King of Norway visits Jewish community
Norwegian King Harald V visited Oslo’s Jewish community on Tuesday as part of an effort to reach out to the country’s minorities.
It was the first time a king visited the Norwegian Jewish community in its more than 100 years of existence.
“The king is in fact giving the Jews the feeling that anyone who lives in this country is part of the Norwegian society,” said Rabbi Joav Melchior of the Oslo Jewish community, who moved from Jerusalem to Norway three years ago, following in his father’s footsteps. Former Israeli social and Diaspora affairs minister Michael Melchior was the rabbi of Oslo for 19 years.
The king toured Oslo’s synagogue and the connected Jewish community center with congregation president Anne Sender and Joav Melchior.
Melchior told Harald about the history of Norwegian Jewry, its destruction in the Holocaust, and the current state of the Jewish community.
The community presented the king with a framed Hebrew and Norwegian print of the blessing recited every week during Shabbat services for the well being of the country and the royal family.
The children in the kindergarten gave the king a book with pictures and drawings of major Jewish holidays. They finished their visit with the monarch by singing “Heveinu Shalom Aleichem.”
The king heard from youth leaders of the Norway Bnei Akiva movement about their weekly meetings and weekend conferences around Scandinavia. He also visited the afternoon heder where students study Judaism after school.
“He came to see how we live,” Melchior said about the king’s interest in Jewish life. “He even came to see the mikve.”
The king listened to a reading from the Torah scrolls in the synagogue’s sanctuary.
Although it was the king’s first visit to the Jewish community center, Crown Prince Haakon Magnus met with the Norwegian Jewish student organization a few months ago to discuss the group’s mission to spread knowledge about Judaism.
Dvorah Geldman, a Bnei Akiva emissary to Norway from Efrat, appreciated the king’s visit in the shadow of the intense anti-Israel protests experienced in Norway during Operation Cast Lead in January.
“Every time we went outside the security guards came with us,” said Geldman, discussing the level of anti-Semitism during the fighting in Gaza.
About 700 Jews live in Oslo and 200 in Trondheim.
Jews moved to Norway at the end of the 19th century after the long-standing prohibition of Jewish immigration was repealed.
The community began rebuilding after its destruction during the Holocaust when the Norwegian government admitted a few hundred survivors in 1947.
Shabbat morning services at the Oslo synagogue draw an average of 80 worshipers and Bnei Akiva programs brings in 20 to 30 youngsters every Sunday.
After the visit, Harald said, according to the Norwegian news agency NTB, “It has been a very pleasant and interesting visit, and a part of a bigger plan we have had for a while about visiting a diversity of religious congregations here in Norway in the immediate future.
“In October, we plan to meet with the Islamic Council of Norway.”