It took a while, but my story on the Jews of Copenhagen went live today. The eyes of the world on the Copenhagen climate summit this week, but the city’s Jewish community is pondering a freeze of their own.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (JTA) — Forty years ago, when a few thousand Polish Jewish refugees arrived in Denmark fleeing an anti-Semitic campaign orchestrated by Poland’s Communist government, Danish Jews welcomed the newcomers with high hopes.
Previous waves of Jewish immigrants had rejuvenated a community marked by high rates of intermarriage, assimilation and emigration, and Denmark’s Jews held out the same hopes for these new immigrants.
But many of the Polish Jews were assimilated and saw little value in Jewish affiliation, and even those who joined the active Jewish community have seen their children — following the example of generations of Danish Jews before them — intermarry and drift from Jewish life in Denmark.
“Our children, even some of them who went to Jewish school, most of them are getting assimilated,” said Jacob Zylber, who arrived in Denmark four decades ago at age 23. “You cannot do much about it."
Today, Denmark’s Jewish community of some 2,000 members is scarcely bigger than it was 40 years ago. With no great wave of Jewish immigrants on the horizon, Jewish leaders fear they may be witnessing the death throes of a community that dates back to the 17th century.
"It will be a very, very small community, and probably a more cultural, social, friendship club," said Bent Lexner, the country’s chief rabbi, when asked what he foresees for Danish Jewry. "You never know what’s going on tomorrow. But as I see it now, there will be very few people who are identifying themselves as traditional Jews."