Feelings of discomfort and otherness for Jews in Denmark

“Today, if you ask a Jew, they will say they don’t have a problem. Why? Because they don’t show that they are Jews. Jewish people have started to hide their Jewry.” – Max Meyer, President of Zionist Federation in Denmark


By Alana Repstock and Sara Silvennoinen

Jews make up a minute minority of the population in Denmark, but have been targeted in several attacks over the past couple of years.  The attacks have stirred the country’s usual impregnable status quo and have caused police to stand guard in front of Jewish institutions. New measures of securing the safety of Jews have been implemented in Copenhagen. Consequently, some Jews have turned to hiding their religious identity when in public to avoid attracting negative attention. 

Danish police stand guard 24 hours a day outside the Great Synagogue in Krystalgade, Copenhagen.  One and a half years ago Dan Uzan, a Jewish man, was shot outside the synagogue by Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein.  The man was on security duty for a bat mitzvah when El-Hussein shot him in front of the gates surrounding the synagogue. Additionally, a bullet proof glass box has been added as the new entrance into the Great Synagogue.  The box serves to protect those entering and leaving the synagogue. The synagogue is no longer open to the general public: entry is granted by appointment basis.  

 

The Great Synagogue in Copenhagen

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Rabbi Jair Melchior

 

Carolineskolen, the city’s only Jewish primary school has also faced adversity in the past two years. The school has been victim to vandalism and even bomb threats, which have forced the government to extreme measures when it comes to protecting the children and staff inside. In 2014 the school was broken into and vandalized with anti-semitic messages, some windows were also damaged.  In 2016, a 16 year old girl was arrested before attempting to bomb the school. The girl had recently converted to Islam after spending time with a 24 year old male who also got arrested in connection to the case. Today, multiple guards stand outside the Carolineskolen. The surroundings look nothing like Denmark: a thick stone wall and barbed wire surround the school, which is barely visible.  A police car is parked in front as a reminder to those passing by that the area is patrolled.

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Carolineskolen

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Entrance into Carolineskolen

 

Over a one week stay in Copenhagen, we spoke with some head figures of the Jewish community.  First was chief rabbi of Denmark, Rabbi Jair Melchior, whom we reached by telephone.


Question: Do you think the guards are necessary, or would you prefer not to have them?

Answer: I would definitely prefer not to have a guard, but the police thinks it´s necessary. 

Question: Do you think having a guard puts a negative spotlight on the Jewish community in Denmark?

Answer: I don’t think the danger is very big.  It exists—we know it exists, we know there are people who want to harm us. Putting guards or taking off guards not make the threat bigger of disappear.

Question: How has the situation for Jews changed in Denmark since the shooting of the guard?

Answer: It brought attention to our problem and got huge support from the media, the Danish government, and the people in Denmark. It is, also a problem because we feel more vulnerable than we are. We have threat against us but, it is in our attention all the time that the threat exists.

Question: Are Jews afraid to show their religious identity?

Answer:  People who walked with Yamakas before continue to do that. There are areas where it is not safe to go, where If you are two people walking and you are a Jew then you will be the target.

Question: What do you tell your congregation?

Answer: I tell them to continue living and not being afraid.


There is little consensus between the danish government and the Jewish people on how to ensure the safety of Jews.  Nor is there consensus between Jews.  Some argue the guards are needed, while others argue the guards attract unnecessary attention that targets them for more attacks. 

We also spoke to Max Meyer, president of the Zionist Federation in Denmark. We met Max at his office in Copenhagen.


Question: Do Jews feel safe in Denmark?

Answer: Today, if you ask a Jew, they will say they don’t have a problem. Why? Because they don’t show that they are Jews. Jewish people have started to hide their Jewry. Before, the Danish Jew could go around with their Yamaka on their head and The Star of David around their neck. It is rare to see that anymore.

Question: What do you think about the fence surrounding Carolineskolen?

Answer: I think it’s necessary, in order to give parents a feeling of safety. The parents I talk to are afraid to send their children to school because of the safety issue.

Question: What about the Great Synagogue?

Answer: The Danish government, the Copenhagen municipality and private investors have given a lot of money in order to make this jail. That’s what I call it, I don’t call it a synagogue anymore. I don’t think the police will stay there forever. I don’t think even the police can save us. When I go to the synagogue, I’m safe. But when I go out to the streets, and somebody sees where I came from, they can hurt me.

Question: What do you think is the future of Jews in Denmark?

Answer: There will be no community because the Jewish people will keep hiding their Jewry. I believe that a lot of Jews will leave Denmark, and maybe move to America,where they can live in freedom.