Jewish Sweden

The Radical Jewish Traveler celebrates secularism at the 60th parallel.

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When Chabad arrived in Stockholm in 2001, people were afraid that their liberal traditions and coexistence with non-Jewish Swedes would be jeopardized by Chabad's traditional vision of Jewish life. But President Lena wryly commented that Chabad is, after all, "just another cultural offering for Swedish Jews," another thing to do on a Friday night. She easily absorbed Chabad into her vision of Sweden's culturally, not religiously, driven Jewish life.

Not Like Other European Jewish Communities

Unlike many European cities, the Holocaust does not dominate Stockholm's Jewish landscape. The city's primary Holocaust memorial is a wall tucked into a side area on the grounds of the main synagogue. A more prominent Holocaust landmark is a large orb perched on the waterfront that memorializes Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who helped save many Budapest Jews late in the war.

Sweden does not have the same painful history of the government's complicity in the Holocaust that most European countries have. On the contrary, it was a Swedish diplomat who helped save Budapest Jewry, and many Jews are in Sweden precisely because it was a refuge for Jews during the war. Perhaps this is why Swedish Jews guard their liberal traditions so fiercely.

The community is still looking for a Conservative/Masorti rabbi to take over the pulpit left vacant by Narrowe and Spectre. And they will even consider a woman! A female religious leader serving as the de-facto chief rabbi? Only in the dim light at the 60th parallel.

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David Shneer

David Shneer is an associate professor of history and director of the Program in Jewish Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His writing has appeared in numerous publications including the Huffington Post and the New York Times, and his most recent book is Through Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War, and the Holocaust (Rutgers, 2010).