Community in Finland - World Jewish Congress

Finland

According to the estimates of Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola’s “World Jewish Population, 2016,” Finland is home to between 1,300 and 1,900 Jews, making it the third largest Jewish community in Scandinavia (following Sweden and Denmark). Largely integrated into Finnish society, Jews in Finland enjoy a sense of stability and are prominent in a number of high offices of state. The Jewish community in Finland is represented by the Suomen Juutalaisten Seurakuntien Keskusneuvosto (The Central Council of Jewish Communities of Finland) – the Finnish affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate

Suomen Juutalaisten Seurakuntien Keskusneuvosto
(The Central Council of Jewish Communities of Finland)

Telephone: +358 9 586 0310
Fax: +358 9 586 03130
E-mail: srk@jchelsinki.fi
Website: http://www.jchelsinki.fi/en

President: Yaron Nadbornik


Community News


History

The history of Jews in Finland is a relatively recent development, as Jews were initially prohibited from settling in Finland, part of the Swedish Kingdom until 1809, under Swedish law. When Finland became a grand duchy of the Russian Empire, the prohibition of Jewish settlement (as well as the Swedish constitution and legal system) prevailed and there continued to be no Jews in the country.

Jewish settlement in Finland began sometime after the absorption of the country into the Russian Empire, as Jewish soldiers (“Cantonists”) who served in the Russian Army, were permitted to settle in the area with their families. An official decree in 1858 confirmed this policy. As a result, a small Jewish community was established in Finland and in 1872, Finland’s legislative assembly at the time, the Finnish Diet, began discussing the legal status of Jews settling in the country. There were a number of restrictions placed on the country’s initial Jewish settlers, including limited occupations available to Jews and limits on how long they could stay in the country (most were given temporary clearance to live in Finland).

The Jewish community continued to grow throughout the nineteenth century, and with the increase in population, came an increase in questions regarding the status of Jews in Finland. However, it was not until Finland achieved independence in 1917 that Jews in that country were granted full civil rights. This included full citizenship, and as a result of such a change in status, and the arrival of Jewish immigrants from Soviet Russia, the Jewish population reached its highest level ever – around 2,000 people – during the interwar period.

After the end of World War II, almost all Finnish Jews were integrated into Finnish society and there was a general acceptance of the Jewish community. The War of Independence for the State of Israel in 1948 saw Finnish Jewish volunteers participate at a rate proportionally greater than any other Diaspora community. Emigration – mainly to Israel – contributed to a decline in the Finnish Jewish community that continued throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. Max Jakobson served as the Finnish Ambassador to the UN from 1965 to 1971..

Today, the Finnish Jewish community is well integrated into general Finnish society and are able to freely and openly practice their religion without issue. Antisemitism has not been a large issue in Finland and Ben Zyskowicz, the first Finnish Jew elected to Parliament, has served since 1979.

The years of the Holocaust

During the course of World War II, Finnish Jews continued to enjoy full civil rights without any doubt as to their status as Finnish citizens. Finnish Jews fought beside their non-Jewish fellow countrymen in the Winter War, the invasion of Finland by the Soviets in 1939, and later, in strange twist of history, fought alongside German soldiers in the Continuation War of 1941 to 1944 as co-belligerents.

Jews in Finland were spared the horrors of the Holocaust due to the unwavering position that the Finnish government took against pressures from the Nazis. It is said that when pressed by Himmler, Prime Minister Johan Wilhelm Rangell said “We have no Jewish question here.” There were, however, seven Jewish refugees from Central Europe deported to Germany, with only one surviving. There was strong protest and criticism of this action at the time, and recently, Finland has officially apologized for doing so.

Demography

The Finnish Jewish community estimates that there are around 1,300 Jews in the country out of a total population of 5,518,371.  Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola estimated that there were between 1,300 and 1,900 Jews in Finland as of 2010.

The majority of Jews in Finland live in Helsinki, the capital, and cities surrounding it. A smaller community can be found in Turku.

Community Life

The Suomen Juutalaisten Seurakuntien Keskusneuvosto (The Central Council of Jewish Communities of Finland) is the leading communal body and is made up of the communities of Helsinki and Turku. It works as a consultative body for Finnish Jewry and a preserver of Jewish heritage in Finland. The Central Council of Jewish Communities of Finland also works in close connection with other Nordic Jewish communities, as well as Estonia.

Jewish life in Finland is largely centered in Helsinki, where there are number of communal activities and institutions, including a library, choir, WIZO, the Jewish National Fund, Keren Hayesod and a Maccabi sports club. The community also maintains a home for the elderly. There is also a community center in Turku.

Religious and Cultural life

The Jewish communities in Helsinki and Turku both follow Ashkenazi-Orthodox rituals and each city has a synagogue. There is a beautiful mikveh in Helsinki that was rebuilt in 2014. In 2013, Rabbi Simon Livson was appointed chief rabbi and serves the Helsinki Jewish community. The Community employs two Finnish speaking rabbis in otal. Additionally, there is a Chabad in Helsinki.

Kosher food is available in Finland through two local online food delivery services and a kosher catering.

Jewish Education

There is a Jewish elementary school in Helsinki, in which some 100 students are enrolled from grades one to nine, ages 7-15. there is also a Jewish kindergarten and preschool for children ages 3–6 with some 40 students. The community also operates an extensive Bnei Mitzvah program for all Jewish children.

Youth

There is an active chapter of the B'nei Akiva youth movement in Finland and many young Finnish Jews are sent to visit Israel as teenagers through the auspices of the community to foster a sense of Jewish identity and connection to Israel.

Information for visitors

The leading sites of Jewish interest in Helsinki are the synagogue, the adjacent community center, the stolpersteine memorials for deported Jewwish refugees, and the Jewish cemetery where a section is devoted to the Jews who fell in the Finnish Army in the Russo-Finnish and Continuation Wars.

Israel

Israel and Finland maintain full diplomatic ties, with formal relations between two countries established in 1948.

Embassy of Israel in Finland
Yrjönkatu 36 A
00100 Helsinki

Telephone: +358-(0)9-6812020
Fax: +358-(0)9-1356959
Email: info@helsinki.mfa.gov.il

Updated

 

August 2018

Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter
The latest from the Jewish world