Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Shalom, Finland: A Jewish Culture Guide

There are an estimated 1500 Jews resided in Finland today – 1200 living in the capital Helsinki, about 200 in Turku, and an estimated 50 in Tampere

By: Sarah Bauder

Published: January 7th, 2014 in Culture » Society » News

And we’re off, to anywhere and everywhere, as we say ‘Shalom’ every week to different global travel destination. World cities, provincial towns, and even the most unassuming of suburbs are infused with Jewish history and culture, some of which is waiting to be discovered.

For the pious follower, the curious traveler, or the intrepid adventurer, we’ll unearth the best of what to do and where to go. Be it an emerging subculture, a historical landmark, or simply a triumph of art in any form, Jewish experiences are found around the world; and likely as well in your backyard.

It may be in the destination, the journey, or the company, but there is much to uncover and celebrate near and far, so hurry up and get going.

Shalom, Finland

City of Helsinki

From the mid-13th century until the beginning of the 19th, the region that is present-day Finland was a part of the Swedish Empire. Under Swedish rule, the Jewish populace was permitted to reside in only three towns, none of which fell into the area of modern-day Finland. In 1809, having been conquered by the Russia during the Finnish War (1808 to 1809), Finland became an autonomous Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire. Despite the shift in power, Swedish laws remained, and Jews were still not permitted to settle in the region. The only exception, were Russian Jews who served in the Imperial Army since childhood (also known as cantonists). After their term of service ended, cantonists were permitted to remain in Finland regardless of the ban on Jewish settlement.

It wasn’t until December 1917, when Finland gained its independence from Soviet Russia, that Jews were emancipated. By January 1918, the government decreed an Act involving “Mosaic Confessors”, which granted all Jews equal rights under the law and Finnish citizenship. Over the next 20 years, there was an influx of Jewish immigration ot Finland, mainly from Russia. During this time, the Jewish population increased to approximately 2000. During the Winter War of 1939 to 1940, 204 Finnish Jews fought in defence of their country from the invading Rusian Army, of which, 27 were killed.

Summer landscape in Finland

As a result of national anger from the Russian invasion of Finland, the country again took part in the Continuation War (1941-1944), being cobelligerent with Germany. However, despite pressure from the Nazis, the Finns refused to endanger their Jewish citizenry under any circumstance. Consequently, Finnish Jews enjoyed total civil rights throughout the duration of World War II. After the war, nearly three-dozen Finnish Jews participated in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. After the creation of the State of Israel, many there was a high rate of aliyah amongst Finnish Jews.

Synagogue in Helsinki

There are an estimated 1500 Jews resided in Finland today – 1200 living in the capital Helsinki, about 200 in Turku, and an estimated 50 in Tampere. Jews in Finland are well integrated into society, holding positions in numerous industries. There are two synagogues in the country, one in Helsinki and the other in Turku, built in 1906 and 1912, respectively. The community as a whole, is represented by the umbrella organization known as The Jewish Community of Helsinki. Chabad Lubavitch is located in Helsinki, offering a variety of services, courses, and events. There is a Jewish day school located in the capital as well. A kosher store is located beside the Orthodox synagogue in Helsinki. If one is inclined, Jewish Finland offers 4-hour heritage tours with adept guide, Andre Zweig.

Synagogue in Turku

Although relatively small, the Jewish community in Finland is both fiercely proud of its heritage and homeland. Finland is definitely worth a visit, and you shan’t be disappointed.

Links:

http://www.jchelsinki.fi/index.php?option=com_content&view=frontpage&Itemid=136

http://www.jewishfinland.com/

http://www.lubavitch.fi/templates/articlecco_cdo/aid/282691/jewish/Synagogue.htm

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