In Copenhagen Shooting Aftermath, Danish Jews Treading Fine Line

'We will be subdued somewhat, but we will celebrate' says Denmark's Chief Rabbi Jair Melchior.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Flower tributes on the ground near a synagogue where its volunteer guard, Dan Uzan, was murdered in a terrorist attack. Copenhagen, Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015
Flower tributes on the ground near a synagogue where its volunteer guard, Dan Uzan, was murdered in a terrorist attack. Copenhagen, Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015Credit: AP
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

COPENHAGEN – This coming Shabbat there is a bar mitzvah planned at the central synagogue of Copenhagen. Despite the shooting at the entrance to the building on Saturday night which killed Dan Uzan, a volunteer who was standing guard together with two police officers who were wounded, the Jewish community has promised not to change any plans. This morning shaharit prayers were scheduled to take place as usual, following the synagogue’s closure on Sunday by police request.

“We will be subdued somewhat, but we will celebrate” says Chief Rabbi Jair Melchior. Like many Jews in Copenhagen, indeed in all of Europe, he is trying to tread a fine line between warning of further anti-Semitic attacks and insisting that Jewish life will go on as normal. Community spokesman Samuel Cholewa said, “We are shocked but we can’t say we’re surprised. After all it was in the air.”

Meanwhile, there was a lot of angry feeling among Jews over the calls earlier in the day by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the Jews of Europe to move to Israel. “I don’t want to have a confrontation with him and he isn’t the first Israeli prime minister to speak like that,” says Rabbi Melchior, himself an Israeli citizen and son of Michael Melchior, a liberal rabbi and former Israeli cabinet minister. “But it certainly isn’t helpful to say such things. People should move to Israel out of Zionism, not out of threats.”

Another community member who requested anonymity was much more succinct: “Why doesn’t Netanyahu just shut up? He doesn’t realize how much damage he is doing to us with these statements, at least I hope he doesn’t.” Unlike with the four Jews murdered in Paris last month, there is no suggestion in Copenhagen that Uzan’s body will be brought for burial in Israel. “This is where he belongs, there’s no question about that,” said Jair Melchior.

Some local Jews, though, did find Netanyahu’s words comforting. “Israel will always be our home and that’s a good thing,” said Nadja Klevovodnya, a doctor and mother of two. “I know that Israel will always accept us happily if we need it,” she said, adding, “I don’t want to leave, but if I do, I hope it will be from my own free will and not because someone is making me.”

Throughout the day and evening, thousands of Danish citizens arrived in the narrow street in front of the synagogue, the great majority of them non-Jewish, and stood for a few minutes quietly, laid flowers or lit a memorial candle. On the synagogue fence, above the carpet of flowers, someone had written in Danish, Hebrew and Arabic the words “Muslims and Jews refuse to be enemies.”

Some local residents tried in vain to make sense of what had happened. Two anthropology students from Copenhagen University, Isabella Christensen and Ronjan Gron, laid a pot with purple flowers and Christensen said, “I don’t want to condone it any way but I think that it’s not just security that can deal with this, but also something has to be done by society about the feeling of Muslim exclusion here in Denmark.

“It is connected also with the frustration that a lot of the Muslims are feeling about what happened in Gaza,” Gron continued, “not that it justifies this in any way. Some people don’t have any nuances and that’s why they mix between Israelis and Jews. I was in the demonstration against what was happening in Gaza during the summer and no one who was there would have done this.”

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