On Rosh Hashanah Barack Obama will stop in at the Great Synagogue of Stockholm, an extraordinary building erected in the 1860’s during an international wave of enthusiasm surrounding the first archaeological digs to uncover the ruined glories of ancient Assyria. The advantage to the Jewish congregation in Stockholm was that in an era when fashionable churches were being built in medieval Gothic style, they were able to erect an ultra-fashionable building in an even more ancient architectural style (follow link and scroll down to Assyria), one that linked back to the Bible.
A few short blocks away there is another synagogue, in a large room inside the Jewish school. The school enrolls 150 Jewish children, with another 150 or so on the waiting list. Unlike the Great Synagogue, Adat Jeschurum is orthodox. And while the Great Synagogue draws crowds for the holidays, and will undoubtedly be packed during Obama’s visit, the orthodox services at the far smaller smaller Adat Jeschurun bustle. Visiting on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, we attended the bar mitzvah of a boy who chanted the first sections of the Torah portion beautifully, followed by a series of teenagers able to read the Torah, lead prayers, and sound as though they do it every week.
Stockholm is not the dying Jewish community all too typical of European cities. The Shabbat crowd at Adat Jeschurun skews young. Children dart in and out because, their parents tell me, Sweden is a good place to rear a family. A second Orthodox shul, Adat Jisrael, on Södermalm, the other side of Gamla Stan, is a little quieter – Adat Jeschurun draws the young families. So, while the question of whether there is Jewish future in Europe is open, the community of young, Jewish families in Stockholm who attend a traditional synagogue and send their children to a Jewish school is not merely flourishing, it is growing.
Adat Jeschurun is decorated in a blend of the early 20th century Arts and Crafts Movement and art nouveau styles, with particularly charming lilies on the Torah Ark and decorating the ends of the wooden pews. Sweden, which has had a Jewish community since the eighteenth century, maintained a pro-Nazi neutrality during World War II, but it admitted (saved) Jews from Norway and Denmark during the war, and had admitted a modest number of Jews from Germany in the 1930’s. Some of these Jews came form Hamburg, as did the furniture of Adat Jeschurun.
In the months between Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938) and the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, the interior of a Hamburg synagogue that had survived the Nazi synagogue burning of November 9 was dismantled and shipped to Stockholm. Henry Kissinger’s family fled Hamburg in 1938, traveling to London and on to New York. But he remembered the synagogue his father had once belonged to and he sent a letter to Adat Jeschurun when the old German shul celebrated its fiftieth year on Swedish soil.