STOCKHOLM FOR THE JEWISH TRAVELER

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

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Stockholm Jewish tour
 
 
Like a squirrel who gathers supplies for the winter, I find myself gathering information about the Jewish community in every port of call we happen to arrive in. It's as if I've become obsessed with the history of our people, even more now than when I was a kid and read everything I could lay my hands on, to know more, to excavate unknown facts, to understand the strength which held us together and kept us going. Not just going, but in actual fact rising to the top in each civilization, making our mark in philosophy, the arts medicine and becoming pioneers in new fields of technology and fiscal leadership. So today's blog will deal with the Jewish community in the remote north, Stockholm, Sweden.
 
As I first visited the Swedish capital, my knowledge was limited to Sweden's efforts in protecting the Jews during the Holocaust. I heard about Raul Wallenberg from my grandparents who tell me about their memories of that devastating time in Europe, since the pain may have been integrated into their daily life, but has never subsided. The mention of a few good and brave peoples, who stood up to the Nazis comes up often, that is to say, there is good as well as bad in all human beings.
 
A small number of Jews have lived in Sweden, practicing their observances in secret, the community was not officially established until 1770. While Jews would visit auctions, they were not permitted to settle and it's believed that only eight Jewish individuals made their residence in Stockholm until 1735. The first Jew granted permission to live as a Jew in Sweden was a man by the name of Aron Isak, a German engraver, who was offered citizenship in exchange for his accepting Christianity. His response "I would not change my religion for all the riches in the world" so impressed The Lord Mayor of Stockholm, he advised Isak to make a legal protest to King Gustav III, who ended up granting him citizenship as the first Swedish Jew. He was permitted to bring in some Jewish families, so he could have a minyan w at least 10 Jewish men.
 
In 1782, a legislation passed, allowing Jews to settle in Sweden w/o converting. They were limited to a few major cities, Stockholm included, wherein they were given permission to build synagogues, perform services and engage in all business which was not subject to guilds. By mid 19th century, about 900 Jews lived openly in Sweden. When King Charles XIV removed some more of the restrictions placed on Jews and the process of their emancipation began in earnest. Once becoming full fledged citizens, they were treated as peers and anti semitism was extremely rare.
Jewish population increased to 6,500, between 1850-1920, due to immigration from Poland and Russia, where Jews had a rather bitter and precarious existence.immigration was regulated after World War I and the between wars years, for fear of massive scale jewish settlement in Stockholm and the rest of Sweden.
 
From 1933-1939 only 3000 Jews were allowed to immigrate , another 1000 were welcome to use Sweden as a transit stop.but the moment the nazi atrocities begun, Sweden opened its borders, and offered at least a short term safe haven, until the refugees could move on to their final destination.
Raul wollemberg, a Swedish diplomat, became famous for saving thousands of Hungarian Jews, and swedes was involved in many efforts to save Jews from Nazi brutality and annihilation.between 1942-43 the swedes gave assylum to around 9,000 Danish and Norwegian Jews. 
Also we'll known is Count Folke Bernadotte, who rescued both Jews and non Jews from concentration camps.
 
In the post war period, many holocaust survivors were brought to Sweden for rehabilitation. A law was passed in the 1950, prohibiting the incitement against all ethnic groups. In 1956 hundreds of Hungarian Jewish refugees became Swedish citizens.
 
Points of interest for Jewish visitors
 
Stockholm boast the largest Jewish community in Sweden, around 16,000, and is a pioneer in Holocaust awareness. The government introduced a large scale educational program called The Living History Project, in which a free book was given to every household in Sweden, detailing the atrocities of the Holocaust. Minority groups received the book translated to their spoken language.
 
The Great synagogue in Stockholm, with its beautiful Assyrian exterior and folkloristic interior, is often visited by local dignitaries as a gesture of good will. A must see is the picturesque Gamla Stan or the old town, w it's narrow paths, where the Old Synagogue can be seen, and the history of the local Jewish community seen and experienced.
 
The Raoul Wallenberg monument  and the Holocaust memorial are of great interest, the former with controversial reception, the story of which will be revealed at the visit.
 
Walk the  famous stairs of Noble Prize  Laureates and you'll see the Golden hall with its 18 million pieces of golden mosaic.
If you have time a visit to the Jewish museum will delight and touch with its popular permanent and temporary exhibits.
 
And if you want, you can drink a glass of kosher vodka from a glass made of ice (kosher as can be), or visit the old cemeteries.
In fact you could do both.
 
Love is the most powerful way to create profoundly tangible  transformation in everyone who crosses our path. Yet we must be mindful  to endow the self with pure, unconditional love and acceptance, which will result in an infinite fountain of empathy and joy, readily available to give others.
 
Image credit: tripadvisor.com
 
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