A Growing Community

Our community is of the Nordic Jewish communities the only growing one. The growth has been almost continuous since 1982. What our community has managed to do is something that not many others have achieved. A significant thing is of course that we have been to be able to draw newcomers into the fold, but even more importantly, is the deep affection with which the existing members feel for their community. To many of us our community is the continuation of our family, a community that surrounds us. In practice this means that the Community is of interest, whether you were ni contact with it daily, monthly or less often. our community awakens passion and thought, even if viewed from a bit further away than through daily interaction.

Our community’s current membership, about 1 050 persons, divides into age groups as follows:

Under 18-year old

20,6 %

18–30-year old

15, 2%

30–45-year old

17,9 %

45–65-year old      

28,6 %

Over 65-year old

17,7 %

The above numbers meant in short, generalizing strongly, that each age group has about a fifth of the community members and that less than 20% are over 65. As many other communities’ age pyramid resembles an upside down pyramid, our division is more of a column. We are able to renew ourselves and will continue to do so also in the future.

I asked other neighboring Jewish Communities of the reason for their declining membership and the answers were quite short but surprisingly similar: ”General assimilation, large number of older members, the Israelis and Russians are not interested in joining the Community, the youth is not interested.”

From our own demography we can see that there are a bit less of young adults than others in proportion. It seems to be that some young adults do resign after becoming independent, but join again after they start having their own children. The biggest difference to the responses that other’s gave is perhaps that we have a good number of members with an Israeli background and a decent amount of Russian speakers, and the youth is staying as members.

During last winter I visited Hamburg on a business trip and went after work to get acquainted with the local synagogue where I was warmly welcomed by the local Community Board’s Vice-President Mr. Philipp Stricharz and also by the Chief Rabbi Mr. Shlomo Bistritzky. In our discussion we wound up talking with Rabbi Bistritzky about membership in a Jewish Community and he asked an important question: why should anyone be a member of a Jewish community? The question was of course a rhetorical one, but all the same important. For us, the individuals to whom membership in a Jewish community is self-evident, the question seems odd – there are naturally many reasons to be a member. If we go deeper into the answer we see that every individual person’s membership in a community is the sum of many choices on an individual level. It is difficult to give one definitive answer. What inspires a person to become a member of any community? Perhaps interest on a general level; some warm experience or a memory from childhood; family pressure; children’s education; the vicinity of the place of residence to the Community; being religious; the desire to develop as a person; the longing for a framework or a completely different reason. There are most likely more answers than we could ask questions.

To continue as a growing community, I feel it is important to predict the needs of the Community members. Here we reach the intersection of the possible and the impossible. How to predict a development that did not yet occur? How does an interesting and appealing Jewish Community look like in the future?

I want us to continue as a growing Jewish Community. It is easy to agree with this sentence, but much more difficult to make it a reality. Growth can only be fueled by development, and this we can accelerate by our actions.  My own view is that exclusively a community, where the members have a strong Jewish identity, can keep its current members and attract new ones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps we have been appropriately open minded and ready to change, but kept to our roots and traditions. This might be the foundation and secret to our attraction. We look to the future with an open mind combined with a fresh image of the past.

 

The Chairman of the Jewish Community of Helsinki
Yaron Nadbornik