This year, as Jews in America and around the world begin gathering with the family, friends and synagogue communities to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, they are joined by President Obama, who made an historic visit today to the Great Synagogue of Stockholm on the first leg of his trip to Sweden and the G20 Summit on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. The Synagogue, established in 1870, stands at the heart of the Swedish Jewish community, and the President’s visit sends an important multidimensional message about tolerance, whether it takes the form of combating anti-Semitism, promoting LGBT rights, or accepting regional and ethnic diversity.
President Obama was joined at the synagogue by the congregation’s Rabbi and members of Stockholm’s Jewish community. For Rosh Hashanah, the synagogue was decorated in white, a symbol of renewal and purity for the holiday. In addition, President Obama was joined by members of the family of Raoul Wallenberg, the heroic Swedish diplomat, who, in partnership with the U.S. War Refugee Board, traveled to Budapest and saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews by shielding them from deportation behind the blue and yellow of the Swedish flag.
President Obama honored Wallenberg’s memory in his remarks at the Synagogue:
“I cannot think of a better tribute to Raoul Wallenberg than for each of us -- as individuals and as nations -- to reaffirm our determination to live the values that defined his life, and to make the same choice in our time. And so today we say that we will make a habit of empathy. We will stand against anti-Semitism and hatred, in all its forms. We will choose to recognize the beauty and dignity and worth of every person and every child. And we will choose to instill in the hearts of our own children the love and tolerance and compassion that we seek.”
During his visit, Swedish Prime Minister Reinfeldt showed the President several artifacts related to Wallenberg’s life and work. The President also visited the Holocaust Memorial erected on the wall outside the Synagogue in 1998, bearing the names of the 8,500 relatives of Jews living in Sweden who were murdered by the Nazis. In keeping with tradition of honoring the deceased, President Obama placed a stone on the Memorial and paused for a moment of reflection.
Matt Nosanchuk is an Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement