Calendar: September 25-October 1


FRI | SEPT 25

“LEADING LADIES — FROM FANTASY TO REALITY”

The Forest Lawn Museum is premiering an exhibition of paintings, photographs, sculptures and animation works that celebrate more than 75 of our history’s most impactful women. These fascinating females have not only changed the world, but also our collective cultural consciousness. “Leading Ladies” focuses on female achievement, leadership, adventure, philanthropy and imagination — whether highlighting a Disney heroine, contemporary actress or ancient legend. The art includes Jack Mitchell’s black-and-white photographs of leading actresses Agnes de Mille and Julie Andrews, David Willardson’s colorful portraits of Amelia Earhart and Marilyn Monroe, and Artis Lane’s bronze bust of first lady Michelle Obama. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Through March 27, 2016. Forest Lawn Memorial Park, 1712 S. Glendale Ave., Glendale. (323) 340-4792. ” target=”_blank”>promenadeplayhouse.com.

SAT | SEPT 26

“AWAKE AND SING!”

Funny and heartbreaking, this story by Clifford Odets of a lower-middle class, three-generation Jewish family living in a Bronx apartment during the Great Depression debuted in 1935 and still resonates 80 years later. As the children strive to achieve their own dreams, the parents scheme to manipulate their children’s relationships. Director Elina de Santos and lead actress Marilyn Fox return to the stage to tell the story of hope and struggle for its 20th-anniversary revival of the Odyssey Theatre production that ran for nine months in 1994-95. 8 p.m. $15-$34. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 477-2055. ” target=”_blank”> rubicontheatre.org.

“JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG”

L.A. Theatre Works performs the story Abby Mann originally wrote for the acclaimed television show “Playhouse 90” in 1959, which later became the movie “Judgment at Nuremberg,” nominated for 11 Academy awards. Fifty years later, it opened on Broadway and now it comes to Westwood for a special engagement with a star-studded cast that includes Harry Hamlin, Alan Mandell and James Morrison. “Judgment at Nuremberg” follows a United States-led war crimes court as it weighs the fate of German judges who made their decisions based on existing laws, no matter how horrendous they may have been. It is an investigation of the ethics of personal responsibility versus public duty. 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. $15-$50. James Bridges Theater at UCLA, 235 Charles E. Young Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 827-0889. SUN | SEPT 27

“ALIVE & RUNNING” 5K

Join 2,000 runners, walkers, spectators and volunteers to raise awareness and funds for the Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services’ Suicide Prevention Center. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for adolescents — one out of six high school students seriously consider suicide. The nationally recognized center has a 24-hour English and Spanish crisis line, crisis chat and text services. Didi Hirsch helps more than 90,000 children and adults each year. 8 a.m., 6:30 a.m. same-day registration. $30. North of Los Angeles International Airport at West 88th Street and La Tijera Boulevard, Los Angeles. ” target=”_blank”>skirball.org.

THURS | OCT 1

“NOT THAT JEWISH”

Back by popular demand, Emmy Award-winning writer and comedian Monica Piper returns for the month of October in the solo show of her personal journey of a Jew-“ish” woman’s life. Piper pulls on your heartstrings as she presents life — and her Jewish roots — through a humorous lens. Directed by Eve Brandstein. 8 p.m. $35. Jewish Women’s Theatre at The Braid, 2912 Colorado Ave., Suite 102, Santa Monica. (310) 315-1400.

Copenhagen police forbid ‘peace ring’ at attacked synagogue


Copenhagen police denied a request by Danish Muslims to create a peace ring around a city synagogue that came under a deadly attack.

Police cited security concerns for rejecting the request by organizers, according to Danish media reports.

“We have chosen to say no because of a specific security assessment of the situation we have here right now,” Copenhagen police spokesman Mads Jensen told a Danish television station.

The Copenhagen organizers were hoping to duplicate a similar initiative that took place on Saturday night in Oslo, where reports said that more than 1,000 people, including many Muslims, formed a human chain around a synagogue in a show of support for Jews.

Niddal El-Jabri told the public broadcaster Denmark Radio that he would continue to discuss with police the possibility of holding a peace vigil at a later time.

“It is a really good initiative,” Dan Rosenberg Asmussen, the head of the Danish Jewish community, told DR, according to The Local.dk. “I think it is touching and beautiful.”

On Feb. 14, outside the central Copenhagen synagogue, a volunteer security guard, Dan Uzan, was shot and killed by a lone Islamist gunman who hours earlier had killed one in a shooting at a free speech event at a cultural center in the Danish capital.

Norway’s Muslims form protective human shield around synagogue


More than 1,000 Muslims formed a human shield around Oslo's synagogue on Saturday, offering symbolic protection for the city's Jewish community and condemning an attack on a synagogue in neighboring Denmark last weekend.

Chanting “No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia,” Norway's Muslims formed what they called a ring of peace a week after Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, a Danish-born son of Palestinian immigrants, killed two people at a synagogue and an event promoting free speech in Copenhagen last weekend.

“Humanity is one and we are here to demonstrate that,” Zeeshan Abdullah, one of the protest's organizers told a crowd of Muslim immigrants and ethnic Norwegians who filled the small street around Oslo's only functioning synagogue.

“There are many more peace mongers than warmongers,” Abdullah said as organizers and Jewish community leaders stood side by side. “There’s still hope for humanity, for peace and love, across religious differences and backgrounds.”

Norway's Jewish community is one of Europe's smallest, numbering around 1000, and the Muslim population, which has been growing steadily through immigration, is 150,000 to 200,000. Norway has a population of about 5.2 million.

The debate over immigration in the country came to the forefront in 2011 when Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people and accused the government and the then-ruling Labour party of facilitating Muslim immigration and adulterating pure Norwegian blood.

Support for immigration has been rising steadily since those attacks, however, and an opinion poll late last year found that 77 percent of people thought immigrants made an important contribution to Norwegian society.

Muslims offer to protect Oslo synagogue with ‘peace ring’


Hajrad Arshad, the event’s 17-year-old organizer, told Norway’s state broadcaster NRK that the group aimed to “extinguish the prejudices people have against Jews and against Muslims.”

“We think that after the terrorist attacks in Copenhagen, it is the perfect time for us Muslims to distance ourselves from the harassment of Jews that is happening,” she said.

Ervin Kohn, the leader of Oslo’s Jewish community welcomed the initiative.

Read more at The Local.

Copenhagen attacks challenge soft Nordic approach to radicals


Known for a soft approach to security that emphasizes helping radical Muslim youths with housing and jobs, Denmark may face pressure after the Copenhagen attacks to prioritize tougher laws and more resources for the police.

The weekend's deadly shootings at a cafe and synagogue came at a time when the Nordic countries, worried about an increasing number of immigrant youths traveling to fight in Iraq or Syria, have already been considering tougher laws.

Countries like Sweden and Denmark have given up traditional Scandinavian neutrality to participate in military missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Meanwhile, right-wing political groups that challenge the traditional Nordic approach to security are gaining influence.

“For a while Denmark tried the soft approach but after this weekend we believe it's time for the tough approach,” Peter Skaarup, the deputy chairman and justice spokesman for the right-wing populist Danish People's Party told Reuters.

His party is likely to be the kingmaker after an election this year. Its popularity reflects many voters' anger amid perceptions about rising crime and immigration.

A lone gunman sprayed a Copenhagen cafe with bullets on Saturday, killing a participant at a freedom of speech event, and then fired shots at a synagogue, killing a guard, before being shot dead by police.

“Once the investigation of the weekend's events is finished, it'll be to evaluate if the police force has the right equipment to fight terrorists and gangs,” Skaarup added.

Denmark's approach is typified by initiatives like a de-radicalization program that began in the second largest city Aarhus and was rolled out last year across the country.

Drop-in centers and hotlines are available to provide counseling and public assistance for those tempted by radicalism. They are also encouraged to talk to imams at the Aarhus's main mosque, which some right-wing politicians call a “jihadi factory”.

The Danish intelligence service says the program has helped bring down the number of Danes traveling to Syria to fight.

“TRAITORS”

Center-left Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt has urged tolerance. But her Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said tougher measures were being looked at and her justice minister suggested last year that jihadist fighters returning from battlefields should be treated as “traitors”.

Neighboring Sweden may pass a law this year to criminalize travel to take part in conflict as well as the organizing and funding of such activities.

Proponents of tougher measures there point to a botched suicide bombing in Stockholm four years ago and the conviction in 2012 of three Swedes for plotting to kill people at a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.

Finland is also preparing a bill to allow police to search homes and computers without notifying suspects in advance.

In Norway, three people suspected of aiding Islamic State were arrested last year.

Still, supporters of the softer approach say the story of the suspected Copenhagen shooter shows the importance of reaching out to disaffected youths, rather than responding to radicals solely with the force of the law.

Like two of the gunmen in the Paris attacks last month, Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, the suspected Danish gunman, spent time in jail. He may have been radicalised while serving a year's sentence for a stabbing.

“It is a flawed premise to say that the softer approach has failed because this has happened,” said Magnus Ranstorp, counter-terrorism expert at the Swedish Defense University, arguing that the attacks show the need not only to identify potentially dangerous people but to pull them back into society.

“This is what the French are struggling with because they have the repressive measures but there are no de-radicalization programs in place.”

Denmark revisited: Hatred and violence in the ‘Righteous among the Nations’


“One of the world’s most attractive nations for immigrants and tourists alike has become a very dangerous place for the Jews.” Giulio Meotti, “Expose: Denmark Unsafe for Jews.” Arutz Sheva, Israeli National News, May 2013

Did Shakespeare get it all wrong?

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” declares an officer in Hamlet, and this is where I thought the Bard was gravely mistaken.  In May 2014, my husband and I visited Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.  Everything we encountered there looked beautiful, and in spite of the cold and rain, this beauty seemed almost surreal.  In the Nyhavn part of Copenhagen, brightly painted houses along the canal sparkled like jewels in the rare moments of sunlight. In Elsinore, the brooding Kronborg castle, the fictional home of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, was an image of somber beauty and overwhelming power as if still threatening Sweden across the narrow gulf.

In the magnificent Copenhagen, we did not see many cars: a sky-high tax of almost 180% on cars made bicycles, buses and ferries much more attractive. The Danes are highly conscious of their environment: over half of their garbage is recycled and more than 20 percent of their energy needs are provided by windmills.  “Copenhagen to be the World’s First Carbon-Neutral capital,” Newsweek declared in August 2014. Indeed, this part of Europe is arguably one of the most sophisticated on the continent, and Scandinavians are among the most educated and prosperous Europeans, with the least income disparity. Denmark, like other Scandinavian countries, is also the most highly taxed and socialistic, but their people, the happiest we ever met, think it works: They consider their home countries the best places in the world.  All three nations – Denmark, Sweden, and Norway – regularly top every survey of wealth and quality of life. However, as we discovered during our visit, this highly sophisticated, perfectly organized, everything-for-the-people civilization has its dark sides.  Perhaps Shakespeare did know what he was talking about. 

In retrospect, reflecting on our May 2014 visit, our meetings and our conversations that took place in all three Scandinavian capitals, it seems that the February 2015 violence in Copenhagen was not as unexpected and shocking.

Painful Journey: Collecting Jewish stories of Scandinavia

A few weeks prior to our May 2014 trip, I came across a December 2012 issue of Standpoint. Norway, I learned from that British magazine, could soon top one shocking ranking: the first country in Europe to become “Judenfrei,” the Nazi term for the ethnic cleansing of Jews.  Then a friend emailed me intriguing 2013 documents:  “Anti-Semitism in Norway? – The Attitudes of the Norwegian Population towards Jews and Other Minorities” and “FRA (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights) Survey: Discrimination and Hate Crimes against Jews in EU Member States. “ The Jews of Scandinavia seemed to be talking to me daily from my computer screen. “How to Survive as a Jew in Sweden: Shut up and Fade into the Woods,” wrote Annika Hernroth-Rothstein in the Mosaic Journal. “Hiding Judaism in Copenhagen,” Michael Moynihan corroborated in an article in Tablet.  I knew that our trip would contain another facet: a painful journey into the past and present of Scandinavian Jewry.

In our attempt to understand the complex realities of the Scandinavian Jewish story, Denmark was at the center of our visit.  After all, this was the only country in the world that defied Hitler and saved its Jewish community almost in its entirety.

Denmark – past

Denmark became the first of the Scandinavian countries where Jews were permitted to settle.  In 1622, the Renaissance Danish King Christian IV, ever a pragmatist, sent a message to the Sephardic (or as they were called in Denmark, “Portuguese”) Jews of Amsterdam and Hamburg inviting them to come to his kingdom and settle, not in his capital of course, but in the newly-established town of Glukstadt. The king had his mint there, but no mintmaster.  The Jews came, and quickly succeeded in everything they were permitted to do, from running the royal mint to trading and manufacturing, to finance and jewelry making. As documented in the royal archives, Benjamin Mussafa was a physician to the royal family in 1646. His son-in-law rose to become a governor of the Danish West Indies in 1684 (alas, arrested and convicted few years later for misappropriation of funds). In Denmark, unlike any other European country, rabbis were permitted to openly practice and teach Judaism to their communities.  Following the costly Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), Frederik III encouraged a larger Jewish immigration into his realm to improve his international trade status.  By 1780, there were approximately 1,600 Jews in Denmark, though all were admitted on the basis of personal wealth. But the Jews of Denmark were not required to live in ghettos and had a significant degree of self-governance.  In the late 18th century, the king instituted a number of reforms. Jews were allowed to join guilds, study at the university, buy real estate, and establish schools. The Napoleonic Wars brought about a complete emancipation of Danish Jews.

The 19th century saw a flourishing of Danish-Jewish cultural life. The Great Synagogue of Copenhagen was built, designed by the renowned architect G. F. Hetsch. A number of Jewish cultural personalities rose to prominence.  Among them were art benefactor and collector Mendel Levin Nathanson, popular writer Meir Aron Goldschmidt, and literary critic Georg Brandes, who had a strong influence on Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.  In the outbreak of World War I, the great Jewish Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem and his family found a refuge in Copenhagen fleeing from violent anti-Semitism in Russia and Ukraine.  There, Sholem Aleichem began writing his tragicomedy “It’s Hard to be a Jew.” While enjoying an open and inclusive atmosphere in the Danish capital city, the Jewish writer, with his typical sardonic irony, placed the action of this play in “a city in Czarist Russia where Jews were not permitted to reside.” Denmark proved to be a different story.

Denmark during World War II: Rescue of the Danish Jews

In 1933, the year Hitler came to power in Germany, Christian X of Denmark became the first Scandinavian monarch to visit a synagogue. He wanted to honor the centennial anniversary of the Great Synagogue of Copenhagen. This king became the subject of a persistent legend: Christian X had the yellow Star of David sewn to his clothes and had gone to the city streets during the Nazi occupation. That never really happened, and the Danish Jews were not required to wear yellow stars.  But this is how Christian X, who personally financed the secret transport of his kingdom’s Jews to safety into a neutral Sweden, is forever remembered in history.  

Nazi occupation in Denmark was relatively mild for the first three years (1940-43), at least compared to other European countries. The Germans even referred to Denmark as “the model protectorate.” The King retained his throne and the Rigsdag (parliament) continued to function. The Danish government persistently stated that there was no “Jewish problem” in their country.

However, by the end of the summer in 1943, the tide of war turned. The Nazi lost under Stalingrad, their attack at Kursk failed, the Allies landed in Sicily, and Hamburg was bombed by the U.S. and the British. The Danish Resistance forces, anticipating the war end, increased their activities. The German policies in Denmark sharply changed. In August 1943, the Nazi arrested 100 prominent Danes.  In response, the Danish government resigned, the Nazi took over and immediately began planning the deportation of Danish Jews.  The German diplomat Georg Duckwitz, who is now commemorated in Israel’s Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile, secretly tried to reach the agreement with Sweden in creating a safe place there to harbor Danish Jews.  When the Swedes responded that they needed the Nazi’s approval, Niels Bohr, the world-famous Danish physicist and a Jew, made a personal appeal for his countrymen to the Swedish King.  Bohr was hiding in Sweden at that time on his way to the United States to work on the Manhattan project.  Bohr refused to go to the U.S. until the Swedish government decided the “Jewish question”.  Whether Bohr did play a pivotal role in Sweden’s making their decision or not, in October 1943, Sweden agreed to shelter the entire Danish Jewish community, and close to 8,000 people were smuggled out of Denmark over the Oresund strait to Sweden.  One of the fishing boats that transported Danish Jews to freedom is exhibited in the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and another- in Yad Vashem in Israel. There an entire country is honored as “Righteous among the Nations” for the unprecedented heroism and selfless good will.

There were numerous possible explanations given by European historians of why the Danes behaved drastically different from all other nations in relation to their Jewish compatriots. The rescue operation was very easy logistically, since the Jewish population was so small and most Jews lived in and near Copenhagen. Jews were so strongly integrated into the Danish society that the Danes did not see them as “others.” The importance of small, close-knit community was an integral part of Danish national consciousness. Whatever were the reasons, the Danes as one nation stood up against evil when the rest of the world turned away.

How did it happen then, that Denmark, a heroic exception in the history of the Holocaust, is becoming, as expressed by an Italian journalist Giulio Meotti, a “bit of an exception once again, in Europe’s post-Holocaust anti-Semitism?” I called the Great Synagogue in Copenhagen and was connected to their Chief Cantor, Atzmor. After I stated the reason for my call and the “Danish paradox” question that bothered me a great deal, Atzmor said: “Nothing is straightforward. Let’s talk.”   

Denmark – present

As a curious historic coincidence, the main synagogue in Copenhagen is located in close proximity to major historical landmarks of the Danish capital, including the royal Rosenborg Palace and the observatory called Round Tower, both representing favorite building projects of the King Christian IV, who was the first Scandinavian ruler to open his country to Jews.  During the Nazi occupation, the Torah scrolls of the synagogue were hidden at the Trinitatis Church, right next to the Round Tower. After marveling at the Hebrew lettering on the Round Tower that, as we were told, signified the name of God, we went to the Krystalgade Street, where Atzmor waited for us at the synagogue.

Conversations with the Chief Cantor of the Great Synagogue

Atzmor gave us a brief tour of this magnificent building where he and the chief rabbi work and live. The synagogue building, he explained, is one of the very few of its period (1830s) to abandon the classical tradition. The architect G. F. Hetsch used Egyptian elements in the columns, and his design was defined by the building’s unique architecture around the Ark of the Law with Egyptian motives on the ceiling and cornice over the Ark itself.  Perhaps the architect, a non-Jew, wanted to emphasize that the Exodus from Egypt was a definite episode in forming Jewish identity, I said.  “Or,” replied, Cantor Atzmor, “perhaps he just preferred pseudo-Oriental style over the Greek or Roman.”  “Nothing is straightforward here,” he repeated. The Cantor planned to start our visit in the main sanctuary, but on that weekday morning, the sanctuary was occupied by a study group of about 30 to 40 people who had their Jewish history class. All of them are non-Jews, Atzmor said.  Registering our surprised faces, he explained, “Non-Jewish Danes take a growing interest in Judaism. Some even come to the services on a regular basis.” He invited us to talk in the conference room first and visit the sanctuary when the class is over.

An Israeli by birth, Atzmor was educated as an opera singer in Vienna and as a wind instrument player in Berlin. Over 20 years ago, a friend from Copenhagen invited Atzmor to come from Vienna and interview for the job of the chief cantor, the position he has been holding ever since. Atzmor is a typical European intellectual with a profound knowledge of literature, theater and of course, music. Learning about our Russian origin, Atzmor beautifully sang an aria from Prince Igor. “My Master Thesis,” he explained.  Effortlessly changing from the operatic part to that of a cantor in a major synagogue, Atzmor continued with the Danish Jewish story.       

There are about 7,000-8,000 Jews living in Denmark today, with less than one percent of then residing in Odense and Aarhus.  2,000 people belong to the Great Synagogue and about 1,000 constitute members of the other three much smaller congregations.  This vibrant community supports an active Zionist Federation, Women’s International Zionist organization, B’nai B’rith, Jewish school, and several publications, with Joedisk Orientering being the leading Jewish magazine in the country.  Almost all the Jews who were rescued during the war returned back home, but the birth rate is low and the numbers keeps diminishing. I shared the main reason for our visit, my “Danish Paradox collection” with Atzmor and asked him to tell us his own perspective.

In January 2013, seventeen-year old Moran Jacob testified at a Copenhagen City Hall hearing on growing anti-Semitism in Danish capital and described the harassment he experienced for years while living in Norrebro, a heavily Muslim neighborhood of his home town. His testimony was corroborated by Max Mayer, president of the Danish Zionist Federation, who stated, “Danish Jews learned to keep a low profile in the city. “To pretend not to exist” (Front Page Magazine, October 1, 2013). I had clippings from various publications stating that the Danish Jewish community documented 40 violent anti-Semitic incidents in 2013, almost double compared to 2009. Some journalists traced the beginning of open anti-Semitic hatred to 2001, when an anonymous poster in Arabic was pinned to the bulletin board in one of the colleges in Copenhagen. The poster promised $35,000 to anyone who would kill a Jew.  An Italian journalist, Giulio Meotti, wrote that it is just as unsafe in 2013 to be a Jew in Copenhagen as it is to be a Jew in most Middle-Eastern countries.

“Yes,” agreed Cantor Atzmor,” barbed wire and security guards surround the Jewish school in Copenhagen. And yes, there is a network of ‘no-go’ zones in our city. That would be highly unusual 10 years or so ago.”  Some young people from his congregation are either planning to leave Denmark or have already left for Israel, the United States, or Australia.  But this “situation,” Orin emphasized the quote signs, “should not be exaggerated and elevated to an emergency crisis level.” “This is no more than a temporary issue,” he insisted, “and the best way to deal with it now is to ignore it. ““Ignore it?” I thought I misunderstood our new friend. “Oh, yes,” he said.  He then proceeded to tell us about his recent experience that he thought was rather humorous. 

While going shopping at one of the exclusive department stores, Cantor Atzmor was confronted at the store entrance by a group of young Middle-Eastern men. “Are you Jewish?” they angrily asked. “From Israel?”  Atzmor, who, as an undergrad, majored in Arabic studies in Tel-Aviv, confirmed in pure Arabic that he indeed was from Israel but that he was an Arab. Enjoying this role-playing, Atzmor recited a verse from Koran right in front of the perplexed youths, “There is no God but Allah…” “They left,” said Atzmor. We were impressed but not amused. “Listen,” I said,” what if you happen to be a non-Arabic-major regular Jewish guy, what then?”  Our new friend smiled: “Oh, I might’ve been beat up.”

Otherwise, Atzmor did not experience any harassment and did know personally anyone who did. The issue of kosher slaughter been outlawed in Denmark, just like in Sweden or Norway, did not bother him at all. “I am a vegetarian anyway,” he said. His personal concern was more with an inability of a “foreigner” to get accepted by the Danish Jewish community, even if this foreigner was invited to serve as a Chief Cantor for the Great Synagogue of Copenhagen. So, another Atzmor’s story was that of a royalty, Jewish royalty, to be precise. “I am not a Dane so [I am] able to present an outsider’s perspective,” he said. Atzmor sees the Jewish community of Copenhagen as a parallel reality to the gentile society of Denmark with its profound respect and admiration for their royal family, one of the oldest continuous monarchies in the world. The Danish Jews have their own royalty, the Melhiors, whose ancestor was one of the first Jews invited by King Christian IV to settle in Denmark. “This is our reigning dynasty,” said the Cantor. “The rabbis of the Great Synagogue and the decision-making Board, all have to come from or be closely-related to the family. Otherwise you are not really an ‘in-person.’” Atzmor did not think that his twenty-plus years among the clergy of the largest Danish congregation made him less of an outsider. Atzmor thinks he will retire soon: his plans are to leave Denmark and go to the music capitals of Europe, either Vienna or Berlin, and continue his career as a musician. We promised to come to his first recital there.  

Our new friend, both a citizen of Denmark and a citizen-of-the-world, polyglot and erudite, a dedicated Jewish clergy and a passionate European musician, left us with more disturbing questions than definitive answers. But we were not done with Denmark’s Jewish narrative, not yet. We headed to the Jewish Museum. 

Reflecting on architecture telling the story: The Jewish Museum of Denmark

Located within both a historic and contemporary architectural complex (the Renaissance Royal Boat House-turned the Nordic Romantic Royal Library-turned Post-Modern Black Diamond building), the museum tells its story even before you even enter. In the seventeenth century, King Christian IV built his Royal Boat House, which was renovated in the early 1900s to become a part of the adjacent Royal Library. At the end of the twentieth century, the Black Diamond building, nicknamed for its shiny black glass walls, designed to serve as a cultural center and an exhibition space, connected both the old and new libraries and instantly became one of the most beloved landmarks of contemporary Copenhagen.  In the 1990s, the Society for Danish Jewish History hired the world-renowned Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind to create the Danish Jewish Museum. Libeskind thought the complex of the Royal Boat House/Library/Black Diamond contained a unique intellectual context in which the Danish Jewish Museum would represent a deep historical legacy. In June 2004, one of the most unusual of museums opened its doors.

The architect designed the museum’s layout to incorporate a pedestrian walk between the new and old libraries, outdoor summer seating for a café, and intimate conversation spaces at the ground level of the entrance. When you enter the exhibition itself, you are inside a…Word. This word is in Hebrew: Mitzvah, meaning “good deed.”   My advice is to start with an introductory movie before you venture ahead. This is where you learn not only the Jewish history of Denmark but also the architect’s way of immortalizing it in his design.  In the movie, Libeskind explains: “The Danish Jewish Museum will become a destination which will reveal the deep tradition and its future in the …space of Mitzvah… a dynamic dialogue between architecture of the past and of the future – the newness of the old and the agelessness of the new. The Danish Jewish Museum differs from all other European Jewish Museums because Danish Jews were, by and large, saved through the effort of their compatriots and neighbors during the tragic years of the Shoa. It is this deeply human response that differentiates the Danish Jewish community and is manifested in the form, structure and light of the new museum. Mitzvah is the guiding light of this project. “

And indeed, the entire exhibition space is full of light coming through the stained glass windows. Libeskind wanted us to feel “a microcosm of Mitzvah transforming light across the day.” The architect organized the building inside as a series of planes, each corresponding to a particular field of historic and religious narrative: Exodus, Wilderness, The Giving of the Law, and The Promised Land. Interior corridors consist of fractured passageways and slanted floors. This is how the corridors, which serve as the museum’s exhibition spaces, whirl us around and form the Hebrew letters for the word Mitzvah. As museum’s website states, the form of the building becomes a commentary on the artifacts it presents, paralleling how accompanying texts often illuminate different aspects of the Talmud. Libeskind describes the space as a “sort of text running within a frame made up of many other surfaces – walls, inner spaces, showcases, virtual perspectives.” You, as a visitor, literally walk inside the four huge Hebrew letters, a landscape both enigmatic and expressive. Guided by the architect’s genius and the uniqueness of the Danish Jewish narrative, you create your own experience, at once deeply memorable and highly personal.

A chat at the Jewish Museum: the flag of Israel as a provocation

The museum was closing but a few young women working at the cloakroom and the bookstore kindly agreed to chat with us.  We felt overwhelmed by the museum experience and wanted to share our feelings. However, the conversation turned to today’s Denmark and the growing tensions between the Jewish and new immigrant communities.  One girl shared how she, a year or so ago, participated in the “Taste the World” festival as a member of the Danish Zionist Federation (DZF).  The festival was supposed to demonstrate the diversity and inclusiveness of Denmark and to feature the foods and cultures of various nations living in Copenhagen.   The city council, however, believed that the DZF displaying Israeli food would be a mistake. The DZF decided to participate anyway, and the council requested they do not display the Israeli flag. “Taste the World” was held in Norrebro, a large borough home to the city’s North African, Middle Eastern, and Balkan immigrants. The DZF were the only vendors without the flag identifying the food products’ origin. The council believed that an Israeli flag might be a provocation.   

A Sense of History – European-Style

Two years ago, Irish journalist Liam Hoare wrote: “Despite their image of moral innocence and best intentions, the lands of the north have become home to a scary, new form of anti-Semitism,” “The Scandal of Scandinavia,” The Tower (UK), April 2013. Unlike majority of the American Jews, the Jews of Scandinavia and indeed of most of Europe are largely children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors or, very few now, survivors themselves. A smaller percentage of European Jews are also survivors but of the near-complete expulsion of Jews from North African or Middle-Eastern countries that happened during the second half of the last century. Most European Jews are bound to know all too well, from either personal experiences or inherited knowledge, how a normal, secure, and comfortable life could be destroyed overnight.  So, perhaps, this is why when they see anti-Semitic incidents rising, some cannot help but feel that history is getting ready to repeat itself.  At the same time, there is a prevalent attempt to dismiss these incidents as a non-entity, not to “elevate them to the crisis level.” A renowned Danish journalist and a TV personality Martin Krasnik is quoted in “Hiding Judaism in Copenhagen:” “Anti-Semitism is strictly endemic to only new immigrant neighborhoods. It’s the same in London, it’s the same in Paris.” (Michael Moynihan, Tablet Magazine, March 2013). Anti-Jewish sentiment is virtually unknown in Denmark, so what’s happening is a “small shift imported from the Middle East,” insists Krasnik.  

Norwegian Jo Nesbo, one of the most popular crime fiction writers in Europe, stated that Norwegians, as indeed most Scandinavians, are “in love with their restrained response to tragedy or violence,” considering themselves “so calm, wise, and full of love.”  As history shows, Scandinavians have been much more accepting and respectful of “others” and much less traditionally anti-Semitic than other Europeans. In his quoted above piece “The Scandinavian Scandal,” Liam Haare stated, “the problem today is not widespread traditional anti-Semitism but rather a new kind of hate, derived mainly from the failure to distinguish between Israel, Zionism, and local Jewish communities in political discourse… anti-Zionism has rechanneled anti-Semitism.” As he and other journalists point out, this issue is especially acute in small Scandinavian countries, where Jews who are the smallest of the minorities but well-integrated into their home countries live in close proximity to much larger and non –integrated immigrant communities from North Africa and the Middle East that often display extremist anti-Israel and anti-Jewish feelings.  

Shall we choose to ignore the incidents of violence and hatred, as Atzmor, the Chief Cantor of Copenhagen advised? Or shall we hope then, as John Gradowski, the Head of Information for the Jewish Community of Stockholm suggested, for the “first track?” By that Mr. Gradowski meant the socio-economic way of new immigrants’ development toward accepting an openness and inclusiveness of Swedish values.  

Indeed, all Scandinavian countries, the least church going and the most secular in Europe, made Jewish studies and Holocaust education a way to open up minds and increase awareness. Non-Jews come to synagogues and museums to learn about Judaism, and schools bring their students to Holocaust and Jewish history museums as an integral part of their curriculums. At the same time, certain cultural attitudes, such as animal or children rights, led to governments’ prohibition of kosher slaughter and circumcision, which for observant Jews are nothing short of anti-Semitic acts since they touch on central traditions of Jewish life.

Given the demographic changes with the fast-growing new immigrant communities and current intensity of anti-Israel campaigns throughout Europe, could all these trends promote a disturbing sense of “otherness” toward the Jews? The same “otherness” that encourage seeing the Jews, with their connection to a foreign state and their “strange” traditions, as markedly and conspicuously different from everybody else and less acceptable because of it? Then, it would not matter how much the Jews contributed to or how well they were integrated into their home-countries’ gentile societies.

Were the February 2015 shootings just a singled-out crime, a mad loner acting alone?

Or was it an expression of rabid hatred toward intellectual freedom in general and Jews as “others” in particular, a logical development of the already visible trends?

Denmark sees possible ‘Charlie Hebdo’ motive behind Copenhagen attacks


Police shot dead a gunman on Sunday whose attacks on a Copenhagen synagogue and an event promoting free speech may have been inspired by an attack on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo last month, authorities said.

Denmark's spy chief Jens Madsen said the gunman was known to the intelligence services prior to the shooting and probably acted alone. He did not elaborate.

Two civilians were killed and five police were wounded in the two separate attacks in the Danish capital on Saturday.

“We cannot yet say anything concrete about the motive … but are considering that he might have been inspired by the events in Paris some weeks ago,” Madsen told a news conference.

Danish authorities have been on alert since Islamist gunmen killed 17 people in three days of violence in Paris in January that began with an attack on Charlie Hebdo, long known for its acerbic cartoons on Islam, other religions and politicians.

Police who had earlier released a photo of the suspect dressed in a heavy winter coat and maroon mask, said they did not believe he had received training in Jihadist camps in the Middle East.

Witnesses to the Copenhagen attacks said the gunman fired up to 40 shots at a cafe hosting a free speech event with Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who has received death threats for depicting the head of the Prophet Mohammad on a dog.

Vilks was unhurt but a 55-year-old man was killed. A guard was later shot in the head outside Copenhagen's biggest synagogue, where around 80 people were celebrating a confirmation. Two police officers were also wounded there.

Police shot dead the suspect early on Sunday after he opened fire on them near a railway station in the Noerrebro district, not far from the sites of the two attacks. Officers later searched his home, which was nearby.

Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said the attacks were terrorism and promised to protect freedom of speech and Denmark's small but vibrant Jewish community.

“When you mercilessly fire deadly bullets at innocent people taking part in a debate, when you attack the Jewish community, you attack our democracy,” Thorning-Schmidt said outside the synagogue. “We will do everything possible to protect our Jewish community.”

Denmark's former chief rabbi, Rabbi Bent Lexner, told Israeli Army Radio the synagogue guard was “a fantastic guy”, adding: “We are in shock. I am sitting now with the parents of the man killed. We didn't think such a thing could happen in Denmark.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said such attacks would likely continue and said Israel would welcome European Jews who choose to move to there.

“GET OUT”

Witnesses said French ambassador Francois Zimeray had just finished introducing the cafe event, entitled “Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression”, when the assailant opened fire.

The venue was heavily-guarded by police, who fired back, but the attacker nevertheless escaped.

Vilks, who security experts said they believed was the gunman's main target, sheltered on the floor of a cold room at the back of the cafe with one of the event's organizer.

“The rather spare audience got to experience fear and horror – and tragedy. I can't say it affected me as I was well looked after,” Vilks wrote in a blog post.

Helle Merete Brix, organizer of the event at the cafe, told Reuters she had seen an attacker wearing a mask.

“The security guards shouted 'Everyone get out!' and we were being pushed out of the room,” Brix said.

“They tried to shoot their way into the conference room … I saw one of them running by, wearing a mask. There was no way to tell his face.”

Denmark became a target of violent Islamists 10 years ago after the publication of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammad, images which led to sometimes fatal protests in the Muslim world. Many Muslims consider any representation of the Prophet blasphemous.

Vilks stirred controversy himself in 2007 with drawings depicting Mohammad's head on a dog, triggering death threats.

He has lived under Swedish police protection since 2010 and two years ago, an American woman was jailed for 10 years in the United States for plotting to kill him.

Like other European governments, Scandinavian leaders have been increasingly concerned about the radicalization of young Muslims traveling to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside violent jihadist groups such as Islamic State.

Authorities have also been worried about possible lone gunmen like Anders Behring Breivik, the anti-immigrant Norwegian who killed 77 people in 2011, most of them at a youth camp run by Norway's ruling center Labour Party.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he was struck by the similarities between the Copenhagen and Paris attacks: “First an attack against freedom of speech, then an attack against Jews, and then the confrontation with the police,” he told Europe 1 radio.

Denmark chief rabbi rejects Netanyahu call to make aliyah


Denmark’s chief rabbi rejected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for European Jews to move to Israel in the wake of a terror attack on a Copenhagen synagogue.

“Terror is not a reason to move to Israel,” said Denmark Chief Rabbi Jair Melchior said Sunday.

His remarks came in response to a statement Netanyahu made on Sunday morning before Israel’s Cabinet approved a $46 million plan to encourage immigration and adapt the absorption process to Jews from France, Belgium and Ukraine.

“Of course, Jews deserve protection in every country but we say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters: Israel is your home. We are preparing and calling for the absorption of mass immigration from Europe. I would like to tell all European Jews and all Jews wherever they are: ‘Israel is the home of every Jew,’” Netanyahu said.

“To the Jews of Europe and to the Jews of the world I say that Israel is waiting for you with open arms,” he concluded.

Two policemen and a volunteer civilian guard were shot in the synagogue attack, as they guarded outside of the building in which a bat mitzvah party was taking place. The civilian guard died later from his injuries. The shooting after midnight on Sunday morning at Copenhagen’s central synagogue in Krystalgade occurred just hours after a fatal shooting Saturday afternoon at a free speech event at a cultural center featuring a Danish cartoonist, Lars Vilks, who is under police protection because of his cartoons caricaturing Mohammed.

Police later shot and killed the man believed to be the gunman in the two attacks during a shootout in the Noerrebro district of Copenhagen.

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt visited the synagogue late Sunday morning, laying a bouquet of flowers at its gate, and vowing that Denmark “will do everything” it can to protect its Jewish community.

“Jews are a very important part of Danish society,” she said earlier at a news conference. “I say to the Jewish community – you are not alone.”

Copenhagen police said Sunday that the shooter may have been influenced by the Paris terror attacks last month at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine and at the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket.

Danish police kill 22-year-old after Copenhagen shootings


Police shot dead a 22-year-old Danish-born gunman on Sunday after he killed two people at a Copenhagen synagogue and an event promoting free speech in actions possibly inspired by an attack on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, authorities said.

Spy chief Jens Madsen said the gunman was known to intelligence services prior to the shooting and probably acted alone. Police said he had a record of violence, gang-related activities and weapons possession. They did not publish his name.

Two civilians – a synagogue guard and a film-maker – were killed and five police were wounded in the two separate attacks in the Danish capital on Saturday.

Witnesses to the Copenhagen attacks said the gunman fired up to 40 shots at a cafe hosting a free speech event with Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who has received death threats for depicting the head of the Prophet Mohammad on a dog. Vilks was unharmed.

The gunman then moved on to a nearby synagogue where the guard, protecting a young girl's confirmation, was gunned down.

On Sunday, thousands of Danes left a sea of flowers by the city's ornate synagogue.

“We are a small nation and such things don't happen here,” 28-year-old student Frederikke Baastrup said, reflecting a widespread sense of shock in a country that prides itself on its reputation for safety and social tolerance.

Police cordoned off several sections in a predominantly immigrant neighbourhood and took away several people for questioning, witnesses said.

ON ALERT

Danish authorities have been on alert since Islamist gunmen killed 17 people in three days of violence in Paris in January that began with an attack on weekly Charlie Hebdo, long known for its acerbic cartoons on Islam, other religions and politicians.

“Denmark and France are the same nations, feeling the same sadness but also the same will to resist, fight and defeat terrorism,” French President Francois Hollande said.

“They hit the same targets, they hit what we are, what we represent, the values of freedom, the rule of law, that all citizens, whatever their religion, should be able to enjoy,” Hollande said.

Madsen said the attacks appear to have been inspired by the January attacks in Paris.

But police who had earlier released a photo of the suspect dressed in a heavy winter coat and maroon mask, said they did not believe he had received training in jihadist camps in the Middle East.

The man had two handguns on him when he was killed and the police search later found an automatic weapon that may have been used in Saturday's attacks.

The gunman's primary target was likely to have been the free speech event with Vilks.

Dozens of bullets were fired in quick succession, probably from an automatic weapon, according to a recording of the event obtained by Danish TV2.

Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said the attacks were terrorism but said this was not the start of a war between the West and Islam.

“When you mercilessly fire deadly bullets at innocent people taking part in a debate, when you attack the Jewish community, you attack our democracy,” Thorning-Schmidt said outside the synagogue. “We will do everything possible to protect our Jewish community.”

Denmark became a target of violent Islamists 10 years ago after the publication of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammad, images which led to sometimes fatal protests in the Muslim world. Many Muslims consider any representation of the Prophet blasphemous.

Vilks stirred controversy himself in 2007 with drawings depicting Mohammad's head on a dog, triggering death threats.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said such attacks would likely continue and said Israel would welcome European Jews who choose to move to there.

Witnesses said French ambassador Francois Zimeray had just finished introducing the cafe event, entitled “Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression”, when the assailant opened fire.

The venue was heavily guarded by police, who fired back, but the attacker nevertheless escaped.

Vilks, sheltered on the floor of a cold room at the back of the cafe with one of the event's organisers.

“The rather spare audience got to experience fear and horror – and tragedy. I can't say it affected me as I was well looked after,” Vilks wrote in a blog post.

He has lived under Swedish police protection since 2010 and two years ago an American woman was jailed for 10 years in the United States for plotting to kill him.

Like other European governments, Scandinavian leaders have been increasingly concerned about the radicalisation of young Muslims travelling to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside violent jihadist groups such as Islamic State.

Authorities have also been worried about possible lone gunmen like Anders Behring Breivik, the anti-immigrant Norwegian who killed 77 people in 2011, most of them at a youth camp run by Norway's ruling center-left Labor Party.

One dead in shooting at Danish meeting with artist who drew Mohammad


A civilian was killed and three police were wounded on Saturday in shooting at a meeting in Copenhagen attended by Lars Vilks, an artist who has received death threats since publishing images of the Prophet Mohammad.

Danish police confirmed one civilian had been killed in the shooting and said the two suspects had fled in a car after the attack on the gathering, which had been billed as a debate on art and blasphemy.

Danish news agency Ritzau said both Vilks and the French ambassador, who was also attending, were both unharmed, but that three police had been wounded.

Police commander Henrik Blandebjerg told local TV there were two assailants. The dead civilian man was 40 years old. Police with searchlights were scouring the area for evidence.

Sweden's security police said Swedish bodyguards were with Vilks at the time of the shooting.

Authorities in southern Sweden said they were helping Danish police. Sweden is joined to Denmark by bridge, and transit across is largely unchecked.

Just over a month ago, 17 people were killed in France in three days of violence that began when two Islamist gunmen burst into the Paris offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, opening fire in revenge for its publication of satirical images of Mohammad.

Vilks stirred controversy in 2007 with published drawings depicting Mohammad as a dog which sparked threats from Islamist militant groups.

He has received numerous death threats and has lived under the constant protection of the Swedish police since 2010. Two years ago, an American woman who called herself Jihad Jane was sentenced to 10 years in prison for plotting to kill him.

The scene of the shooting was a cafe at a cultural centre in a central part of Copenhagen.

French President Francois Hollande said Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve would go to the Danish capital as soon as possible.

Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons by various artists in 2005 depicting Mohammad, provoking protests across the Muslim world in which at least 50 died and death threats against the cartoonists.

Shots fired at Copenhagen synagogue


Three people were reportedly shot in an attack at a synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The shooting occurred just hours after a fatal shooting at an event featuring a Danish cartoonist, Lars Vilks, who is under police protection because of his cartoons caricaturing Mohammed. It is not yet clear if the two shootings are related.

Multiple reports said two policemen and a civilian were shot in the synagogue attack, which reportedly occurred shortly after midnight on Saturday. A civilian was killed and three policemen were wounded in the earlier attack at a cafe.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Danish prime minister, said the attack on the cafe was a terrorist attack. Copenhagen was on high alert.

The Secure Community Network, the security arm of the U.S. Jewish community, was in touch with its European counterparts, its director, Paul Goldenberg, told JTA.

Citing security concerns, Copenhagen Jewish school forbids religious symbols


A Jewish school in Denmark informed parents that its pupils are no longer allowed to wear religious symbols near school grounds.

The private Caroline School in Copenhagen informed parents of the policy in a recent letter, the Jyllands-Posten daily reported Friday.  The letter said it was not permissible for students of the 7th, 8th and 9th grades to leave school premises if they are wearing visible Jewish symbols.

“If a boy wears a kippah, we will ask him to put in a cap so it is no longer visible,” principal Jan Hansen said.

Hansen said the measures were part of his schools “level of security, which is higher than in normal schools.” He added: “Unfortunately, it is the consequence of being a Jewish institution, but it something that we and the students are used to.” 

Hansen also said the move was “pure preventative.” He added: “I know there has been an increase in the number of Jews who have been accosted over the summer in connection with the conflict in Gaza.”

In 2012, the Israeli embassy in Copenhagen warned Jewish tourists to refrain from wearing Jewish symbols on the street or speaking Hebrew loudly.

Danish, Swedish Jews hold first joint Limmud conference


About 160 Swedes and Danes attended the first inter-Scandinavian Limmud Jewish learning event.

The March 11 event was held at an adult education center in Lund, a Swedish city situated 23 miles north of Copenhagen.

“Last year we held the first Lund Limmud and this is the first time that the event has gone international,” said the event’s co-organizer, Rabbi Rebecca Lillian.

“Many Swedes can understand Danish and visa versa, but to completely eliminate the language barrier each time bloc included at least one session in Danish or English,” said Lillian, an American Reconstructionist rabbi who immigrated to Malmo from Chicago two years ago.

The event was promoted on social media in Swedish, Danish and English. The 2014 Oresunds Limmud will be held at a bigger venue, Lillian said.

She added the majority of participants were Swedish but a few dozen Danes also came, including former Danish chief rabbi Bent Melchior. In his address, he encouraged Jewish communities to embrace families with only one Jewish spouse.

Danish Jews report record level of anti-Semitic attacks


The Jewish community of Denmark documented 40 anti-Semitic incidents in 2012, almost double those in 2009, a year that marked a sharp upturn in such attacks.

A report released on Feb. 25 by AKVAH, the security unit of Denmark's Jewish community of 8,000, counted six physical attacks on Jews last year.

In one of them, in November, several men of Middle Eastern descent hit an elderly Israeli man in the Copenhagen suburb of Norrebro and tore off a Star of David pendant from around the victim's neck.

AKVAH documented two attempted assaults and 10 incidents in which Jews were verbally abused for being Jews. Other incidents included intimidation and threats.

In 2009, which began with an Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip, the community reported 21 incidents, a substantial increase over the average of three incidents in the previous six years.

The report did not say how many such incidents were documented in 2011. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has said it received no data on attacks in 2011 and 2010 from institutions belonging to Denmark’s Jewish community. The FRA report from last year only contains data for the years 2003-2009.

FRA said last year that Danish authorities offered no disaggregated statistical data on hate crimes, but said there was an even distribution of offences targeting Muslims, Christians and Jews.

Danish Jews angered by request not to display Israeli flag


The organizers of a Copenhagen event celebrating diversity asked Danish Jews refrain from displaying the Israeli flag “for security reasons.”

The request came during preparations for the city-sponsored Mangfoldigheds festival held early last month, according to the Copenhagen-born Jonas Herzberg Karpantschof, former chairman of the European Union of Jewish Students.

The Danish Zionist Federation displayed the Israeli flags despite the requests. Several verbal confrontations occurred in front of the federation’s stand but they did not escalate into physical violence, Karpantschof wrote in a report for the website of CRIF, the umbrella organization of French Jews. Karpantschof said that “in reality, it [the request] was an attempt to block the group’s participation.”

Other groups also displayed country flags at the event, the Copenhagen Post reported, and had not been asked to refrain from displaying them.

One of the event organizers, Pernille Kjeldgaard, told the Post, “It is not that there is a flag policy. Specific associations were asked not to display their flags as a safety precaution.” His group, TaskForce Inklusion, had been tasked by the municipality to organize parts of the event.

Max Meyer, head of the Danish Zionist Federation, was quoted as saying, “It is a shame that one group is discriminated against, especially at a diversity celebration.”

In the festival, participants were supposed to offer visitors food and culture connected with their ethnicity. The festival featured a Kurdish stall and three Palestinian organizations, Meyer wrote. Jews, Muslims and Christians shared one stall at the event.

It was the first time that the Danish Zionist Federation participated in the festival.

In Scandinavia, kipah becomes a symbol of defiance for Malmo’s Jews


Across Scandinavia, the kipah is becoming a symbol of Jewish defiance.

On Sunday, about 70 Danish Jews took a double-decker bus from Copenhagen on a 10-mile bridge across the Strait of Øresund, on the Baltic Sea, to go to Malmo in a show of solidarity with the embattled Jews of that Swedish city. All the men on the bus wore kipahs, a rarity in Scandinavia.

Last December, a small group of Malmo Jews violated security protocol by keeping on their kipahs on the street after attending synagogue, according to Fredrik Sieradski, a spokesman for Malmo’s 700 or so Jews, and then made a regular habit of it every few weeks. New marchers join every time.

And in August, hundreds of people from across Sweden went on public “kipah walks” in Malmo and Stockholm.

It’s not just in Scandinavia. In early September, a flash mob wearing kipahs gathered in Berlin after a rabbi and his 6-year-old daughter were attacked. The yarmulke-clad crowd included not just Jews but Christians, Muslims, local celebrities and politicians.

But in Scandinavia, where the Jewish communities of Denmark, Sweden and Norway are relatively tiny and used to keeping a low profile, the shift to public demonstrations against anti-Semitism marks a turning point. Sunday’s bus trip marked the first time that Scandinavian Jews from another country had come to Malmo to express solidarity. Malmo, Sweden’s third-largest city and the site of some of the country’s highest profile attacks on Jews, has been a focal point for the demonstrations.

“The community here used to keep a low profile, but there’s a feeling that we are lost if we do nothing now,” Sieradski told JTA.

He attributed the change in Malmo to “a slow build-up” of frustration since 2009, when Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza sparked anti-Israel and anti-Semitic demonstrations in the city, leaving Jews with the feeling that they were under threat and without sufficient protection from the authorities.

“This build-up has finally reached a critical mass,” Sieradski said.

The need for Jewish response became impossible to ignore in 2009, community leaders say, when Israeli tennis players showed up to compete in the Davis Cup, which Malmo was hosting. Anti-Israel demonstrations erupted and quickly morphed into violent, anti-Semitic riots.

Some 50 to 100 anti-Semitic incidents occur here annually, according to police and community statistics. Many of the perpetrators are first- and second-generation Muslim immigrants, who make up 30 to 40 percent of Malmo’s population of 300,000. Sieradski says that wearing a kipah in Malmo can lead to insults, harassment and vandalism.

Rabbi Shneur Kesselman, a Chabad envoy to Malmo, has been targeted many times since coming here in 2004. Last week, someone carved the word “Palestina” into his new car.

“I had no idea it would be like this before I came here, and I probably wouldn’t have come had I known,” said Kesselman, who has four children. “But it would be very bad for the community if I left.”

Making matter worse, Malmo Mayor Ilmar Reepalu has advised Jews who want to be safe in Malmo to reject Zionism. Though he has condemned anti-Semitism, Reepalu has called Zionism a form of “extremism” comparable with anti-Semitism, said the Jewish community had been “infiltrated” by anti-Muslim agents and denied that Muslims perpetrated the attacks on Malmo Jews.

During her visit to the country in June, Hannah Rosenthal, the Obama administration’s special envoy for combating anti-Semitism, said that Reepalu had made “anti-Semitic statements.” Malmo under Reepalu, she said, is a “prime example” of “new anti-Semitism,” where anti-Israel sentiment serves as a thin guise for Jew-hatred.

Reepalu’s unsympathetic stance has been among the key factors that have galvanized Scandinavia’s Jews. Aboard the bus on Sunday from Copenhagen to Malmo, the mayor was a subject of frequent condemnation.

Finn Rudaizky, a Copenhagen alderman and former leader of Denmark’s Jewish community, said he felt there was “a Jewish duty” to show the Malmo community it was not alone.

“Leadership especially matters in conflict situations,” he said. “Reepalu’s approach is complicating the situation.”

“Reepalu needs to be fired,” said Anya Raben, a young Jewish woman from Copenhagen. “He is a problem, and the fact he still holds his post is scandalous.”

Following the 30-minute drive through the tunnel and bridge that since 2000 have connected Copenhagen to Malmo, the passengers disembarked at Malmo’s main Jewish cemetery and attended a Holocaust commemoration ceremony.

One of the headstones there is a testament to the strong bonds that connect the Jewish communities of Copenhagen and Malmo, despite cultural and language barriers. Born in 1943, Golde Berman was 4 months old when thousands of Jews fled Nazi-occupied Denmark to neutral Sweden en masse aboard boats in a famous rescue operation. Sweden’s Jewish communities mobilized to absorb the refugees from Denmark by sharing their homes and food and raising funds. Gothenburg’s Jewish community gave up some of its offices in favor of a Danish school for the refugees’ children. Many refugees stayed in Malmo. 

Little Golde, however, was in a hospital on the day of departure, Oct. 1, 1943, and her parents left her behind. She died in December. The Danish Red Cross transported her small body to her parents in Malmo, where she was buried.

It was Golde’s brother-in-law, Martin Stern, who spearheaded the solidarity visit from Copenhagen and covered most of the costs.

“Now it is the Danish Jews’ turn to return the favor, when the Jews of Malmo are in their hour of need,” Stern said.

Some Danish Holocaust-era refugees were on the solidarity bus from Copenhagen.

“Fortunately, the attitude in Malmo was different when I was a little boy,” Allan Niemann, the president of B’nai B’rith Denmark who was in Malmo in exile in the 1940s, said in a speech at the cemetery. “If Mayor Reepalu were in place then, I’m not sure I would be standing here.”

Sunday’s bus trip was just the latest Jewish demonstration in Sweden. Earlier this month, some 1,500 people rallied in support of Israel in Stockholm and Gothenburg, Sweden’s two largest cities. Many of the demonstrations have been organized using social media and other grass-roots strategies.

Community members say their newly vocal stance is beginning to have an effect. Malmo’s handling of anti-Semitic incidents has improved noticeably since the rallies and solidarity actions began, Kesselman said.

He also credited Rosenthal’s visit to Malmo in April, during which she met with Reepalu, prompting Malmo police to follow up on complaints of verbal anti-Semitic abuse. Suspected perpetrators whose identities are known are now brought in for questioning, he said.

“The decision by the political leadership of our community to step up the pressure has yielded yet another change,” Kesselman said. “Now people stop me on the street to say they support us Jews, to encourage us to continue to stand up for our rights. It changed the balance.”

Chaya’s Dance


Six years ago, Carol Solomon attended Yom Kippur services in Copenhagen. Flipping through the back of the English language prayerbook, she came upon a poem, translated from Hebrew, called “The Letter of the Ninety-Three Maidens.” Based on an actual letter that was found after the Holocaust, it tells of young girls at a Jewish school in Cracow who took poison rather than allow themselves to be defiled by Nazi soldiers. Historians question the letter’s authenticity. But for Solomon, “something about this story just captured my heart.”

Which is why Solomon, an L.A.-based choreographer, was inspired to create “Chaya’s Letter,” a full-length dance work that will have its world premiere in Sinai Temple’s Barad Hall on Sept. 4, 1999, just before Rosh Hashanah. But a 15-minute excerpt can be seen by the public on Friday evening, April 16, as part of a Yom Ha Shoah service at the Wadsworth Theatre in Westwood, under the auspices of Temple Shalom for the Arts.

“Chaya’s Letter” features six young female dancers, who in rehearsal displayed their passion for Solomon’s intense, grueling choreography. The haunting score was composed by Chris Ridenhour, husband of one of the dancers, for piano and string quartet. Solomon, who has never before based a dance on Jewish themes, has been encouraged by the support (both financial and moral) she has received from the Jewish community. Michael Berenbaum, president of the Survivors of the Shoah Foundation, endorsed her work as “powerful, indeed at moments awesome,” and calls it a fitting memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.

For more information about “Chaya’s Letter,” call the Carol Solomon Dance Co. at (323) 957-9614.