Jewish Stockholm

Feature by Willard Manus

The city is a surprise. It's not terribly old by European standards and it's not a very European city by American standards. Stockholm is built on fourteen islands and peninsulas connected by numerous bridges. Which is why some people call it "the Venice of the North."

Each of Stockholm's components has a life and character of its own. One would expect the result to be messy and discordant, but in fact the opposite is true. The pieces of Stockholm fit together as easily and precisely as a jigsaw puzzle. Swedish planning and styling have brought form out of chaos and created a cosmopolitan city of unexpected charm and beauty.

All that water gives the city its special character. Ferries chug to and fro sending frothy waves to splash against the columns of low-lying bridges and dams. Swans glide along the canals and noisy families of hens and ducks squabble over the scraps Swedish kids toss from the riverfront promenades.

In the evening the promenades are gaily lit and crowded with long-limbed girls in their summer dresses, men with trim, red-tinged beards. Young and old alike head to one of Stockholm's many open-air parks where they dine and dance under the white light of the Nordic sky.

There are many other splendid tourist attractions, such as Drottingholm Palace, nearly an hour away by steamer, and the dazzlingly-lit Djurgarden Island, which boasts of an amusement park, open-air theatres and restaurants.

The Jewish traveler will find much of interest, beginning with the Jewish Museum (Halsingegata 2, open six days a week from noon to four pm). The history of the Swedish Jews is on display here, with an emphasis on art, literature and culture.

Judaica House (Nybrogatan 19), the Jewish Community Center of Stockholm, offers social, sport and cultural programs. A kosher (dairy) cafeteria is attached, plus offices, a mikveh, and a gift and book shop. Call 662-6686 or 663-6566 for information.

Raoul Wallenberg Park, named after the young, idealistic Swedish diplomat who did so much during WW II to save Jewish lives in Hungary, is located near Judaica House (and such other landmarks as the Strand Hotel, Royal Dramatic Theatre and the famous Great Synagogue).

Located at Wahrendorffsgatan 3A, the latter is a massive, free-standing temple designed by the noted architect Fredrik Vilhelm Scholander (1816-81). Because Swedish Jews had a secure and important standing in society, they could build on a scale which reflected their pride and wealth. Constructed over a two-year period (1869-70), the synagogue does not reflect the other local architecture of its time. As one critic noted, it represents a Jewish need for "an expression of its own within a larger national culture."

The synagogue's interior cornices and elaborate inscriptions incorporate details from Assyrian, Gothic and Moorish architecture, giving the prayer hall an Eastern flavor. Rabbi Philip Spectre, a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, is also the chief rabbi of Sweden. He describes the synagogue as Ashkenazic, Liberal and Conservative--with an organ and mixed seating in one section.

There are two other smaller, more Orthodox synagogues in Stockholm. Call 8-644-1995 for information.

Just a short walk away from the Great Synagogue is King's Park, watched over by the marble headquarters of Swedish banks and the fortress walls of the Match Palace, where Ivar Kreuger once commanded his vast industrial empire.

Also within walking distance is the Old Town, a maze of medieval streets lined with tiny shops and bistros, vest-pocket theatres and squares. No kosher restaurants to be found here, but the ubiquitous vegetarian eateries should suffice.