who comes in the name of G-d (photo 3).
Today there are about 7,000 Jews in Denmark, all fully integrated into Danish society and practising the religion to the level which they desire.
Our next stop was Stockholm, but you will have to wait for the next instalment to see what we learnt there.
If anyone is visiting Copenhagen, go to the Tourist information by the Tivoli Gardens at 10.15am (for a 10.30am start) daily (except Sunday) and you will find Hans Christian Andersen, aka Richard Karpen, giving really informative guided tours. Check online first www.copenhagenwalks.com for which tour he is doing on which day, morning or afternoon.