Jewish people first became legal citizens of Sweden in 1775, and there has been a strong Jewish presence there since. There are now approximately 18,000 Jews living in Sweden, most of whom live in Stockholm, Sweden's capital. Since Jewish festivals are all set within the Hebrew calendar, which is based on the cycles of the moon, the celebrations take place at the same time as the rest of the world. While the community is small, the holidays are festive and filled with the warmth and love generated by the Swedish people.
Holy days, holidays
The first holidays of the year are celebrated in the Hebrew month of Tishrei, which usually falls in September or October. The first holiday is the new year or Rosh Hashanah. There are some beautiful, large synagogues in which to pray and hear the traditional ram's horn or shofar being sounded in Stockholm, including Judiska Församlingen i Malmö and Adat Jeschurun. There is also a large selection of Jewish food staples here that are certified kosher.
On the 25th day of Kislev, which usually falls out in middle of December, the first light on the Chanukah menorah is lit and one more is lit each night for eight nights. Gifts are exchanged and symbolic foods such as Swedish gelé donoughts (jelly donoughts) and raggmunk (potato pancakes) are eaten. The Jewish outreach organization Chabad has constructed a huge menorah in the center of Stockholm to celebrate Chanukah.
Purim in Stockholm
In the middle of the Jewish month of Adar, February or March in the Julian calendar, Jews in Stockholm celebrate the holy day of Purim, during which the "Book of Esther" is read in synagogues all around the world. In the morning, after a second reading of the "Book of Esther," children and adults alike, dressed up in all types of fanciful costumes, bring baskets of food to family, friends, neighbors and the needy. This is followed by a meal and it is a most joy-filled holy day. Tricornered pastries filled with poppy seed or other flavors are served and placed into the gift baskets. This tradition is the same in Sweden as throughout the world. Jews may move from one place to the other and the traditions of the people around them become absorbed into their life, but when it is a holiday for Jews anywhere in the world, from Sweden to Kenya to Israel, Jews will be celebrating it in a very similar manner.
Next comes the month of Nissan, or April, and we find ourselves in the center of preparation for Passover. Every nook and cranny is cleaned to get rid of any trace of unleavened bread. The first nights of Passover, the 15th and 16th of Nissan, sometime in April, are celebrated with a festive meal substituting matzo, or osyrat bröd, as it is called in Sweden. Once the story of the Jewish people's exodus from Egypt has been told, the meal begins. It is customary to serve bringa, best translated as brisket, with potatoes, carrots and other vegetables. A variety of Swedish wines are used to keep the four cups of wine filled.
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