Baruch ata Adonaj: Notes from Copenhagen
No, that's not a typo. It's a language quirk.
Hej! I went to Copenhagen over Christmas break and want to share my Jewish experience.
I’ve never intentionally sought out Jewish experiences while traveling (unless of course it’s on a JDC Entwine trip! Read about my Jewish Estonia experience from the summer here.). But given the war in Israel and my growing consistency to observe Shabbat in some way, I wanted to connect to my Judaism abroad, you know, to balance out sipping gløgg (mulled wine) in Christmasland.
A Brief History of Jewish Denmark
Jews arrived in Denmark in the 17th century when a small number of Sephardic Jewish merchants and traders fleeing the Spanish Inquisition settled there (Yes, I’m doing bullet points. I’m jet lagged! If you’re really interested you can look this stuff up yourself!).
A significant Jewish community really began to form in the 19th century.
Denmark’s biggest Jewish claim to fame is its role in protecting its Jewish citizens during WWII. In 1943, as the Nazis planned to deport Danish Jews to concentration camps, the majority of the Danish population helped around 7,200 Jews escape to neutral Sweden. Big props to King Christian X who was an outspoken supporter of the Danish Jewish community.
After the war, the Jewish community in Denmark gradually rebuilt itself, and today it’s a small but vibrant part of Danish society with about 6,000 members.
Failed Attempts and Accidental Finds
Before visiting Copenhagen, I tried contacting their large synagogue, which is guarded 24/7 by armed security due to a recent Hamas threat. To those who think Hamas’ genocidal agenda against Jews is only about Israel: take note. Alas, they don’t accept tourists on Fridays. I passed by it and the gated entrance had a bunch of flowers and children’s toys in front of it which I was curious about.
I also tried visiting the Danish Jewish Museum, but it was closed despite Google’s listed hours. Here is a photo of me outside of it, refusing to be dismayed. Instead, I visited the national library that’s behind me in the photo, which turned out to be a great find.
However, some surprises were not so pleasant. After taking myself out to a cozy wine bar, I accidentally walked into a large pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel rally. Not my place to be! It was time to find some Jews.
Chabad of Denmark
Luckily, I had booked a Shabbat meal with Chabad. It wasn’t my first choice, as I had wanted to meet the Danish Jewish community, but I figured being with Jews is better than being alone. And your girl was yearning for her abroad Shabbat experience!
I was pleasantly surprised to have an eye-opening Shabbat meal. It was there that I was welcomed warmly by strangers, some who lived in Copenhagen and some who were passing through just like me. I met Jews from all over — the U.S., Brazil, Sweden, Israel — all with different flavors of Jewish identity like one big melting pot, or Smørrebrød (a Danish open-faced sandwich with many layers), if you will.
It’s really neat how you can meet a handful of people with so many different perspectives and life experiences. Over one Shabbat meal, I met:
✡️ A man who grew up in Israel and moved away at a young age because he didn’t fit in with the “macho” persona there, and has been living in Denmark for the last 30 years. I noticed despite leaving Israel, he was the most passionate defender of Israel when discussing the war. He was also connected to Jewish study despite having left Israel, which I thought was beautiful.
✡️ A young man from D.C. who was studying abroad in Kazakhstan and shed light on the Jewish community there.
✡️ His Danish friend who he was visiting, a young woman who wasn’t Jewish but felt a part of the community because she studied abroad in D.C. and joined a Jewish a cappella group and spent many Shabbats at Jewish homes in the D.C. area. She gave me insight into her non-Jewish friends’ views on the war.
At one point, I was Shabbat shamed (by a guest, not someone from the community) when I told someone I was leaving the next day. He said to me, “I wish you would take the full Shabbat to pause because it’s good for you.” Years ago, this comment would have annoyed me, but I brushed it off because this was my way of creating my own Shabbat experience. Previously, I never would have purposefully sought out a Chabad meal while traveling, and Judaism to me is all about progress and finding what works for you.
Towards the end of the night, I finally found a Danish Jew! He was actually half Danish, half Moroccan and we bonded over Kabbalah. He even gave me a pocket copy of the Zohar. Apparently, there are copies for different needs, and the one he gave me is for sustenance for my blog! Woohoo, let the subscribers roll in!
“The Jewish community in Denmark is lovely, especially Chabad. It’s my favorite Chabad of all. They are so loving and kind. Since the community is small here in Copenhagen you meet so many travelers here! I recommend everyone to visit Chabad Copenhagen.” -Benjamin
He walked me all the way back to my hostel to make sure I made it home safely and we talked more Kabbalah and he didn’t murder me. I promised him I would visit The Kabbalah Centre in New York, despite it being problematic in the eyes of some rabbis because they are open to all religions and “not very Jewish.” But I’ll have to see for myself, won’t I? After all, this is the Great Jewish Journey.
Shabbat Shalom! May this Shabbat open your eyes to other experiences and new people,