November 9 has been a fateful day in German history. The März revolution was started, the emperor was dethroned and the Berlin Wall fell on that day. During the night of that fateful day in 1938 German Nazis damaged or destroyed “1574 synagogues (constituting nearly all Germany had), many Jewish cemeteries, more than 7,000 Jewish shops, and 29 department stores. Some Jews were beaten to death while others were forced to watch. More than 30,000 Jewish males were arrested and taken to concentration camps; primarily Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen.” (Wikipedia)

Today, however, there is a reason to celebrate: today the new Ohel Jakob Synagogue was opened (de) in downtown Munich. The complex includes a museum, a community center and a school, and it is the largest new synagogue in Europe since WWII.

The Jews are back in town – that’s awesome! Judaism is finally an “official” religion in Germany with the same legal status as the Catholic and Lutheran Churches.

Germany is home to the third largest number of Jews and the fastest growing Jewish population in Europe. There are currently more than 105,000 members of the Jewish community living in Germany – although this estimate does not include the many Jews not affiliated with the country’s main Jewish organization, the Central Council of Jews., Nov. 9, 2006

Still, it is not all sunshine and brotherly love in Germany. The Neonazis are on the offensive and racist and antisemitic aggression are not infrequent. In October, players from the Jewish football (soccer) club TuS Makkabi Berlin(de) walked out of a game against VSG Altglienicke because spectators hurled antisemitic insults at the players.

Recently, the University of Leipzig published a study(de) where 1 in 4 Germans expressed the desire for a single party and a strong leader to run the country. It comes as no surprise to me that they also found pervasive nationalist, racist and antisemitic attitudes across all social strata. Forty percent of respondents found Germany to be “überfremdet” – overrun by foreigners!

This fear of foreigners, xenophobia, is a fear that lives in all of us. It is a fear borne out of weakness and lack of self esteem. And it is a sentiment rooted in helplessness and a way to attempt to assert control over one’s life. This fear, and the pain and violence it can produce is not a uniquely German problem. But Germany has a special responsibility to face that fear and deal with it because of the incredible pain and destruction the Nazis wrought across Europe and the World, and in particular because of the incredible pain and destruction inflicted upon the people of Jewish faith and tradition. This is not guilt. I feel no guilt. I do feel responsibility and a strong desire to reconcile and make peace and make friends.

The only way to overcome this fear is to learn and make friends. We need Jews in Germany to help defeat this fear by showing flag and sharing their culture with everyone. Jewish culture was once the beating heart of Germany. Things will probably never be the same, but I know that Jewish culture will once again be part of, and enrich, Germany.


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