Helsinki: The Jewish Community



August 14, 2014


So here’s what happened.

Another series of “accidents”?

After my flight from Bangkok to Helsinki, I take the bus to the downtown station and walk towards my hotel.  I finally arrive at the proper street but do I turn right or left?  I stop a man and ask directions and he points to the right.  I notice he is wearing a Star of David so we chat a bit and he points out that the Helsinki Synagogue stands just down the street to the left. **

The next morning, my very first stop is the synagogue.  The security guard is a young Israeli man and he confronts me with a long set of questions before he allows me through the iron gate.  The office manager was quite willing to give me a tour.  I asked about prayer services and she suggested I return on Thursday morning.

On Thursday morning I meet Rabbi Wolff.  After morning prayers we stop for a coffee.   He wants to know “my story.”  I tell him about my plan “to do what I do best” and to visit Jewish sites in Eastern Europe.

Apparently, Rabbi Wolff is impressed with my goal and invites me to share my story with a small group of Jewish businessmen who are meeting this very afternoon.  The subject of the meeting is Healthcare and the invited speaker is a healthcare consultant from the United States.  The Rabbi will also prepare a barbeque.   How can I say no?

So, instead of traveling like a tourist to the large fortress island Suomenlinna in the Gulf of Finland, I ride by car and then by motorboat to a small private island and the lakeside home of a retired man and his wife.  The Rabbi brought along Chaya, his eldest daughter of six children.  Chaya is eleven years old and already speaks Yiddish, Hebrew, English and Finnish.  Her mother is Colombian so she is learning Spanish!

The setting is delightful and the meeting is informative and provocative.  And of course, I have to add my own provocative comments when the speaker provokes me.  The Finnish men are astonished at what appears to be an expensive and inefficient US healthcare system.  In Finland, if you are sick, you just go to see a doctor or just go to the hospital and the care is provided at no cost.  (Yes, the Finns and other Scandinavians are happy to pay high taxes to receive both healthcare and higher education at minimal or no additional out-or-pocket cost to them.)

So, a great and “accidental?” day!  Hearty hamburgers and salad, picturesque scenery, stimulating discussion, and several new friends.

And finally, the wife of the host is a Thai lady!  So I say “thank you and goodbye” and raise my hands to offer a proper “wai.”

Sawadee krop,