The rabbis who come to work in Stockholm usually speak very little Swedish and are unfamiliar with Swedish culture. That’s because Sweden’s Jewish community – about 15,000 people out of a total population of 10 million – is small enough to usually bring in rabbis from elsewhere.
While that is also the case in many other European and other countries with a small Jewish population, Sweden poses its own specific challenges for the rabbis-to-be. Many Swedes are known to be polite but closed, which can make it difficult to get to know church members.
None of this is a problem for Mattias Amster, who became the first rabbi to be born and raised in Sweden in July.
Swedish-born rabbis have worked in other cities, but not in Stockholm, which is home to about 4,500 Jews, making it the largest community in the country.
Amster, himself a Stockholm resident who left the country in his twenties, brings deep knowledge about Swedish culture.
“One thing I noticed: it’s nice for people to be someone they can identify with,” said Amster.
Amster spent eight years teaching Orthodox Yeshivas in Israel, where he received his ordination and met his American-born wife Esther. There, the couple had two children, Gita and Shmuel, before moving to Oregon, where they spent two years working for Portland Kollel, an organization that offers Jewish educational programs to Jews from diverse backgrounds.
Now 36-year-old Amster has returned to his roots as the Orthodox rabbi of the Swedish capital. The community traditionally employs an Orthodox and a non-Orthodox rabbi. There is also a branch of the Orthodox Chabad Lubavitch movement that operates outside of the official community.
“It feels very good to be able to hire a Swedish-born rabbi for the first time in the nearly 250-year history of our community. Rabbi Amster grew up in our community and he knows the challenges facing our community and its members, ”community leader Aron Verständig told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a statement.
For his part, Amster, whose wife recently gave birth to their third child, says it feels ‘fantastic’ to be back in his hometown. He will work with the city’s conservative rabbi, Ute Steyer, to lead the local community; he is in charge of Orthodox life, while Steyer is in charge of non-Orthodox life.
You can read the entire interview with rabbi Mattias Amster here.
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