Contributed by: Arielle Klein | Last Date of Travel: June 2008
Kosher Info: Helsinki has a kosher deli, which unfortunately for us, is only open Thursday. We had some trouble finding it, but lucky for us while in one of the local malls we met an Israeli who was so overjoyed to see fellow landsmen. He was doing what else but selling hair products at one of those stands that are in every mall everywhere. When we arrived at the kosher store we found that it was closed because it was Monday. The kosher deli (Malminkatu 24) was right next to the main shul. Unfortuantely we were unable to get into the deli and so missed tasting kosher Helsinki delights. See: http://www.jchelsinki.fi/seurakunta/kosherdeli.htm and http://www.lubavitch.fi/templates/articlecco_cdo/aid/282702/jewish/Kosher-Deli.htm
Tourist Info: On mine and my husband’s tour of Scandinavia we chose to take a ferry to Helsinki from Stockholm and just spend the day there before taking another Ferry to our next destination Tallinn, Estonia. I had been pre-warned that Finland was rather boring so we chose to only spend 12 hours there and I was pleasantly suprised at how quaint and pleasant Finland was. With it’s Russsian flavor and totally out there language, it is a completely different view of Scandinavia than offered by the other Scandinavian nations.
Since we only had 12 hours in Finland we did a “hop on hop off” tour bus that would take us to all the major sights. Unfortunately we were there on Monday so all museums and such were closed. One of our first stops was at Sibelius Park where there is a large statue of famous finnish composer Jean Sibelius’ head. Most people take pictures picking his nose. We definitely did. There is also a metal statue of an organ as a tribute to Finlands most famous composer. The park is pretty you can hang out there for awhile. There are also super clean pay toilets that cost I think a dollar to use.
Another fun place to check out is the Kaupppatori Market square and Market hall. This market is right near the harbor so you will see fisherman on their boats seeling the freshest most recent catch. There are various food stands selling salmon, fried whole herring, and potatoes with dill. Unfortunately none of it kosher. We were able to buy delicious strawberries at one of the fruit and vegetable stands there are mant selling all sorts of fresh produce. There are flower stands selling absolutely beautiful very cheap flowers. (Guys that’s a hint buy your lady some). Finland is also known for it’s fur trade and there are various stands selling luxurious mink jackets, fox stoles and all sorts of fun fur items. There are also a variety of craftsmen selling their wares its a good cheap place to pick up souvenirs.
Nearby there is an indoor food hall. Again there was nothing we could eat but it was quite the experience seeing the different fare eaten in this part of the world. Fish is of course big, and there were all types of salmon, there was also bear salami, venison sausage and reindeer meat which we were offered a sample of. (It’s unfortunate there are no schochets in Finland; reindeer is actually kosher and supposedly incredibly tasty!)
There are two main malls in Helsinki both with a plethora of shopping to keep you busy. They are also a good place to meet Israelis as mentioned above, including the Israeli ambassador, whom we randomly bumped into.
You can also check out the harbor where they build ships of all kinds, and ice breakers – huge machines that break the huge blocks of ice that form on the Baltic sea and all over the world.
Our last stop was a beach we were taken to a by a local. We walked through a very pretty neighborhood down to a park, which opened onto a beach. The view of the Baltic Sea at sunset was truly beautiful.
Although Helsinki is not as pretty or exciting as some of the other countries near it, it is definitely worth the trip and spending a day or two taking in the city, its sights and the friendly people.
Jewish Info: The Jews in Finland were so friendly and welcoming. They have one main Orthodox Synagogue in Helsinki (next to the deli). At the time we arrived the cantor was getting ready to leave for his music gig at Nokia, so we got lucky and got a quick tour of the Synagogue. The synagogue was beautiful in the style of Old World European Synagogues. We were told on an average Shabbat there were about 70 families attending the shul. Level of observance varied in the 1,200 plus Jews that live in Helsinki. The shul also houses a Jewish day school that most of the community sends their children to and community office that helps with community affairs.
Finland is a very welcoming place for Jews, having given Jews full civil rights in 1917 when they became an independant country. Jews were also protected during WWII. Most of Finland’s Jews are descended from Russian Soldiers stationed in Finland from when Finland was an autonomous Grandy Duchy of the Czarist empire. As mentioned above, Finland still has a definitely Russian flavor. If you head out of Finland, Turku has a synagogue as well where about 200 Jews reside, however we didn’t get to stop there.
In our short time there we got to visit the Chabad rabbi at his house. Overall the Finnish Jews seemed a bit friendlier than the ones we met in Sweden, but that’s just our opinion.
Check out Chabad’s site here: http://www.lubavitch.fi/templates/articlecco_cdo/aid/282696/jewish/Tourist-Info..htm