The Israeli community in Aarhus

By Nili Fainguelernt, photos by Vlad Dumitrescu-Petrica

Anti-Semitic hostility is on the rise. From Jewish cemeteries being vandalized, to people suffering verbal abuse and even deadly attacks, the acts of violence against the Jewish population living in Europe have increased in numbers.  

Scandinavia, a space otherwise known for its tolerance, was not exempt from such events.

On November 9th, on Kristallnacht – the day when Natzi began the Jewish pogrom, a date of painful remembrance for Jewish people, Denmark was faced with various anti-Semitic incidents. A Jewish couple from Silkeborg had found the yellow star of David on their mailbox, the same symbol the Nazi used to identify Jewish people. The same drawing was found in several places in Aarhus as well. In Vallensbæk Strand on the Copenhagen West Bank, a star of David was painted on the wall of a Jewish family’s house. In Randers, 84 Jewish headstones were damaged with several turned over and green paint defacing them, and in East Jutland, a building with a star of David was vandalised with black paint. Aalborg was not spared either. ‘Jew’ was written on a Jewish memorial, according to the Independent.

So, who was behind the vandalism of the Jewish graves?

According to the latest information, the anti-Semitic organisation The Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) has been blamed for some of the recent developments.

The organisation ideology is pure Nazism; they follow the old Nazi mantra ‘that all evil derive from Jews and Judaism’, explains Tina Wilchen Christensen, anthropologist and researcher in extremism at Aarhus University cited by the Avisen.

“We’re not surprised that these attitudes exist in Denmark, we know that there are people in Denmark who are real anti-Semitic and real Nazi. Of course, we are very disturbed that this happens, but we are sure the police will handle this manner the way it needs to be treated, we need to talk about antisemitism in a broader level, in schools. It’s a new generation in Denmark, and they don’t necessarily know so much about what happened during the war. The students must know something about Jews, even to have Jewish schools to talk about themselves because knowledge and information is the best tool to cut back criticism like that.” responded states the communication manager of the Jewish Society in Denmark, Micheal Rachlin.

 “Our message to the members is that it’s very important you’ll report all kind of hate crime, we won’t tell people what they do if they should be more visible or less visible, of course, we happy when people don’t hide. It’s important to show you are a concern, but they’re not afraid.” he concludes.

Who are the Israeli living in Aarhus

From about 200 Israelis living in Aarhus, most of them were born in Israel and then Immigrated to Denmark. The rest were born in another country but still identify themselves as Israelis. Unlike other cities in Denmark, there is no official Israeli community or organisation that is operating in the city.

With the increase of the radical right and Islam in recent years all over Europe, and latest events in Demark, most Israelis are not eager to reveal their nationality and enter into a possible conflict. None of them expressed fear, but they do admit they are careful. “There are specific situations when I choose not to stand out as an Israeli. In these situations, I won’t speak Hebrew out loud with my son, for example. I don’t feel a daily danger, I just know I should be careful in certain circumstances.” says Ruchama, a student at Aarhus University who has been living in Aarhus with her family for the past two years.

“And in some situations, in the university, for example, I’m very proud of it, everybody there knows I’m Israeli, and I even used Israel as a case study in one of the presentations I did.”

So, how does she deal with lack of an official Jewish or Israeli community?

“I’ve met other Israeli people through Facebook groups, or in social events that people organised, I think the main reason there’s nothing organised is just a lack of cooperation. I find my way to continue with the tradition I grew up with, by celebrating it with my family and friends.”

Other people found their way to keep supporting Israel. Anat who has been living in Aarhus for more than 30 years, decided to join the “Danish Israeli Association”. “This organisation was founded in the 60 by Christian Danes who came to volunteer in a kibbutz in Israel and fell in love with the country. Today, the organisation contain around 100 people; the majority are Christian Danes who love Israel. we meet once a month to hear a lecture regarding a topic about Israel, for me, through this organisation, I can keep supporting Israel.” he explains.  

Shakshuka – a place where everybody is welcome

While you won’t find any synagogue to pray in Aarhus, traditions are still kept alive. “Shakshuka” a restaurant, located in Aarhus food market, is the perfect place to fill the craving for Israeli ambience. This is the only place that identifies himself as “Israeli” with Israeli food, Israeli music in the background and many Israeli symbols. The restaurant is runed by William, who arrived in Aarhus from Tel Aviv about 28 years ago. After working for 20 years in another Israeli restaurant that used to be placed in the city Center, he opened his restaurant 1.5 years ago. The restaurant is full of Israeli symbols, plays Israeli music and a varied menu, you will feel in a different country for some time.

Shakshuka, full with Israeli symbols with a closer look you’ll see the Israeli flag (photo: Vlad Dumitrescu-Petrica)

“This place is the only officially Israeli place in the city, I have been waiting for 28 years for somebody who will make a shakshuka; eventually, I decided to take the initiative and open such a place by myself,” tells William. He does not feel that there is a lack of the community: “Since I’ve been here for many years, I already have my Israeli friends, so I don’t feel the lack of an organizing community, but thanks to my restaurant I get to meet the new Israeli who come here.”

William Malloul the man with a passion for people and food (photo: Vlad Dumitrescu-Petrica)

And what about the recent events? “I am not young anymore, and I am not scared. Some days I received comments such as ‘I hate all the Israeli people’. So, I reply and they leave,” William explains. “I would not dare to open such a place on my own in the middle of the street because I know this could be much problematic and could involve vandalism. Here, under the food market, it’s safer. By the way, I think this is one of the reasons we won’t have any synagogue or culture centre here any time soon, any place which declares himself as “officially Jew” require security on a regular base because of the tension in Europe. In Copenhagen since the terror attack a few years ago, there’s security in the synagogue all the time. But I never suffered from something too extreme, the other way around, I have clients from Syria and Lebanon who compliments my Hummus and my Falafel, and I also understood how many Danes do love Israel, for me, it’s the most positive thing that came out of this place.”, he added.

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