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Where Shabbos Touches Midnight

Ari Greenspan and Ari Z. Zivotofsky

In the land of Ikea and Volvo, Jews are a rapidly vanishing minority. But some still persist, despite the anti-Semitism, to live in a community with its own hidden treasures.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A few hours after we arrived in Sweden, we were browsing the Jewish book collection of our guide, David, when there was a knock on his front door. A heated exchange quickly ensued between David and the man standing at the threshold. It was all in Swedish, so we didn’t understand a word, but it was easy to see David repeatedly pointing at the mezuzah on his front door for emphasis. At one point, he bolted into the living room, grabbed a Chumash off his shelf, and started animatedly pointing out various pesukim.

When the “visitor” left, David explained that the man was a missionary for the J Witnesses, for whom he had very little patience. David told us that he explained to his visitor that he was Jewish, that the Jewish People possessed the authentic scriptures, and that there was nothing more to discuss.

Welcome to Sweden.

We had come to Göteborg [or Gothenburg], a seaside city in Sweden’s west coast, to perform a Shabbos bris for a friend; Ari G. had officiated at the bris of the friend’s first son in Yerushalayim a decade ago. As our most recent trips have been to parts of Africa, we naturally started preparing for the trip by looking up immunization requirements and sharpening our shechitah knives. But those were unnecessary for this trip: Sweden is not an incubator of exotic diseases and is one of the few countries that ban all kosher slaughtering.

David has a family history typical of a “wandering Jew.” He was raised in South Africa but is pretty sure that his grandfather was a famous rabbi in Lithuania. In the 1970s he made his way to Israel, where he served in the army, and then he moved with his bashert to her native city of Göteborg, one of a handful of Jewish population centers in Sweden, where Jews number about 18,000 souls. (About 14,000 of Sweden’s Jews live in Stockholm.) David’s baalas teshuvah daughter lives with her growing family in Yerushalayim and he is quite proud of her, as well as of his son, who makes his living as a leading Swedish chess player.

The Göteborg Jewish community is relatively small and not overly observant, but as became evident during our visit, they are very proud of their Jewish heritage.


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