Bima in the Stockholm Synagogue. The Hanukkah menorah on the right is from the 1790s
Alas, I left the letter from my rabbi at home for this trip, but luckily enough the synagogue in Stockholm
holds regular tours during the week and so my letter would not be required like last year
. The 'gogue is right in the middle of the city, so I had come across it earlier (plus, it was marked in the Lonely Planet book for Stockholm, so that made it easier to find). If you ever come to Stockholm, here's my advice: Tour the synagogue!!
The tours are at 11 am and 1 pm Mon-Thur, and once on Fridays (I think earlier, considering how early it must get dark).
The organ and the balconies
I arranged all my museum outings and other sightseeings so that I could be there by 1 pm. I arrived a few minutes early and talked with the couple waiting -- they were originally from New Jersey but live in South Carolina now. Just as our tour was starting, a woman from Chile joined us. (Who knew there were Chilean Jews? Sounds kinda like a food, doesn't it?) The tour costs 80 SKr, 10 euros, $12 US, or 7 pounds. I think with today's rates the US dollar option is the best deal, but alas, that's the one currency I didn't have on this trip.
The woman unlocked the synagogue and in we walked to the sanctuary. Like the temple in Colmar, the building that houses the sanctuary is only that. The temple offices and whatnot for the community are next door in a separate building.
Architectural details (note how the stuff holding up the ceiling looks somewhat viking ship like?)
All four of us just gasped in awe when we walked in. The woman talked to us for about 30 minutes about the history of the synagogue, the Stockholm Jewish community, and the arrival of Jews to Sweden. Currently there are about 20,000 Jews in Sweden, and about 10,000 of them are in the Stockholm area. I had been wondering how the Jews had managed to get prime real estate for the synagogue -- that just didn't happen in Europe, not in the 19th century (and esp. not earlier than that)! It turns out that when they built this synagogue, it was surrounded by trees because it was outside the city limits -- like just about everywhere else in Europe. But now that the city has expanded so much, they are right in the center!
She also told us about the special architectural touches in the building, some of which don't represent anything with Judaism, but that the architect (who was not Jewish, but was quite famous), liked.
podium on the bima
From all of the other Swedish and royal museums I have toured elsewhere in the city, it is clear where some of the other touches come from as well -- stuff you don't really see in a 'gogue. Like the Swedish crowns, or the five-pointed North Polar Star (it's one of the orders that the King can award) as decoration. The Jewish community wanted the synagogue to look like a church..... which totally confirms what I thought about a lot of these European synagogues, and even my own in Lancaster. As Jews assimilated with the local populations and had an opportunity to build larger synagogues, they often are built like the rest of the buildings and churches in that city. Cologne, Colmar, Lancaster.....
The synagogue was built in 1870, and the community is a unified one.
tracks and Budapest stones leading to the Raul Wallenberg monument
There are two other orthodox synagogues, but the Great Synagogue is reform with conservative services -- which are all in Hebrew, with only a sermon in another language (depending on who is giving the sermon). But in 1870 the Jewish community of Stockholm was quite liberal and they wanted to have men and women sit together. However, the architect didn't think that was right, and he won out, making the seating just men on the ground floor and then two galleries. Later the community made a compromise -- one side (the left when facing the ark) is men on the floor, women in the balconies, and the right side is mixed seating on all three levels. The Swedes are funny, aren't they? But the synagogue holds 1000 people. You wouldn't think it, but it does!
Then our tour guide showed us a few special artifacts on the bima, including a hanukkah menorah from 1791 (or was it 1792?) that, in thanks to the king (Gustav) who invited the first Jews to Sweden (in 1774/75), the feet of the menorah are in the royal G monogram. She also opened the ark for us -- there were about eight Torah scrolls in there, but apparently the synagogue has more -- I actually don't know if she said 13 or 30. The oldest one dates to the 1820s. They also, in keeping with the idea of being like a church, wanted an organ in the synagogue. But the organ was designed so that the pipes look like a Torah scroll.
Stockholm also has the last intact German synagogue from before Kristallnacht. It was smuggled out of Hamburg and brough to Stockholm. It's been moved a few times, but now it's part of the jewish school from the synagogue (which goes to ninth grade). For whatever security reasons they are not showing it this summer, which our tour guide said is a shame since it's quite beautiful.
Outside the synagogue, on its grounds, is a Holocaust memorial that lists the names of the survivors who stayed in Sweden and then all of their friends and families who perished -- it contains about 8000 names. At the end of it are a set of train tracks that lead out of the grounds to the Raul Wallenberg monument. It is a large stone ball that, in several languages, has a phrase along the lines of It was a straight path to death, but it was a long, winding, and dangerous path to survival. In between the train tacks are stones from the ghetto in Budapest, a gift from that city to the Stockholm Jewish community/synagogue.