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Showing Posts from Sweden  |  View All

Joseph's workshop.
Joseph's workshop.

Yesterday we visited Forsbacka, 190 km north of Stockholm. There is only one known Jewish inhabitant there, but past experiences have proven that it’s quality over quantity. Our time in Forsbacka was no exception.

We had called Joseph several days earlier, so he was expecting us. We made our way to his home, where we were warmly welcomed. Noticing our Tefillin, Joseph told us that three years ago he bought his own pair, and has been waking up at five a.m. every day to put them on and say the blessings.

We told Joseph about ourselves, and he told us about his childhood in Vienna, Austria, and how his youth came to an abrupt end when Hitler annexed Austria in 1938. At the tender age of six Joseph was sent to the concentration camps, where he witnessed the deaths of his entire family before being rescued by the Swedish Red Cross. “That’s how I came to live in Sweden,” he explained. “Thank G‑d, I have a good life here.”

Joseph asked if we could join him outside for a moment. He led us to a shed which he had set up as a woodworking workshop. We admired the various intricate carvings that lined the walls. “I have a surprise for you, “Joseph said, beaming. He presented us with a carving of a Rabbi, complete with a hat, beard, and fringes. “I created this after I met Rabbi Namdar (Chabad Rabbi in Gothenburg).”

It was time to wrap up our visit. In the month of Elul, preceding Rosh Hashana, it is customary to blow the Shofar daily. We explained to Joseph how the Shofar reminds us of G‑d's special and loving relationship with every Jew. As we blew the shofar for him, Joseph, the spirited survivor, had tears in his eyes.

We promised Joseph that though we would soon be heading back to New York, we would stay in touch. In a place so isolated from Judaism, Joseph can use some support and encouragement. And in our day-to-day lives, we can use the inspiration from this beautiful testimony to the power of the Jewish soul.

Sweden is known around the world for being democratic, safe, and clean, with beautiful nature and rich wildlife. In our travels around the country, we have seen deep forests and mountainous terrain, as well as farmland and white sandy beaches. The beauty of our surroundings, however, pales in comparison to the beauty of the souls we have had the privilege of meeting.

Mrs. Weltman lives in the city of Boras where there is a small Jewish community. Nevertheless, we were somewhat taken aback when she welcomed us warmly in fluent Yiddish. We sat down and Mrs. Weltman, whose youthful personality belies her age, shared some old Yiddish jokes with us.

Feeling quite at home, we heard our our host describe what brought her to Sweden. Mrs. Weltman turned somber and told us she had been born in Lodz, Poland, and lived an idyllic life for the first few years, surrounded by her loving, close-knit family. When the Nazis invaded Lodz in 1939, life as she knew it came to an end. She suffered unspeakable horrors in the ensuing years, but survived, along with a small handful of relatives. After the war, they faced the monumental task of carving a new life for themselves. She ended up in Sweden, and has lived there quietly for more than sixty years. The only family she has now is her son and daughter. Thankfully, they both call Sweden home.

"I am so happy to see you," she exclaimed, in Yiddish. "You remind me of my childhood, of my father, my brothers."

Mrs. Weltman phoned her son, who lives nearby, urging him to come and meet us. A dutiful son, he came immediately. We introduced ourselves to him, and explained the purpose of our travels. Of course, we asked him if he would like to put on tefillin.

"I haven't put on tefillin since my Bar Mitzvah many years ago," he said. "But since you came especially to visit us, I will put on tefillin today."

We helped him do the mitzvah, an experience which visibly moved him. He closed his eyes, and prayed for himself and his family.

We stayed a while longer, teaching some Torah concepts to our captive audience.

As we headed to our next appointment, we felt newly invigorated by our encounter with this unassuming heroine.

We are thinking about trading our car for this fine specimen.
We are thinking about trading our car for this fine specimen.
With an Israeli in his vineyard.
With an Israeli in his vineyard.
Tefillin in Halmstad city.
Tefillin in Halmstad city.
Installing our 10th mezuzah
Installing our 10th mezuzah
Shema up north!
Shema up north!
With a friend in Halmstad.
With a friend in Halmstad.

These fine fellows took a picture with us.
These fine fellows took a picture with us.
And then they took another one.
And then they took another one.
We shared good times together.
We shared good times together.
Lookin' good.
Lookin' good.
Lookin' even better with a hat!
Lookin' even better with a hat!

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