Sunday, June 17, 2012

What Kind of Town Is This?

An interesting email found its way to me last week: Rav Schrader, the head of Nishmat’s post-college program when I studied there, emailed to say a friend of his would be in town. We emailed back and forth a bit about where to find kosher bread and how there’s no eruv, and ever happy to play chabad, I invited David, a professor of early childhood education from Efrat, who was in Bergen for a conference, over for Shabbat lunch.

It turned out to be a delightful lunch. He’s writing a book on male preschool teachers, and he asked my two musical friends (Sarah the Fulbright flautist and Victoria the Norwegian-American violinist visiting from Oslo) about gender differences in music. We talked at length about music, Norwegian gender trends, Judaism in Norway, and whether he had become a professor of early childhood education to avoid the stigma of being a male early childhood educator (my question—can’t you smell the impertinence of it?). I had a little crisis right at the beginning when I asked him to make kiddush. Since all I knew about him was his friendship with Rav Schrader, I suspected he’d be more comfortable making kiddush than hearing mine. But I wondered if I was betraying my own principles and abilities—after all, I’ve been making kiddush for myself all year. And then he developed the conversation onto gender grounds and I started kicking myself mentally! Just goes to show, you never know a person until you know what the subject of their book is.

Afterwards Sarah and David and I walked up to the Stavkirke for a little poke around its architecture. The rest of Shabbat was a hazy, rainy blur of books and sleep. It will be rather nice, in its own little way, to make havdalah on Saturday night again.

Sunday dawned gray but dry, so I went for a run and came in past Storetveitkirke just as the first drops were falling. And then began the packing… I’d like to say it was epic, but it wasn’t. I like to pack. It appeals to my OCD. My suitcases each have a bit of extra space. No worries… more room for chocolate! I did my last Fantoft laundry, cursed out the dryer for the last time, helped the last feckless newcomer with the machines’ Norwegian instructions, and collected a big pile of goodies for Ida, next year’s Bergen ETA.

Today Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy politician who has been under house arrest for fifteen years, spoke on the Torgallmennigen. Her first recognition was from Bergen, so it was fitting that she return here to speak.

I found the town square filling up, the wings of the street crushed with masses of humanity and the center in front of the stage filled solid. We had to wait to hear from Kyi—her introduction took longer than her speech. Finally, the roar from those lucky enough to be standing center told us she’d mounted the platform. A very proper British accent floated over the heads of the crowd.

She praised Bergen for its diversity. “You Norwegians have taken people who are not Norwegian to your bosom. You have sheltered my Burmese people, and people from all around the world.” While the crowd roared its agreement with this nice sentiment, I filed away discomfort with the assumptions she was making about whether one people has the power to protect another for later digestion.

Then, she announced the importance of a balance between freedom and security. Yes, honored Lady. You figure that one out, the world ends right now with a blast of trumpets and the flutter of angel wings.

She ended by asking a question about why the Bergensk care so very much about the world around them. “What kind of town is this,” she said, “that produces people like this?” Yes, I affirmed silently in my mind. You asked the right question. What kind of town is this, that produces people like this? This is Bergen. And we are happy to see you today.


  1. Very nice blog. Is it possible to find a minyan for Shabbat morning? I will spend a weekend there.



  2. Not in Bergen. Oslo has one-- look up the "Mosaic Religious Community" in Oslo-- the shul, school, and kosher store are all in one building, but let them know you're coming ahead of time. In Bergen, you're on your own-- there's no eruv, either.

  3. No(t many) Jewish people who study or has settled there either, I believe. I will be there for Natjazz festival and I will not visit Oslo where there is also Chabad...

  4. Nattjazz is at the USF Verftet! I practically lived there when I was in Bergen, it's an awesome place. There is a Jewish community in Bergen, but they're not very affiliated, and they mostly connect over the holidays. Enjoy your visit!

  5. Is there any way to reach a few community members? you can directly write to me : Thank you for everything.