Finland’s Exceptional Jewish Community

Dec. 13 2019

Until 1809, Finland and Sweden were a single country, and the two countries still share much in terms of their legal systems. Yet, writes Annika Hernroth-Rothstein—herself a native of Sweden—the two Jewish communities could not be more different. Swedish Jews suffer from widespread anti-Semitism, while Finland has relatively little by European standards. Moreover, Finnish Jewry seems to display a self-confidence that their Swedish coreligionists lack. “Finnish Jews were said to be tougher, taller, and even quieter than their Swedish counterparts,” Hernroth-Rothstein notes. In this exploration of Finnish Jewry, excerpted from her forthcoming book, she tries to answer the question of why this should be, beginning with attitudes toward the Jewish state:

Finland and Israel share many similarities: both [are] small countries with large and powerful neighbors living under an ever-present military threat, resulting in both a strong sense of patriotism and of common responsibility for military service and social preparedness. . . . There is a natural brotherhood between the two nations, and the Jews of Finland face little to no threat when openly expressing their allegiance to the Jewish state. The open and clear link between the Diaspora and Israel has strengthened the Jewish community of Finland and helped it grow.

When I sit down with Dan Kantor, the man who steered the community for 38 years before [retiring from the position], he tells me that the Finnish Jewish community’s biggest strength is its members’ sense of solidarity. Almost 90 percent of all Finnish Jews are paying members of the community, in comparison with its neighbor Sweden where the same number is around 20 percent. According to Dan Kantor, even people who never set foot inside a synagogue or a Jewish school pay the annual fee, because they feel responsible for their fellow Jews.

Every week, there are well-attended Shabbat services in the Jugendstil synagogue [in Helsinki], and the prayers are read from a prayer book with a text in both Hebrew and Finnish. . . . There are remnants of Finland’s dramatic Jewish history everywhere; from the Torah scroll that was rescued by a Jewish soldier in the Crimean War and the crown above the ark that was taken from an old Swedish warship before it was sunk, to the two menorahs on the sanctuary’s front wall with stars of David hanging from them—each star inscribed with the name of a Jewish soldier who died defending Finland in one of its many battles. The synagogue and its interior are not only a living tribute to Finnish Jewry, but also a tribute to these Jews’ position and contribution to that history: shaping it rather than merely being shaped by it.

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Read more at Tel Aviv Review of Books

More about: Anti-Semitism, Europe and Israel, European Jewry, Israel and the Diaspora, Sweden, Synagogues

 

Terror Returns to Israel

Nov. 28 2022

On Wednesday, a double bombing in Jerusalem left two dead, and many others injured—an attack the likes of which has not been seen since 2016. In a Jenin hospital, meanwhile, armed Palestinians removed an Israeli who had been injured in a car accident, reportedly murdering him in the process, and held his body hostage for two days. All this comes as a year that has seen numerous stabbings, shootings, and other terrorist attacks is drawing to a close. Yaakov Lappin comments:

Unlike the individual or small groups of terrorists who, acting on radical ideology and incitement to violence, picked up a gun, a knife, or embarked on a car-ramming attack, this time a better organized terrorist cell detonated two bombs—apparently by remote control—at bus stops in the capital. Police and the Shin Bet have exhausted their immediate physical searches, and the hunt for the perpetrators will now move to the intelligence front.

It is too soon to know who, or which organization, conducted the attack, but it is possible to note that in recent years, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has taken a lead in remote-control-bombing terrorism. Last week, a car bomb that likely contained explosives detonated by remote control was discovered by the Israel Defense Forces in Samaria, after it caught fire prematurely. In August 2019, a PFLP cell detonated a remote-control bomb in Dolev, seventeen miles northwest of Jerusalem, killing a seventeen-year-old Israeli girl and seriously wounding her father and brother. Members of that terror cell were later arrested.

With the Palestinian Authority (PA) losing its grip in parts of Samaria to armed terror gangs, and the image of the PA at an all-time low among Palestinians, in no small part due to corruption, nepotism, and its violation of human rights . . . the current situation does not look promising.

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Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Jerusalem, Palestinian terror