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.