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Moshe David HaCohen
Director of Amanah in Sweden

Malmö Jewish community celebrates life and future

Malmö community celebrates life and future
עד מאה ועשרים שנה – Ad Meah V’esrim Shana
120 year celebration speech given at Malmö Synagogue, May 26 2024.

 

Dear distinguished guests, leaders of the community, rabbi gesundheit, community members,

It is a true honour to be here today, in this historical moment of celebration of 120 years of this beautiful synagogue. The Greek term synagogue, a place of gathering, is a translation of the Hebrew and Aramaic term “Beit Knesset”, a home of gathering, which goes back to Talmudic times. In Yiddish the term used is shul, meaning school or a place of learning. Indeed, the synagogue is an active place of communal gathering and learning.

The Beit Knesset is also a home, a place where one feels safe, a place where one can know that he or she is welcomed and accepted. Throughout the Jewish history, as well as today, every Jew knows that wherever they are, whatever the weather may be, they have a welcoming space for them to put down their belongings, get a cup of warm tea, and find a place to stay. According to Jewish law, the synagogue is the first thing that must be built in a community, that there be a central home for all.

If we could only listen to the walls and imagine how many have stood here in this space and opened their hearts, sharing joyous moments, and moments of grief. Let us listen today to their voices.

From the founders who came looking for a brighter future, to the home it became for so many who escaped persecution. From the pogroms in Russia and the Ukraine in the late 19th and early 20th century, to Jews escaping from Germany in the 1930’s. The service that was stopped on the High Holidays in 1943, as the Jews left the synagogue to go to the harbour to welcome the Danish Jews, who escaped the Nazis with the courageous help of the Danish and Swedish fisherman in 1943. Those who arrived with the White Buses, and those saved by Raoul Wallenberg. The thousands of Holocaust survivors who were welcomed by the Swedish government and the city of Malmö, for whom this home became their first place of spiritual refuge and revival after the War. The list goes on and on, jews escaping from Hungary following the revolution in 1956, and those escaping the antisemitism in Poland in 1968. The generations that followed, where each community member can share how his grandparents stood in their place, how as young children the place was so packed they was no room for them to stand. And no less important, the youngsters today, who proudly continue the 120-year-old traditions that have been passed down to them.

For all those who came, the synagogue was an open home, a place of safety. One could show up and would be welcomed. Today, we have a fence, security cameras, and the need for security checks on anyone who wishes to visit. The past is preserved well, but there will be no future life if no fresh air can enter the synagogue.

In November 2019, the community commemorated Kristallnacht here in this synagogue. But instead of talking about the Nazi’s and their persecution, we spoke of how the synagogue was the heart of the community and a beaming lighthouse for the city. Hundreds of people, including the mayor Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh here with us today, came to show their positive support, not as usual because we had been attacked, but because we chose to share an open door and light.

The educational centre in this building, with the support of the municipality does the same today, sharing Jewish traditions and history in a positive way with thousands of visiting students. The challenges of the community and the antisemitism are mentioned as well, but the best way to break down stereotypes is with knowledge, bridging and interaction.

This community has made a courageous choice – that their identity not be based on those who hate, rather on the positive that we represent.

In Jewish tradition, 120 years has a special meaning of completion. As mentioned at the end of the Torah, the 5 books of Moses, our leader Moses passed away at the age of 120. What he had achieved in his lifetime was truly incredible and unparalleled: Growing up as a prince in the Palace of Pharoh, running for his life, coming back to convince the nation of slaves that they could be free, standing up to Pharoah the leader of the world and demanding “let my people go”, leading the people through the desert and sea, speaking directly with God, bringing the Torah down from the Heavens, the list goes on and on.

Yet, before he passes away at 120, Moses in not content with what he has achieved, rather troubled and concentrated on giving direction and empowering his successor Joshua and through him the Nation of Israel’s future survival. We must always think of how to build from our successes of the past to build a future. It is for this reason that in the Jewish tradition we bless each other with health and long life “Ad Meah V’esrim Shanah” – until 120 years, that we follow the example of Moses our entire lives.
(Interestingly, in this synagogue this blessing was cut down to 100 years, I guess because of the Swedish birthday song: Javisst ska han leva uti hundrade år!)

Today we are in unique circumstances. Since Oct 7, Jews around the world are facing unprecedented levels of antisemitism and threats. Just this last weekend, swastikas were painted throughout the town of Malmö. Thank God, we have seen no attacks on the synagogue and community. We are grateful to all those who provide the security, as well as those leaders and civil society, who are spreading the message that whatever political differences we may have, the Jews in Malmö must feel safe. Every Jewish child must be able to be publicly proud of their identity as well as in school or we will have no future generation.

We stand here today proud of our past and determined to continue the special history and traditions that are embedded in the walls. 120 years of rich history with many, many more to come. Let this home of prayer be an open one for all, sharing hope, light and caring which are the essence of the Jewish tradition.
L’chaim, to life! Am Israel Chai!

About the Author
Moshe David HaCohen is the director of Amanah: The Muslim Jewish Partnership of Trust in Sweden which builds trust between the communities as well as society - in order to jointly counter discrimination, antisemitism and islamophobia. Rabbi HaCohen is also director of the Nordic Beit Midrash and network of orthodox rabbis in the Scandinavian counties, as well as the Scandinavian Beit Din.
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