Jews of Gothenberg
by Alex Archer
We reached Gothenburg, our final port of call. Just like all the other ports, we brought the good weather with us! It was another beautiful day. This was a short stop, just 6 hours. What were we going to do in such little time – after all we had been to 5 other cities and after a while City Halls, museums, old towns and the like just merge into one. Yes you guessed it – I had arranged another shul visit!
This time our guide was Beth Andersson, an American lady married to a Swede. She was very helpful, coming to collect us from the town centre after our shuttle bus from the ship had managed to get lost! Something about Sweden which ensures the cruise liner’s guest relations officer feels obligated to keep giving us compensation!
The front of the Göteborg Synagogue is hidden behind the door of an entrance to a modern office block. But as you walk through and outside again you are back to the mid-nineteenth century with the shul right in front of you (photo 1).
The proposal to build this synagogue was made in a parish meeting in 1841, but planning arrangements were not kept to and decisions were delayed and the building was held up for many years.
The City Architect failed to keep his promise to visit other European synagogues in order to get ideas of style and building requirements caused further problems. For example, beside the need to have a wall facing east, there had to be other buildings around the synagogue. After all the worshippers should not have to make their way through an unpopulated and isolated part of town and the community’s ladies should not be troubled by “the rigours of inclement weather!”
The building was finally completed in October 1855.
Like Stockholm the builder of the shul wanted to make it more for the general community as opposed for the Jewish community. In keeping with this, it was noted that the inauguration was an impressive ceremony attended by the county and municipal authorities, the bishop, the regional customs inspector, the top brass of the coastal artillery brigade amongst others of a similar standing. No mention was made of any important people within the Jewish community!
The bimah is in front of the ark (photo 2) which gives a community hall feel as opposed to being in a religious synagogue. There is also an organ at the back making people feel more at home as they are just as likely to have meetings in a church hall where organ pipes would be the norm.
The walls and ceilings were decorative as opposed to having any Jewish cultural meaning. Downstairs the walls were of a French design (photo 3).
The ceiling of the 1st floor gallery had the Viking god, Thor, in mind and the design incorporates his hammer(photo 4).
However interestingly the ceiling of the shul actually incorporated a Star of David! (photo 6)
The back of the shul is surprisingly visible although the only identifying signs are the Stars of David on top of the two corner towers and in the window above the door (photos 7 and 8).
As in Stockholm, there is a strong feeling of antisemitism in Gothenburg. People are unable to have any outward signs of Judaism – men cannot wear a kippah and jewellery with Stars of David and the like are best avoided.
If you would like to see round the shul in Gothenburg, contact them via the website www.judiskaforsamlingen.se We had already received the history of Swedish Jews from Eva in Gothenburg, so Beth just gave us a tour, but she would have been glad to have run through it with us too.