There are some 1,500 Jews in Helsinki, the capital (1,100 of whom are community members) and another 200 in Turku. Jewish settlement in Finland is relatively recent, dating back to 1825. The first Jews to settle in the country were Russian army conscripts—the so-called Cantonists who served in Russian-ruled Finland and who were permitted to remain there upon completion of their military service. These Jews were later joined by others from Russia, Poland and Lithuania. Jews living in Finland were subject to many restrictions, including obligatory registration. These restrictions were abolished once the country became independent in 1917. In the late 1930s, admission was granted to about 250 Jewish refugees from Central Europe, and in recent years a number of Jews from the former Soviet Union, Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe found sanctuary in the country.
Finnish Jewry was spared the horrors of the Holocaust, in part due to the resolute stand of the Finnish authorities who refused to surrender Finnish Jews to the Germans. When Himmler demanded that Finnish Jews be turned over, Prime Minister Rangell is reported to have said that the Jews of Finland were decent people and loyal citizens whose sons fought in the army like other Finns. “We have no Jewish question here,” Rangell declared. However, seven Jewish refugees from Central Europe who had fled to Finland were deported to Germany, and only one survived. In a strange twist of history, Finnish Jews fought in the Finnish army alongside German forces in the war against Russia, when Finland was allied with Nazi Germany.
The Central Council of Jewish Communities in Finland is the leading communal body. The community’s outstanding priority is the preservation of the Jewish heritage, including stemming the tide of assimilation. In addition to attending the Jewish school and other extracurricular Jewish educational activities provided by the community, most Finnish-Jewish youth are sent on a visit to Israel as teenagers in order to bolster their sense of Jewish identity. The community also maintains a home for the aged. Finnish Jews have been active in inter-Nordic cooperation and in reaching out to their Jewish neighbors across the Baltic, particularly in Estonia. The Central Council of Jewish Comminities in Finland has been a voting member of both the WJC and the EJC since their inception.
Central Council of Jewish Communities in Finland
00100 Helsinki 10
Tel. 358 – 0 694 1303
Fax. 358 0 694 8916
Formal relations were established between Israel and Finland in 1948. Aliya – Since 1948, 723 Finnish Jews have immigrated to Israel.
The leading sites of Jewish interest in Helsinki are the synagogue, the adjacent community center and the Jewish cemetery where a section is devoted to the Jews who fell in the Finnish Army in the Russo-Finnish and Continuation Wars.
In Helsinki, there is a store selling kosher products, which is open five days a week, and there are two kosher bakeries. One specializes in pitot, the other in boulangerie-type breads, all Pat Yisrael under the supervision of Chief Rabbi Livson.
For up to date information on Kosher restaurants and locations please see the Shamash Kosher Database.
There are only two synagogues in the country—one in Helsinki and the other in Turku. Services are conducted according to Orthodox practice. Most Finnish Jews, however, are less observant in their private lives. In 2013, Rabbi Simon Livson was appointed chief rabbi. Though Israeli-born, he is the son of Finnish Jews who returned to Finland when he was child. Rabbi Livson is the first Finnish-speaking rabbi in the history of Finnish Jewry.
There is a Jewish elementary school in Helsinki, in which some 100 students are enrolled from grades one to nine, and a Jewish kindergarten for ages 3–6 with some 40 children. The community also operates an extensive bnei mitsva program for all Jewish children. There is also an active chapter of the B’nei Akiva youth movement. In Turku, the community operates a Sunday school program.
In Helsinki, Chabad Lubavitch also operates a kindergarten for ages 1–3 with 20 children, and runs many programs.