A Glance into a Synagogue in Copenhagen

By Natalie Friedman

On my way to the library in Copenhagen, Denmark I spontaneously stopped to look at a reflective plate in front of a synagogue. On a gold plate, there was an engraved Jewish star. I watched an elegant older woman wearing a fur coat and jewels walk into the synagogue through the glass doors. As the glass door behind her closed, I said, “Excuse me, excuse me!” She looked at me, unsure of what to do. A policeman appeared out of nowhere, but I assumed he came from one of the two the police cars guarding the street. He said with urgency, “How can I help you?” Perhaps my large backpack scared him.  I looked at both the woman and the policeman and I asked if there were any events for the holidays. He said, “Not anymore, but check Chabad.” I replied, “Wow, the security is….” unsure of what to say. He replied, “Well, welcome to Europe,” in a tone as if the danger was obvious and just old news. I found myself surprisingly upset after this encounter. I was upset that they thought I would threaten this building. I was upset that a type of place that I once called home was so heavily guarded and surrounded with fear.

I walked into the library and right away, I called the synagogue to ask about how I could see it. I was determined to get in and to gain a more positive experience of the Jewish community that I deeply cared about. I called because I was scared of the procedure that I might have to go through if I approached the building again. From the phone call, I learned that either I needed an appointment or I was allowed to come in for services (today or tomorrow), and I could only enter with my passport. That day was Shabbat, a weekly Jewish holiday, and it was also Chanukah, a yearly Jewish holiday. That day was special and I would go to seek out a familiar community in Copenhagen.

The fact that I needed a passport was not only for safety reasons, but also so that security could make an assumption based on my religion and origin. When I arrived again, I was asked questions like “Where you from?”, “Why are you in Copenhagen?”, and “Why have you not been here before?” Perhaps, subconsciously, I knew the synagogue would be heavily guarded, and maybe this was why I didn’t seek out the Jewish community in Copenhagen earlier (as this event was in the 5th month of my stay). I imagine that this is how stereotyped “dangerous” groups feel: alienated and feared. Was this why I was so upset? From this situation I learned two things: First, my attempt to call the synagogue made me conscious of the importance of Judaism to me. Second, I understood that communities who feel alienated and feared may become fearful or resentful. I believe this experience serves as a sign or marker that reflects a change in me and my filter of the world.

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