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New rabbis signal Jewish renaissance in Germany

AFP · 3 Sep 2010, 15:04

Published: 03 Sep 2010 10:21 GMT+02:00
Updated: 03 Sep 2010 15:04 GMT+02:00

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The Orthodox ordination of the men originally from Uzbekistan and Lithuania was Germany's second since 1945, underscoring the growth of the city's Jewish community that 20 years ago numbered only 30.

More than 300 German and foreign Jewish leaders attended the ceremony in a brightly coloured 19th century synagogue that somehow managed to survive the 1938 "Kristallnacht" Nazi pogrom.

"Judaism is alive and well in Germany," said World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder, whose foundation supports Jewish communities, rabbinic schools and the Berlin Orthodox seminary from which the two new rabbis graduated.

Germany counted more than 530,000 Jews in 1933, when Hitler came to power.

In 1939, at the start of World War II, only 200,000 remained as many had emigrated to escape Nazi violence. Just a few thousand survived the war.

Today numbers are back to more than 100,000 since the 1990s decision to make it easier for Jews from the former Soviet Union to move to Germany and to obtain citizenship.

The two new Orthodox rabbis are among the arrivals: Shlomo Afanasev was born 29 years ago in Tashkent and Moshe Baumel, 22, is from Vilnius.

Addressing the young rabbis in the synagogue, Lauder spoke of their journeys to Germany, pointing out that their wives had also came from far and wide: Afanasev's wife is from Ukraine and Baumel's from Siberia.

"My message to you is you never know where you'll end up," Lauder said.

In the aftermath of World War II and the ravages of the Nazi regime, few would have believed there would be a Jewish renaissance, said Charlotte Knobloch, who heads the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

Leipzig had 12,000 worshippers in the 1920s, she said. After the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago, there were only 30 left. Now there are nearly 1,300, most of them immigrants from the former USSR, she said.

"In all the Jewish communities I have visited over the past few years I've been made aware ... of the hope there is of being able to continue to live in a country which has caused so much suffering to our families ... and trust in this country, its democracy, and its inhabitants," she said.

"No one could have imagined that after the war," she told reporters. "What once was utopia is now reality."

Knobloch presides over a community in which nine out of 10 people originate in former Soviet states. She was born to a conservative family, but many former Soviet Jews are Orthodox.

"But for a religion, such differences in origin are unimportant," she told AFP.

"What's important isn't where they come from (the rabbis), but where they studied, and whether they were trained as conservatives, liberals or Orthodox," she added.

In an environment in which many worshippers are immigrants, having two new rabbis from the same background is helpful, said Hermann Simon, who heads the foundation in charge of Berlin's main synagogue.

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"It's really a good thing that a rabbi can talk (to his flock) in their mother tongue, because sometimes he has to deal with difficult problems," he said.

One of the new rabbis, Moshe Baumel, opened the ordination ceremony in German, the language he grew up with, having arrived in Germany at the age of three, saying "this isn't just an ordination festival, but an integration festival."

Some Germans are still responsible for acts of violence against foreigners or Jews, said Stanislaw Tillich, who heads the regional government of Saxony where neo-Nazis are active.

But, "The duty of democrats is to defend ... Judaism in Germany," he said.

In another event symbolic of Judaism's return to Germany, President Christian Wulff inaugurated on Friday a new synagogue in the western city of Mainz, on the very site where Nazis destroyed the previous one more than 70 years ago.

"Exactly 98 years after the opening of the last major synagogue in Mainz, the Jewish community once again will have an architectural and religious centre," Wulff said at the official ceremony.

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Your comments about this article

18:52 September 3, 2010 by recherche
This makes no sense. Why would they see Germany as a suitable place to which to migrate? Russian, German, and Polish Jews go to North America and UK do they not?
19:20 September 3, 2010 by vonSchwerin
"Why would they see Germany as a suitable place to which to migrate?"

I can think of lots of reasons to move to Germany.

But to answer your question, in the early 1990s, after the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus (among others) were chaotic and even unpleasant places to live. Around the same time, Germany permitted ex-Soviet Jews to immigrate to Germany and to take German citizenship with relative ease. It was not so easy for an ex-Soviet Jew to immigrate to the USA and UK after the Soviet Union dissolved and Russia ostensibly adopted democracy. So, given the choice of immigrating to Israel or Germany, at least 100,000 Jews chose Germany.

(Yes, it is true that some immigrants claimed Jewish ancestry, but didn't have any.)

Most of the younger immigrants are making a strong effort to make Germany their home and want to contribute to contemporary German society. In other words, they are trying to integrate.

At this time, as the immigration and integration debate rages in Germany, I think Germany should be pleased to have immigrants who want to make Germany their home and who adopt or bring German/European social values and culture.
20:08 September 3, 2010 by bernie1927

I think they will be a welcome change as long as they honestly try to assimilate.

You mention "ex-Soviet Jews". What are they really, "ex-Soviet" or "ex-Jews"?

Germany was supposedly happy to resettle "ex-Soviet" and formerly German citizens, and scrutiny wasn't very thorough. I guess, owning a German shepherd dog qualified you. At least that was the opinion at the time. More power to them as long as they don't turn out to be too extreme orthodox.
23:22 September 3, 2010 by marimay
It is pretty obvious they want to take over Germany as they did the US, as the ultimate revenge.
02:08 September 5, 2010 by wenddiver
They are Russians not Jews. Real Jews would follow their religion to Israel. God didn't say to them and I will lead my people to Germany, where they will speak Russian and live on the German Government.

Who will build Israel, and be in her Army if "Jews" move to Germany? What Germany is doing is harmful to Israel.

We did the same thing in the US we allowed thousands in and what did they do, form the Russian Maffia in Brighton Beach. Russians.
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