There may not be many Jews living in the Danish capital today, but the local community is world-famous for the exceptional protection it received from its government and their compatriots during World War II. Despite the challenges of emigration and assimilation, which are typical of many other Jewish communities across Europe, the Jews of Copenhagen—approximately 2,500—still form a vibrant, dynamic community. And later this year, they are hoping to return into their 184-year-old great synagogue, which is scheduled to reopen in August.
The synagogue, located in the very heart of the city center, was completed in 1833.
“In a time when the rest of Europe was separating into different Jewish communities, the rabbis in Copenhagen gathered all the small synagogues that existed in private houses, managing to gather everyone under one roof,” said Jair Melchior, who’s been the chief rabbi of Denmark for the last four years.
The architect who designed the building, Gustaf Friedrich Hetsch, was a German man who arrived to the city in 1815. Throughout its history, the shul was renovated nearly ten times.
About 200 people—over several thousands Jews living in Denmark—attend services on Shabbat at the great synagogue. The community has a school, a retirement home, and a grocery store which sells meat. Last year, the local Chabad house also opened a kosher restaurant.
Bent Silber, who was the president of the community for 11 years, has been in charge of the fundraising and the oversight of the renovation project. With the help of several Danish foundations and privates, he raised 23 million Danish kroner (about $3.7 million). An additional $300,000 are needed to complete the renovation.
After August, the synagogue will look almost exactly as it did before, but the heating, the ventilation, and the lighting systems will be completely new. Silber said they are also adding a “Shabbos elevator” for the ladies to reach the upstairs balconies, and the walls are being repainted.
While the renovation is taking place, the congregants have moved to the adjacent community center for services.
“The atmosphere has changed while praying in the community center,” said the rabbi. “Now we sit closer to each other, it’s more cozy. I hope this can continue after we move back into the synagogue.” As with every change, Melchior hopes this physical renovation can be an opportunity for a renewal of the community itself. His dream, he said, is to get the congregants to sing and participate more during services.