Finnish Jewish history effectively began in the first half of the 19th century, when Jewish soldiers serving in the Russian Army in Finland were given permission to remain in the country upon their discharge from the army. They had to live in the towns assigned to them and with only select occupations open to them; most Jews supported themselves primarily as dealers in secondhand clothing.
Debates on equal rights for Jews proliferated during the 1870s and 1880s, but their situation did not improve until 1917, when Finland became independent from Russia. Shortly after, Jewish residents received civil rights and were allowed to become Finnish nationals. Between the two world wars, the Jewish population swelled to about 2,000. Many young Jews studied at university, and others began working in such esteemed fields as medicine, law, and engineering.
Despite strong pressure from Nazi Germany during WWII, the Finnish government refused to take action against Finnish nationals of Jewish origin, who thus continued to enjoy full civil rights throughout the war. By the end of the war, the integration of the Jewish population into Finnish society was complete.
Today, Finnish Jewry numbers some 1,800 of whom about 1,400 live in Helsinki and the surrounding area; about 200 live in Turku. These two cities have organized Jewish communities with their own synagogues, both Ashkenazi-Orthodox, built in 1906 and 1912, respectively. The communities are members of the Central Council of Jewish Communities in Finland, a body which itself is a member of both the European Council of Jewish Community Services and of the World Jewish Congress. There is even one Jewish Member of Parliament in Finland, who has been in office since 1979.
On a Milk & Honey tour, you will enjoy visits to several of the main attractions of the city – including the Senate Square, the Olympic Stadium, and the Sibelius monument – plus an optional visit to the gorgeous Rock Church. Helsinki’s active Jewish community is home to several Jewish organizations, such as a Jewish burial association (established in 1864) and a volunteer-run mikveh. You’ll visit the Jewish community center and its synagogue, where the incredible history of the Jews in Finland will be discussed in great detail.
If you choose, there is also the possibility of extending your tour so that you can explore the beautiful, ancient city of Porvoo. Situated just 50 km (30 miles) from Helsinki, Porvoo is famous for its medieval Old Town, which is full of 15th century buildings. There are also a selection of boutiques showcasing Finnish design, wonderful cafes, and what our guide describes as “the best chocolate in Scandinavia.”
Come learn about the fascinating story of Finnish Jewry in Helsinki and beyond with Milk & Honey Tours!