Evely Laser Shlensky: The Miracle of Denmark

Creating a sometimes tolerable, occasionally rich life during the pandemic has been an ongoing challenge. While many opportunities are presented daily for online learning, for me the more interesting encounter at times has been with my past.

With too much time on my hands during the lockdown, I decided to cull some of my accumulated folders that go back decades. The culling became a meeting with my personal history, a reminder of things that have mattered to me over the years.

One project in particular caught my attention. A cherished piece of my activist life, one I hadn’t thought about for some time, grew from a concept brought to the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism when I was its Chair in the early 1990s. The idea was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Danish rescue of its Jewish population.

The commemoration was inspired by Judy Miesel, a member of Congregation B’nai B’rith. Judy was one of those who owed her life to the Danish rescue of its Jewish residents during World War II. Judy, ever the teacher (she was a beloved director at Beit HaYeladim) wished both to thank the Danish people and to teach children what it is to take a stand against evil.

Judy suggested to the Commission on Social Action that we involve Reform religious school students around North America in the remembrance, which we called “The Miracle of Denmark.” Curricula for various grade levels were written by Jewish educators, then distributed to religious schools in the United States and Canada. First students learned about this remarkable piece of history involving Jews and Danes; next they were encouraged to consider the importance of taking steps in their own lives to protect those who are vulnerable.

The lesson culminated in letters of gratitude from the religious school children to the Danish people. Some 15,000 letters, addressed to the Queen of Denmark, were generated. The Queen let us know of her delight in the letters, which she arranged to have placed in the Danish Resistance Museum in Copenhagen. This was quite a tribute, I thought, to the actions of the Jewish schoolchildren.

Finding and savoring the descriptions of “The Miracle of Denmark” made my paper culling a particular blessing, perhaps all the more so due to the fright so many of us have been experiencing during the pandemic. We need strands of hope, reminders that there have been times in our lives when we’ve been part of things that have mattered deeply. Those memories can become cornerstones as even in times of darkness we build for the future.

I am thankful to be reminded that thousands of Jewish children learned of a time when people of different faiths took the risk of protecting Jews whose lives were in danger. Surely there is no better time than this one to imagine how we might extend ourselves to offer protection to others.