This week marks a special moment for Denmark’s small Jewish community, as the country’s only Jewish school moves into a new purpose-built building three years after a deadly terror attack on the community in Copenhagen.
This coming Monday will be a day of mixed emotions for supporters of Caroline Jewish Day School. With the unveiling of its new buildings, Danish Jews will also remember almost three years to the day, when the 7,000-strong Jewish community was shocked to its core by a deadly Islamist attack in the capital.
At the Jewish community centre that day, 15 February 2015, were Ronen and Charlotte Thalmay, guests at a batmitzvah party.
“After midnight, a guard came in screaming ‘stop the music, run to the basement,’” recalls Charlotte, vice-president of the Zionist Federation in Denmark.
A second security guard, Dan Uzan, had been shot and killed outside by a radicalised Muslim man whose intention was to force his way in.
The attacker escaped and a Danish anti-terror unit arrived to evacuate 40 adults and children who had been hiding for more than two hours in a tiny basement room.
The Danish community was already living with a sense of unease. In 2012, the Israeli Embassy in Copenhagen warned Jewish tourists to refrain from wearing Jewish symbols on the street or speaking Hebrew loudly.
In 2014, in the aftermath of Israeli operations in Gaza, the private Caroline Jewish Day School in Copenhagen told its pupils not to wear religious symbols near school grounds for security reasons, arguing that it was “a consequence of being a Jewish institution”.
The small community is proud of its history and contribution, listing famous Danish Jews including Nobel Prize winning physicist Niels Bohr, entertainer Victor Borge and Oscar-winning film director Susanne Bier.
The state continues to protect its Jewish minority, providing security funding, with the help of Denmark’s police and military. Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen told a Rosh Hashanah reception in September 2015 that Danish Jews “are and will always be an invaluable part of Danish society”.
That society now has beautiful new buildings to celebrate on Monday, when the school reopens. Founded in 1805, it has an enrolment of about 170 Jewish students aged between six and 16.
Charlotte says: “The Jewish school’s reopening [in new buildings] will ensure Jewish life in Denmark for many years to come.”
However, she adds: “For the first time in 400 years of Danish Jewish history, we were met by military when we arrived for the Kol Nidrei service last year,” she says. “Things have changed in this beautiful peaceful country of ours.