Coping In Copenhagen: A Firsthand Account

MemorialStoneTextOn February 2nd at 10:00 am I received a text that said, “Abby. I’m gonna go to the police station but wouldn’t mind a partner if you would want to come with me after class.” Attached to the text was a picture of the large memorial stone Israel gave Denmark in appreciation of their help to the Jews during the Holocaust. Painted on the stone was a swastika. I was not able to join my friend but she later told me that she had to call three different places before she felt confident that the swastika would be removed.

On February 15th at 1:30 am I sent a text that said, “Can you pick us up? We are all alone. The shooting was at a synagogue. I’m scared.”

On February 14th, two girlfriends and I were planning on a “girls night in” at my friend’s homestay in Værlose, a 30 minute drive from central Copenhagen. We watched the movie P.S. I Love You, ate lots of chocolate and had a fun evening. I wish this was the end of my story.

We had known that there was a shooting in Copenhagen earlier that day. We even felt its affect when the train we were on stopped early at a station in the city rather than going all the way to Værlose. My friend’s host family graciously drove to get us. We figured that after events had calmed down, finding our way back home would be much easier.

At the end of the night, my friend and I got a ride back to the train station at 12:30am where we were annoyed to find out that the train to take us back home wasn’t scheduled to come for 38 minutes. We decided to seize the moment and do Israeli Zumba while we waited. It was awesome until 38 minutes later when the train didn’t come. In all of our fun we didn’t realize that people had been leaving the station, and that it was pretty much cleared out except for us and two other guys. After waiting a while longer we heard an announcement in Danish that had been on the speaker before. It apparently was saying that the trains had stopped for the night and there were busses that were coming soon. I found out later that the trains were stopped to make sure the shooter wasn’t on one.

We ended up walking outside with the two men who were planning on helping us out. Suddenly, my friend got a text from her dad saying, “You are inside, right?” We definitely were not inside. We learned soon after that there had been another shooting and that this one was near the synagogue. At that point, it hit me that this wasn’t a drill. Dancing and being positive wasn’t something I cared to be doing. I did not want to be standing outside despite the fact that I was far from the city. All I wanted was to curl into a ball and not let anyone know I was Jewish.

We walked back into the station and sat alone reading the news and texting the friend in the homestay that we needed her help. “Can you pick us up? We are all alone. The shooting was at a synagogue. I’m scared.” This was around 1:30am. We had received an email from our school telling us to be inside a home but all we could do was sit in the train station alone and hope that our friend hadn’t gone to bed yet.

Thankfully she hadn’t. She woke up her incredible host mom who drove to get us and let us sleep over.

Everyone is saying that I am safe here and that Denmark loves the Jews. I believe them but I still worry. I have been struggling with my Jewish identity the past couple of years, but I have never wanted to hide the fact that I am Jewish or that I come from a Jewish family. On that scary night, I did. Obviously what I experienced was nowhere near what other Jews have gone through, but not feeling safe as a Jew in my home is something unforgettable.

The swastika was removed. The shooter was caught. And people are continuing their lives in Copenhagen. Honestly, I am not at the point where I can say that, despite the hate, I will never hide my Jewish identity. Because truth be told, it is scary out there. Not just in Copenhagen, but everywhere. But I am still proud to be Jewish. And as time passes and I am further removed from the incident, I believe that my connection to the faith will grow stronger and my urgency on proclaiming my love for the religion will be larger. But today it’s not. Today I am quieter than usual, today I am sadder than usual, and today I am hoping that tomorrow is different.

I express my greatest thanks to everyone who was concerned about me, who read my first blog post, and who is reading this post now. It means the world to me to have such a wide support system full of people who allow me to speak my mind no matter what my opinion. Please pray to whatever you believe in for the victims and their families. Thank you.

Abby Kirshbaum is a junior from Minneapolis studying at Brandeis University. She majors in Psychology and minors in Business and Social Justice & Social Policy. This semester she is studying Prostitution and the Sex Trade in Copenhagen at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad.