The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Jews Return to Germany

“The freedom of faith, of conscience, and the freedom of religious and ideological beliefs are inviolable.” – The German Constitution, Article 4:1Out of the shattered brick and grout of the Berlin Wall comes an ironic rebirth: the rise of Judaism in a land once dedicated to suffocation of the Jewish culture. Twelve years after its demise in November 1989, Germany is witnessing a dramatic increase in both its Jewish population and in the dedication of these people to their roots. Just before the Berlin Wall fell, some Jewish leaders actually predicted an extinction of the Jewish community in Germany. The predictions were based on observations of increasing religious conversion and high emigration rates- specifically the emigration of German-Jewish youth.

Before Nazis held the reins of Germany, Jews in Deutschland participated in a thriving community of near 500,000. After the war, the Jewish population was devastatingly weakened, containing an estimated 200 members.

Today, there are officially upwards of 80,000 Jews in Germany. The past decade has seen a 33% increase within the German-Jewish population.

The draw is marked; 5,000 Jews enter Germany per year. The strongest pull seems to be toward Berlin, Frankfurt, and Munich, although there are 80 Jewish communities within Germany. One result of the influx of Jews to Germany is a shortage of rabbis and cantors. Synagogues actually outnumber rabbis, possibly because trained rabbis are drawn to Jewish communities in America and the United Kingdom.

There are also still concerns of anti-Semitism among Germans. Vandalism, particularly in Jewish cemeteries, has become frequent; all Jewish institutions must operate under police guard. As recently as March of this year, Germany’s Holocaust Memorial was desecrated; a portion of the memorial was smeared with human feces in the middle of the night. This is not an isolated incident. In the year 2000, anti-Semitic hate crimes rose nearly 70 percent in a one-year period, a record high since World War II.

This alarming rise in anti-Semitism is close to home for German Jews, who, despite a lack of awareness by the global community in general, continue to be persecuted. In his book, The Invisible Wall, Germans and Jews: A Personal Exploration, former U.S. Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal writes of the history of German Jews, detailing a constant struggle which continues today. The Invisible Wall looks into the conflict that German Jews face today: a desire to maintain a firm grasp on religious roots while participating in German’s mainstream culture.

The Reform movement of Judaism is offered as a way to possibly achieve this balance between modern culture and religious dedication. Recently, German Jews have seen the rise of the Reform movement, a liberal approach to Judaism that allows women rabbis, bat mitzvahs, and alternative approaches to the interpretation of the Torah. After the Shoah (Holocaust), which killed 6 million Jews, supporters of the Reform movement embrace even the most lenient practices of Judaism. Conversely, many Orthodox Jews contest that only Orthodox practice will ensure the religion’s authenticity. Rafael Korenzecher, a member of Berlin’s executive council for Jews said of the movement, “You can have 500 different kinds of movements – Jews for Jesus and whatever – but it only takes us further from our roots. It is very important to show that it’s impossible to extinguish Jewish life, that in the capital of Adolf Hitler there is a strong Jewish community.” Despite this internal difference of opinion, there is no arguing that Judaism is on the rise in Germany.

W. Michael Blumenthal fled Nazi Germany to later join the Carter administration. His contributions to the German-Jewish community continue today. He now serves as Museum Director at The Jewish Museum. The $60 million museum, which exhibits German-Jewish History, officially opened this year and has welcomed over a quarter of a million visitors to empty walls since its completed construction. The museum has been described as“a shattered Star of David”, its profile a dark lightning bolt, suspended,just touching the ground. Polish-American Architect Daniel Libeskind designed the building. (Courtesy of The Washington Post, 9/10/01)

The building of The Jewish Museum in Berlin is a tangible example of the strength of Judaism as a culture, not just in Germany, but the world over. Blumenthal, who now serves as the museum’s Director, discusses the museum’s ambitions,” ”The history of German-speaking Jewry is German history and in this museum we attempt to tell it accurately and fairly. All of it: the towering highs and the abysmal lows, the triumphs as well as the bloodshed and disasters.” Blumenthal likens the triumphs and struggles of Germany’s Jews to a seesaw, a seemingly endless ride of ups and downs. Moving into the 21st century, German Jews seek to find a balance between triumph and failure, searching for a time where those articles of the German Constitution are truly upheld.

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