Religion - The internets fastest growing blog directory Judaism Blog Directory Blogs Directory The Blog Directory BlogCatalog

Monday, December 15, 2008

Isaias W. Hellman, founding father of the University of Southern California

"Towers of Gold" by Frances Dinkelspiel, St. Martin's Press; 376 pages

Abby Pollak, San Francisco Chronicle [1, 2]

As the United States caroms between eleventh-hour bailout plans, we would do well to remember the words of Isaias Hellman (1842-1919), the remarkable financier and builder who guided the transformation of almost every fledgling California industry - from banking to transportation, oil to utilities, newspapers and education to land development and wine - into a social and economic powerhouse. As it happens, he was also a model of fiscal sobriety.

"I am not a speculator," he once told a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. "I am strictly an investor, and I have all my life paid for things as I go along. I never borrow money. It is against my principles."

Frances Dinkelspiel's carefully researched and superbly written memoir of her virtually forgotten great-great-grandfather begins with a familiar portrait: the Jewish teenager from Bavaria who arrives in Los Angeles in 1859 and goes to work in his cousin's dry-goods store on Bell's Row, a narrow street of small Jewish shopkeepers and blacksmiths. At the time, L.A. was a lawless frontier pueblo with a population of 4,000, an isolated mudflat of one-story adobe buildings with no telegraph, trains or trolleys, no roads or sewers or garbage collection. In transition from Mexican to American rule, it was largely populated by illiterate hardscrabble farmers, gamblers, prostitutes and violent criminals (the homicide rate was 20 to 30 per month).

An almost biblical onslaught of plagues followed Hellman's arrival: the flood of 1861, which ripped out thousands of grapevines by the roots and literally dissolved the town, leaving behind the rotting carcasses of tens of thousands of sheep and cattle, and a mountain of wreckage buried in mud; a smallpox epidemic; and two years of relentless sun and hot desert winds carrying swarms of grasshoppers that devastated pasturelands and livestock, bankrupting the remaining Californios.

Young Isaias Hellman worked hard, learned fast, and in the spring of 1865, at the age of 22, opened his first store, an elegant oasis that aimed to shelter his customers from the chaos outside. He put in gas-lit chandeliers, burnished wooden counters and scales to measure the prevailing currency of gold dust and nuggets. In the rear of the store, he installed his piece de resistance, a Tilden & McFarland safe, which not only radiated protection and security but also allowed him to offer his customers temporary free storage for their gold.

In no time at all, there was $200,000 in his safe. Nervous about making mistakes, but fiercely ethical and armed with an uncanny instinct for a good business deal, Isaias put this capital to good use by establishing credit for deposited amounts and letting customers draw on it when they liked. No longer obliged to borrow at exorbitant rates from private businessmen in San Francisco, farmers and merchants who wanted to expand happily entrusted him with their assets. At age 28, Hellman thus became Los Angeles' first legitimate banker.

No single individual could have accomplished this without partners, and Dinkelspiel paints fascinating portraits of the men with whom Isaias forged alliances, men who invested in one another's railroads, factories, bond deals and financial institutions. This powerful network of friends and relatives in German Jewish circles on both coasts (the "Reckendorf Aristocracy" in California, "Our Crowd" in New York), featured names like Lehman, Strauss, Levi, Haas, Fleishhacker, Zellerbach, Brandenstein, Seligman, Loeb, Dinkelspiel and Schiff.

Moreover, given the historically widespread Jewish anxiety about the dangers of high-profile success - Isaias was the victim of seemingly inexhaustible accusations that he was more Shylock than savior and that in order to destroy his competition he personally caused the gold shortage that resulted in the recessions of 1875 and 1893 - he forged extraordinarily propitious partnerships with local Yankee landed gentry: among them John Downey, the charismatic former governor of California; Harrison Gray Otis; Henry Huntington; William Mulholland; and Phoebe Hearst.

Through flood, fire and the devastating earthquake of 1906, through bank runs, assassination attempts and family betrayals, blackmail and embezzlement scandals, graft and corruption trials, Isaias emerged stronger, more creative and more resolute than ever. Unerringly prescient, he invested heavily in the Southern Pacific Railroad, which connected Los Angeles not only to San Francisco but also to the rest of the country. He bought vast amounts of land from old ranchos and by planting wheat, corn, alfalfa, pecan and orange trees, transformed them into agricultural giants. When his financial activity, especially the lucrative business of selling investment bonds, outran the capability of his own Farmers & Merchants Bank, Isaias took over the Nevada Bank, one of the richest in the country; its merger with Wells Fargo in 1904 made it one of the West's largest financial institutions.

Determined to underwrite businesses that would develop California, he bankrolled Doheney and Canfield, two young oilmen who uncovered rich oil fields under L.A.'s ubiquitous brea pits; their company became today's Unocal. In 1895, he formed a syndicate with Henry Huntington, the visionary railroad man who built the Pacific Electric Railroad with its bright red trolley cars and interurban web of track that crisscrossed the city, extending as far as Pasadena, Long Beach, Monrovia, Whittier, Glendale, Newport and San Pedro. He sold bond issues for Pacific Light and Power and for San Gabriel Electric, for Hetch Hetchy and for the California Wine Association, composed even then of more than 50 wineries, including Cucamonga, Stag's Leap and Greystone Cellars.

In 1862, he founded Los Angeles' first synagogue, which became the Wilshire Boulevard Reform Temple. He also helped start the University of Southern California, and for many years served as a regent of the University of California. By 1911, when women got the right to vote, Hellman had become an almost mythical figure, an international symbol of the breathtaking opportunities in the American West.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What does it mean to be Jewish in Berlin today?

A Mosaic of Experiences: Glimpses of Jewish Life in Berlin

Julia Wagner and Maggie Whelan, Humanity in Action [1]

Historical Development

The Jewish population of Berlin has been shaped by a set of distinct political and social events. Many of those Berlin Jews who survived the war went to Israel or the United States. Inge Borck survived the war as a young girl by going underground. In 1945, she returned to Berlin from the town where she was hidden for the last part of the war. She didn’t want to stay, she tells us, but a ticket to Israel was too expensive. Once she had money, she had an established life in Berlin.

Jews from Eastern Europe and Displaced Persons from concentration camps joined the few who stayed. Susanne Thaler, a local political figure and outspoken member of the Jewish community, was hidden in Amsterdam with her mother. She remembers her mother crying at the sight of the ruined city, when they returned to Berlin in 1947. But the family stayed.

The division of Berlin meant a division of the Jewish community as well with the majority living in the Western part of the city. These small groups of Jews in the East and the West formed the first ‘Jüdische Gemeinden’ (Jewish Congregations), the local branches of the Central Committee of Jews in Germany. They also united the different branches of Judaism into the ‘Einheitsgemeinden,’ the unified congregation. Even though many are originally from Eastern Europe, this group of Jews in Berlin are referred to as ‘German Jews,’ a term that is useful only in light of the large numbers of Jews who came to Berlin later from the former Soviet Union.

Although Soviet Jews had been coming to Berlin ever since the end of World War II, the fall of the Iron Curtain resulted in a huge wave of immigration that has more than doubled the Jewish population in Berlin. In 1989, there were 6,000 Jews registered with the ‘Jüdische Gemeinde.’ Judith Kessler, who works there, now [in 2002] estimates that there are close to 13,000 Jews registered, and Rabbi Joshua Spinner of the Lauder Foundation, an American organization, thinks there could be another 10,000 Jews in the city who are not officially registered.

The new immigrants have altered the landscape of Jewish life in Berlin, both in numbers and in what they bring. As Thaler notes, for the first time there are flowers in the Jewish cemetery. Reunification of Berlin also meant the reunification of the two Jüdische Gemeinden in Berlin, one in the East with 300 members, the other in the West with about 6,000 members.

Irene Runge, a member of the East Berlin congregation and now head of the board of the Jewish Cultural Center, sardonically describes the unification as a “hostile takeover.” The Western congregation was mostly interested in real estate in the old Jewish quarter, and the leadership of the Eastern branch went along with it in order to retain their positions. For Runge, this transition was not at all easy. The intellectual group that she led was not accepted or understood by the leaders of the newly unified ‘Jüdische Gemeinde’ and they became an independent organization.

Hermann Simon, another member of the Eastern congregation and now director of the ‘Centrum Judaicum’ of Berlin, faced a different challenge as the two congregations combined. His objective was to continue a project started in 1986 to renovate the New Synagogue and create the ‘Centrum Judaicum.’ With a lot of “luck and effort,” the unified congregation approved the project.


The historical development of the Berlin Jewish community cannot be understood without looking at the city itself. Jewish life has helped shape Berlin and its unique history. It is between the neighborhoods of Mitte and Charlottenburg, between Oranienburger Straße and Joachimsthaler Straße, two areas separated by 30 minutes on public transportation, that you encounter the Jewish population and infrastructure of Berlin. But the traditional Jewish districts and its former identity have now become unrecognizable. The streets around the Bayrischer Platz in Schöneberg, that before the Second World War had a population that was over 60 percent Jewish, have lost all of its former inhabitants. The same is true for many other parts of the city.

On Oranienburger Straße, in the shadow of the domes of the New Synagogue, we find the headquarters of the ‘Jüdische Gemeinde,’ the ‘Centrum Judaicum,’ an exhibition hall dealing with historical and cultural issues linked to Judaism, and the ‘Jüdischer Kulturverein’ (Jewish Cultural Center). This historical site, which is now also the new cultural and political center of the city, is “where the music plays,” says Hermann Simon. “You could get the impression that you’re in a Jewish neighborhood when it’s really just a façade,” says Judith Kessler, who has been involved with the ‘Jüdische Gemeinde’ in Berlin for more than twelve years and now manages the organization’s newsletter. Today, “more than 92 percent of the local Jewish population has their homes in the Western part of Berlin”.

In Charlottenburg and Wilmersdorf are most of the institutions, such as the Jewish kindergarten, the elementary school, the community center with its library and the youth club. Here, people meet for a peppermint iced tea at Salomon’s bagel shop right next to the Jewish bookshop.

Central to Jewish life in Berlin are the six synagogues located all over the city. The synagogues range from conservative to liberal with the one on Oranienburger Straße perceived as the most progressive. We are told by Kessler, that the general tendency is to practice a very traditional form of Judaism.

Our interviewees use the Jewish infrastructure of Berlin in various ways. Judith Kirschke, a young student who recently moved to Berlin, only occasionally attends services at the synagogue in Oranienburger Straße. She likes the music and the fact that it’s egalitarian. Her friend, Inna, who emigrated from Russia, is very observant. She organizes the religious activities at the Jewish Cultural Center and is in close contact with the Lauder Foundation. She prefers these groups, because they offer more practical advice and personal contact than the Jüdische Gemeinde.

Igor Chalmiev emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1992 and is now in charge of the integration programs of the Jewish Cultural Center. He tells us about his childhood in Azerbaijan, where his grandparents lived in a small town near Baku. The German Wehrmacht never marched that far, so he experienced a rich and visible Jewish street life. His grandparents spoke their own Jewish language. With this in mind, he says, in Berlin “there’s no Jewish life; there are only Jewish places and a few Jews.”

Dani Neubauer who is very active in the Jewish youth center and currently has an internship at the American Jewish Committee, says “it’s hard to lead a Jewish life in Germany,” and he was disappointed in not finding an elaborate Jewish infrastructure in Berlin. He has also had a lot of trouble getting kosher food. “It’s sad that with such a large Jewish population there is only one kosher restaurant.” He also questions the fact that there are 30 to 40 percent non-Jews attending the Jewish high school. But Sabine Voltmer, the school’s social worker, says that they didn’t have enough Jewish students and decided to open the school for other students. While she worries about the non-Jewish teachers’ lack of Jewish knowledge, she still thinks highly of the ‘Jüdisches Gymnasium.’ “The parents feel safer sending their children to a Jewish school, and a positive aspect is that they learn a lot about the Jewish religion,” she says.

Immigration and Integration

Most Jews in Berlin immigrated or were the children of immigrants. After the ‘German Jews’ were established a second wave of immigrants came in the 1970s. Several members of this group now sit on the congregation’s board and hold other important positions in the community. While their integration may have taken some time, they were a relatively small group and they are now indistinguishable from the rest of the Jewish population.

The Russian immigrants of the early 1990s now make up the majority of Jews in this city. They are referred to as the ‘Russian Jews,’ or just ‘the Russians.’ Runge of the Jewish Cultural Center tells us how excited the members were at the prospect of a new group of Jews coming to Berlin, but her enthusiasm soon dimmed because they “weren’t what I expected.” She had been hoping for new members for the Jewish Cultural Center and a new life for the Jewish community, but she describes the Russian immigrants as “demanding” and wanting only what they could get for free from the Cultural Center.

Kessler says huge numbers of Russian Jews come daily to the congregation, but they come for social welfare, not to participate in Jewish life. She says that with the Russian, the congregation has changed from a “small family” to a “supermarket.” And Voltmer wonders why, after so many years of receiving from the congregation, the immigrants aren’t really giving anything back.

The descriptions seem slightly exaggerated when one actually meets some of these ‘Russians.’ Jana Wolotschij, who emigrated from the Ukraine in 1990 at the age of ten, is now a university student. She recounts leaving everything behind including a nation that discriminated against her parents based on their religion and would not allow her community to have a synagogue. She talks of the terrible refugee housing that her family left as soon as they could afford an apartment of their own. She also describes what she calls a “vicious cycle” in which the immigrants do not speak German so they can’t find jobs, and then they forget the German that they’ve learned, because they are not in touch with the German speaking population. If they find work at all, the Russian immigrants find work in Russian businesses.

As for the ‘Jüdische Gemeinde,’ Jana doesn’t seem impressed with what it has to offer. She sees the organization as using the high numbers of Russian Jews to gain more lobbying power. The immigrants are mostly secular, poor and if anything reform or liberal Jews. However, the majority of activities sponsored by the congregation are orthodox. Thus, the ‘Russians’ see themselves as paying dues to an organization that supports a religious practice in which they, themselves, do not believe.

The religious disparity between the new Russian immigrants and the older Jewish population in Berlin receives a lot of attention. “The Russians don’t have a clue about religion,” says Neubauer. However, as Rabbi Spinner points out, the ‘Russians’ lack of religious knowledge is perfectly understandable in light of the situation in the former Soviet Union. He predicts that the Russian immigrant population will someday resemble any religious population, where some choose to be more observant than others.

The key word is ‘integration’. Everyone has an opinion on how best to integrate the ‘Russians’ into the Jewish framework of Berlin. In the early 1990s, Voltmer proposed programs that could help integrate the Russian immigrants that were never put into practice.

Rabbi Spinner criticizes the Jewish congregation for their approach to the Russian immigrants. He speaks of “building bridges” between the two communities, but the special classes for immigrants on integration merely separate the two communities further. The old Jewish population should be trying to find ways to bring together ‘Russian’ and ‘German’ Jews. He is also generally astounded by the types of comments made by Jewish leadership about ‘the Russians’. Many of their “attitudes are just disgusting.”

Spinner projects that the Russians will soon take the lead in the organization of the Jewish community and that they may turn a blind eye to the problems of the old ‘German’ Jews who have been treating them so poorly. “They’re gonna get it on the head, and I can’t wait,” quips Spinner, “I just hope my tenure here lasts long enough to see that happen.”

For all the negative discussion associated with the Russian Jewish population in Berlin, there is some optimism. Jana refers to the younger generation, as getting a “new opportunity,” while Chalmiev is a living example of the possibility of positive integration and success after immigrating at the age of thirty-seven. For those who would like to see ‘the Russians’ come to synagogue more often, Rabbi Andreas Nachama, former President of the Berlin ‘Jüdische Gemeinde,’ points out the reality of immigration: people must deal with the new place, the new language, economic issues. “Religion is not the first thing.” Still, this new population is making its presence known in different ways and it’s certainly adding a new dimension to Jewish life in Berlin.

Religious Identity

The question of identity and notably religious identity is certainly not an easy one. Some of our interviewees had an answer at hand. “I am modern orthodox,” says Dani Neubauer, “I am traditional conservative,” Vivian G. tells us. She has been living in Berlin for the past six years, but she has not found a synagogue or an institution where she can feel “at home”. Only her closest friends know the prominent role religion plays in her life. She didn’t feel welcome in the Jewish student movement and other organizations so she now avoids going to the social gatherings they offer. Yet, she is very interested in the organizations’ political events.

For Judith Kirschke who, like Dani and Vivian, is in her early twenties, the social gatherings are the most important aspect. Her Hungarian mother waited until she was 17 to tell her about her “Jewish roots”. From then on her interest in Jewish religion and culture grew. Though she’s not observant she feels part of a larger community of Jews. She goes to synagogue because she feels she can relax and experience a positive group feeling there.

Jana, the Ukrainian immigrant, feels Jewish without practicing on an organized level. Her mother, who never had the opportunity to practice her religion in the Soviet Union, feels that it’s “too late”. Without knowing the prayers and the songs she wouldn’t feel comfortable in synagogue.

Simon, unlike other Jews of the post-war GDR generation who had to find their own way to Judaism, was born in the Jewish hospital and was thus immediately a member of the ‘Gemeinde.’ For him, the “real decision was to stick with it”. His parents raised him in a traditional Jewish way, “we knew who we were,” he proudly says. In East Berlin, they could live their religion openly. This was not the case for Jews living outside the capital.

Runge also grew up in the GDR. Her communist parents immigrated to New York during the Third Reich, and she was born and spent her early years in the United States. They left the U.S. during the McCarthy era and settled in East Germany (GDR), turned away from religion and raised their daughter secularly. She later discovered Judaism, which led to her involvement in the Jüdischer Kulturverein.

Voltmer who was not born Jewish, but with four different nationalities in her family, felt “rootless.” During her ‘student marriage’ to a Russian Jew she thought about converting but wasn’t supported by her husband. It was only after their divorce that she saw a rabbi and talked to him about her wish to convert. She began taking classes and a year later was admitted to the religious community. For many years now she has been professionally involved in the ‘Gemeinde.’ Her three daughters have Israeli names. “Why hide?” she asks. All of her daughters are enrolled in Jewish schools. She says going to a Jewish school strengthens the student’s Jewish identity and “enlarges the common ground” of the young generation no matter what their background may be.

Is it true then that the ‘Gemeinde’ was a more religious community before the immigrants came? Judith Kessler laughs and says that in her opinion the image of the congregation as a very religious group has always been a “myth.” In a survey she conducted, the majority of the 400 people who answered the questionnaire said they’d see themselves as belonging to the reform movement or even as non-religious or atheistic. For them the main tasks of the community are political representation, organizing cultural events, and providing Jewish education.
The Russian immigrants in particular aren’t interested in the religious aspects. “They register and are never seen again. These people are living their Jewishness in a different way,” said Kessler.

Fear and Uneasiness

In Germany in recent months there have been political and cultural debates over anti-Semitic statements made by public figures. The crisis in the Middle East has further fueled the debate. As a result, the Jewish community is once again in the spotlight. Many of the interviewees expressed a feeling of insecurity. Kessler now feels uncomfortable in her country and questions whether everything before was just a ‘show’ to cover latent anti-Semitism. “The only thing you can do is wear the Jewish star under your clothes,” says Kessler. Others reacted to the fact that Germans did not speak up in outrage. Adam Sacks, an American Jew living in Berlin for the last two years, speaks of the ‘Gemeinde’ as a “litmus test” for morality and asks why no one else stood up for the Jews. Rabbi Nachama gave a speech on anti-Semitism two years ago in which he used the exact same text that his predecessor used in a speech in 1980, and the words still applied. He chuckles now at the bitter irony of the situation.

Vivian G. recently had the unsettling experience of being confronted with anti-Semitic stereotypes in her own circle of friends. While they may have been “positive” stereotypes, she was still shocked by their implication.

Hermann Simon says that now for the first time it is politically correct to be an “outspoken anti-Semite.” Even as he shows us a solidarity ad from non-Jewish individuals in the “Süddeutsche Zeitung,” a leading newspaper, he called on German Jews to get involved, not only as Jews, but also as German citizens.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Designer of new WTC to build new synagogue in Munich, Germany

Designer of new World Trade Centre to build synagogue in Munich

By Michael Levitin, Telegraph [1]

New York-based architect Daniel Libeskind, the master designer of the new World Trade Centre, has announced plans to build a new synagogue in the not-always-welcoming Bavarian capital.

Notorious for its lingering sentiments about the Nazi years, Munich has been mixed up before in controversies involving Jewish remembrance, such as Mayor Christian Ude's refusal in 2004 to allow the brass-plated Stolpersteine, or Stumbling Stones, to be installed in streets as individual memorials to Jews killed in the Holocaust.

This time, members of Munich's liberal Jewish community, Beth Shalom, which expects to raise between 5-10m euros for the building are confident they will see the project through.

Munich has become "a home city for the Jewish people, and we hope it will also be in the future," said Matthias Strauss who heads Friends of Beth Shalom. Far-right neo-Nazi activity persists in Munich perhaps more than anywhere in the former West Germany.

But Mr Libeskind, of Polish-Jewish descent, cited unwavering support for "a project with such exciting aspirations and profound belief".

"I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work on the development of a Reform Synagogue in Munich," he said.

Known widely for his three European Jewish museums in Berlin, Osnabrück and Copenhagen, and for the Contemporary Jewish Museum which opened in San Francisco in June, Mr Libeskind will present plans for the Munich synagogue in spring with hopes of completing the project by 2018.

Though its location is still unconfirmed, Mr Strauss said he wanted the building to go up on Westenrieder Strasse, the site of Munich's first synagogue in 1850, which was burned in the Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938. Two years ago, a large new synagogue, community centre and museum opened in central Munich, 68 years to the day after Kristallnacht.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Jews and Germany: Is Berlin The New Diaspora Hot Spot?

Jews and Germany: Is Berlin The New Diaspora Hot Spot?

by Cori Chascione, Jewcy [1]

Berlin is often cited as a great place to be Jew in the modern world. Before my visit, I'd been told that it was the best place in Western Europe to 'live a Jewish life' (whatever that means) and was told about its 'burgeoning' Jewish communities as though they were comparable to the land of Oz. Inherent in this conversation is the issue of the Holocaust, which a lot of modern Jewish publications dub the reason that Berlin is so welcoming of Jewish communities today. 'Anti-Semitism simply isn't tolerated', they'll say. 'Did you know that it's illegal to sell anything with a swastika?' I was almost impressed. Is it possible that the guilt stemming from WWII atrocities has rendered Berlin a place for Jews in the diaspora to thrive in vibrant communities?

Not exactly. While visiting Berlin, my tour group of Jews visited the Holocaust Memorial and most of us were moved in one way or another. The next day, it was vandalized by Neo-Nazis and the tall, disorientating blocks that communicated something important about the Holocaust now represented something else entirely. It was difficult to call a memorial, since the anti-Semitism that fueled its existence in the first place obviously still had a nearby home. We also visited several Jewish organizations and a few new, renovated synagogues. Can't locate them on the map? No worries, just look for the only buildings in town being guarded 24/7 by German police officers. One person on our trip kept kosher strictly and had to have her food packed by a local, being that there are only three (maybe four) kosher restaurants in all of Berlin. That's a common struggle for kashrut-minded Jews when they travel, but I thought that this was supposed to be an oasis of sorts. Burgeoning Jewish communities?

Anti-Semitism exists in Germany as it does in the rest of Western Europe, no more and no less, and the city of Berlin is no exception. There are some refurbished synagogues of great beauty and a few kosher restaurants. There are both North American and German organizations working hard to create Jewish communities with a sense of identity, but the manifestations are underwhelming. So what exactly are people excited about? The Jewish communities of Berlin are anything but vibrant and their buildings need to be protected by police around the clock, unlike Christian or Muslim community centers or places of worship. Their memorials are still vandalized and their schools are few and far in between. If the intrigue with German Jewish communities is simply awe at the fact that a Jew can assimilate into German society and that she no longer has to fear being transported to a death camp, then yes, I'd say that the Germans have come a long way. Really, though, is that something to brag about?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Dimitri Stein (88) receives his doctorate degree from TU Berlin, Germany

88-year-old gets doctorate 65 years after passing exams

By David Wroe, The Telegraph [1]

An 88-year-old German man has finally been awarded his university doctorate – 65 years after the Nazis blocked him from receiving it because of his Jewish ancestry.

Dimitri Stein was denied his degree in electrical engineering from the Technische Universität Berlin in 1943 and forced to go into hiding after a pro-Nazi academic discovered he was of Jewish descent. He had previously been arrested by the Gestapo for anti-Nazi activities.

Dr Stein said he had accepted his doctorate "with a tear in one eye and a smile in the other".
"The best feeling was that these people understood all the criminality that happened and they are ready to speak up if this ever happened again," he said. "That is the most important thing for me."

After the war, Mr Stein, whose father was murdered by the Nazis, emigrated to the United States where he became an academic and businessman.

In the 1950s he approached the university but was rebuffed, being told the university had enough to worry about.

A German friend urged him to try again two years ago. The university was shocked to learn of the case, said Horst Bamberg, head of administration for the faculty of electrical engineering, and arranged for Mr Stein's dissertation to be examined.

"We couldn't undo the injustice against Mr Stein, but we did what we could to restore Mr Stein's honour," Mr Bamberg said.

The dissertation had been lost but its key findings were published in a journal. The university had its head of engineering assess Mr Stein according to knowledge of electrical engineering in 1943.

He passed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Russian Jews in Berlin, Germany

In Germany, Jewish pride and growing pains

By Colin Nickerson, International Herald Tribune [1, 2, 3]

BERLIN: Shelly Kupferberg, 31, is the granddaughter of Jews who fled the Nazi terror in the 1930s for the land that would become Israel. Her parents returned to Berlin in the early 1970s, weary of Israel's wars and yearning for their German heritage. She was raised both as a Jew and a German, and takes pride in both identities.

"It's great to be a Jew in Germany," said Kupferberg, a journalist and adviser to Berlin's Jewish Festival. "There's this feeling of a unique culture being reborn - with more people in the synagogues, more Jewish artists, a sense, at last, that it's completely normal for Jewish people to be living and working here. That's something you couldn't say until recently."

In a turnaround few would have imagined, Germany today boasts the fastest-growing Jewish population in the world.

While Germany's Jewish community is full of hope for the future, its rapid expansion has brought new tensions- with animosity festering between longtime German-speaking Jews and recent immigrants from Eastern Europe, many of whom had lost their Jewish traditions, if not their identity, under decades of Communist rule.

"This is a time of difficult transition for a community that was once tiny and insular, but has suddenly grown large," said Stephan Kramer, secretary general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the nation's umbrella organization for Jewish groups. "There is friction, there is anger, there is distrust, there is fear. We have started to lay the foundation for a dynamic Jewish culture in Germany. But we are far from completing the house."

Most newcomers are from Russia - Jews seeking a better life in a more prosperous place, but also escaping the anti-Semitism that seethes in many parts of the former Soviet Union.

The "Russian Jews" - the term embraces the thousands arriving from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic states - are joined by a small but significant number of young Jews from Israel, the United States, Canada and Australia.

In 1933, when Adolf Hitler came to power, Germany's Jewish population stood at 530,000. Berlin, famed for tolerance, was home to some of the world's foremost Jewish writers, philosophers and scientists. By 1943, however, the Nazis had declared Germany "Judenrein," or cleansed of Jews. In fact, several thousand remained hidden in Germany or returned from concentration camps after the Holocaust, which killed six million European Jews.

Before the 1989 collapse of the Berlin Wall, Germany's Jewish population stood at barely 25,000, mostly survivors of World War II and their offspring. Since then, encouraged by liberal immigration laws, the number has swelled to more than 200,000, according to estimates by the government and Jewish groups. Last year, twice as many Jews, 20,000, settled in Germany as in Israel, according to Jewish groups.

Partly to atone for the Holocaust, Germany offers resettlement programs for Jews from Eastern Europe. It is much easier for Jews to win legal entry to Germany than to other parts of Western Europe or the United States.

Israel also keeps its open doors, but many Jews from the former Soviet Union see Israel as either too dangerous because of the struggle with Palestinians, or as too alien because of its Middle Eastern culture and desert climate.

"Germany is Europe, and I am European as much as I am a Jew," said Frida Scheinberg, a veterinarian who recently arrived in Germany from Ukraine. "Germany was a good place for Jews before Hitler. It feels safe and prosperous. Its cities, its climate, its customs all seem familiar. Israel seems strange to me, with the hot sun and the hot tempers."

Still, unease and bickering pervade Germany's Jewish community.

Some question whether all the newcomers can legitimately call themselves Jews; until this year, when Germany tightened the rules to weed out impostors, almost any former Soviet citizen with a Jewish ancestor could qualify.

Traditional law defines a Jew as an individual with a Jewish mother or someone who has undergone conversion to Judaism; Germany now requires that prospective Jewish immigrants have at least one Jewish parent, as well as some command of German and marketable skills.

Integration has been complicated by Germany's recent unemployment woes, with many Russian Jews drawing welfare, and resentment.

But many Jews are confident that once the economy rebounds, differences among Jews will inevitably heal.

"Many problems, yes, but most former Soviet Jews in Germany feel ourselves to be in a much safer situation," said Mykhaylo Tkach, an engineer from Ukraine. "The anti-Semitism here is minor compared to what we experienced in the places from which we came."

"In the old Russia, nothing changes - when things go wrong, blame the Jew. Germans understand such things must never happen here again," Tkach added.

Some Jewish immigrants admit to ambivalence about their choice of a new country, even as they defend it.

"There is a twinge of guilt, some secret shame, I think, in the heart of every Jew who calls Germany home," said Josef Eljaschewitsch, a physician from Latvia. "And yet, for Jews not to come here - to surrender our stolen heritage in this country - would be to give the Nazis a sort of final victory: a Jew-free Germany."

"Most of us come for bread-and-butter reasons, to make money, to ensure our children's futures are secure," he said. "But our dream is also to make Germany a place where Jews and Jewishness can once again flourish. Against all odds, I believe that's starting to happen."

The signs of a Jewish renaissance can be caught in small glints across Germany.

In Leipzig, Rabbi Joshua Spinner, a Canadian-American who has brought a missionary zeal to keeping Orthodox customs alive in Germany, recently presided at the first Jewish wedding recorded in the city since 1938, according to the Jüdische Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

In Potsdam, Ukrainian immigrants, after years of holding worship services in a cramped, fluorescent-lit meeting room of a civic building, have won a patch of land from the government and are raising money to build a synagogue.

In Cologne, Frankfurt, and Hamburg, small but well-attended Jewish schools and kindergartens have opened over the past several years, intended to expose children to the Hebrew language, Torah studies and the spiritual ideas behind ritual practices. For many Jewish youngsters from Eastern Europe, this is their first formal religious instruction. A Jewish academy in Frankfurt trains girls and young women in ancient texts.

But it is in Berlin, above all, where a new German-Jewish identity is being forged. "Berlin is coming back as a center for rich Jewish life," said Irene Runge, a New Yorker who heads Berlin's Jewish Cultural Association. "It's an exciting place to be right now."

For the Orthodox, there is a new yeshiva, or religious school, sponsored by the U.S.-based Ronald S. Lauder Foundation. On more secular fronts, there are Yiddish theater groups, Jewish bookshops, exhibits of Jewish art and readings of Jewish poetry. Berlin's new Jewish Museum, finished in 2001, focuses on the prominence of Berlin's Jewish community from the 18th century to the early 1930s, when the city ranked as one of the most important Jewish centers in the world.

The refurbished golden dome and Moorish exterior of Berlin's old "New Synagogue" is once again a proud city landmark. Pilgrims leave small pebbles as tokens at the grave of Moses Mendelssohn, philosopher of the German Enlightenment.There is a sprinkling of kosher shops that do brisk business in matzohs, gefilte fish and sweet Israeli wine. There are two rival Jewish newspapers, both published in German. And most tourist stands display colorful guides and maps to "Jewish Berlin" -a term that no longer connotes horror.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Soviet Jews unwelcome in Berlin, Germany

Inner Rift Among Germany's Jews

By Casey Schwartz, ABC News [1]

Eastern European Jews Outnumber German Jews in Berlin. Can the Two Groups Reconcile?

Albert Meyer, the former chairman of the Jewish Community of Berlin, announced his intention to form a new congregation. The Community has been the center point of Jewish life in Berlin for much of the last half century. Now many German-born Jews, like Meyer, no longer feel welcome there.

Meyer, a lawyer whose family has lived in Germany for generations, resigned as chairman of the Community in 2005. He claims that the Community's vice president pressured him to resign by threatening to make criminal allegations against him.

Whatever the circumstances of Meyer's departure, the balance of power in the Jewish Community has shifted.

Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe are rapidly gaining control. Currently, of the board's five members, four are from the former Soviet Union; of the Community's 12,000 members, 8,000 speak Russian before German, if they speak German at all.

This pattern is not limited to Berlin. Germany's Jewish population is the fastest growing in the world. In 1990, the German government, in an effort to amend the legacy of the Holocaust, offered Jews in the former Soviet Union the chance to immigrate with significantly few restrictions.

Germany proved to be an appealing destination, at least in part because of the available financial support. The German government provides the country's Jewish organizations with substantial subsidies. Every year, for instance, the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the umbrella organization for Germany's local Jewish communities, receives 3 million euros from the government.

In 1990 there were only 23,000 Jews in Germany. Many among them are now ambivalent about their 200,000 Russian-speaking counterparts.

Julius Schoeps, a prominent historian, left the Berlin Community last year and has since joined with Meyer. "Former members, we feel it's not our Community anymore," he said. "We are members of a synagogue community. The new members are members of a Russian cultural club."

Clearly, the problem is not just about language. In the small group of Jews whose families lived in Germany after the Holocaust, many consider themselves to be Jewish first and German second. The immigrants from the former Soviet Union, however, have had little or no experience with Judaism.

"People come to Germany, and they're told they have to be religious in the German tradition," said Irene Runge, the president of the Jewish Cultural Center in Berlin. "The Russians have a different understanding of what it means to be Jewish. They are political people, intellectuals."

Runge has an interesting background. She was born in Brooklyn and raised in East Berlin. An original proponent of the Russian Jewish migration, she attributes the divide largely to the rigid mind-set of the traditionalist German Jews. As she views it, most reject the Russian model of Judaism without making any effort to understand it.

"The German idea is to repeat the past, but it's the wrong concept," Runge said, referencing German Jewish traditionalism. "History has its own logic."

Several prominent members of the German-born Jewish community are apparently unhappy with the direction history has taken. According to Meyer, negotiations were held last year with the German government to halt the influx of Russian immigrants. Though these discussions were not made public, they were the likely catalyst for a drastic change in immigration policy. A point system is now in place requiring immigrants to have a basic knowledge of the German language and more solid proof of Jewish ancestry.

Still, the new policy cannot change the fact that German Jewish identity has broadened over the last 17 years.

What all this means with regards to the place of the Holocaust in modern-day German culture is not yet clear.

David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, believes that the change has significance for all Germans. "This is not just a Jewish issue," he said. "Germans have been asking since the end of the war, 'when will we be normal again?' Now they might ask, if Jews are coming here, does that mean we're normal again?'"

The implications for the German Jewish place in the wider European context are similarly veiled.

"The German Jewish voice will be heard and listened to more -- and that voice will have an increasingly Slavic accent," Harris said. "What that voice will be saying remains to be seen."

Sunday, November 9, 2008

What is Kristallnacht? (a video compilation)

This video compilation was created by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C. (Running time: 21.35)

Six Holocaust survivors: Fred Katz, Esther Gever, Jacob Wiener, Eva Abraham-Podietz, Robert Behr, and Herbert Karliner, recount their personal experiences during the Kristallnacht Pogrom and the events that followed.

The Kristallnacht Pogrom was an organized pogrom against Jews in Germany and Austria that occurred on November 9–10, 1938. Kristallnacht is also known as the November Pogrom, "Night of Broken Glass," and "Crystal Night." Orchestrated by the Nazis in retaliation for the assassination of a German embassy official in Paris by a seventeen-year-old Jewish youth named Herchel Grynzspan, 1,400 synagogues and 7,000 businesses were destroyed, almost 100 Jews were killed, and 30,000 were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Kristallnacht (Nov 11, 1938)

Nazis Smash, Loot and Burn Jewish Shops and Temples Until Goebbels Calls Halt*

New York Times
November 11, 1938 [1]

All Vienna’s Synagogues Attacked, Fires and Bombs Wreck 18 or 21

Jews Are Beaten, Furniture and Goods Flung From Homes and Shops – 15,000 Are Jailed During Day – 20 Are Suicides

Vienna, Nov. 10−In a surge of revenge for the murder of a German diplomat in Paris by a young Polish Jew, all Vienna’s twenty-one synagogues were attacked today and eighteen were wholly or partially destroyed by fires and bomb explosions.

Anti-Jewish activities under the direction of Storm Troopers and Nazi party members in uniform began early this morning. In the earlier stages Jews were attacked and beaten. Many Jews awaiting admittance to the British Consulate-General were arrested, and according to reliable reports others who stood in the line before the United States Consulate were severely beaten and also arrested.

Apartments were raided and searched and gradually some 15,000 arrested Jews were assembled at police stations. Some were released during the day. Tonight arrests were continuing.

Many of those arrested were sent to concentration camps in buses. Mobs of raiders penetrated Jewish residences and shops, flinging furniture and merchandise from windows and destroying wantonly.

In their panic and misery about fifty Jews, men and women, were reported to have attempted suicide-about twenty succeeded.

Scores of bombs were placed in synagogues, blowing out windows and in many cases damaging walls. Floors that had been soaked with kerosene readily caught fire…

At 9 A.M. the first fires broke out in the Hernaiser and Heitzinger synagogues. The Heitzinger synagogue, which was in Moorish style and was the largest and finest synagogue in Vienna, was gutted…

Excesses in Many Cities

Berlin papers also mention many cities and towns in which anti-Jewish excesses occurred, including Potsdam, Stettin, Frankfort on the Main, Leipzig, Lübeck, Cologne, Nuremberg, Essen, Dusseldorf, Konstanz, Landsberg, Kottbus and Eberswalde. In most of them, it is reported, synagogues were raided and burned and shops were demolished. But in general the press follows the system in reporting only local excesses so as to disguise the national extent of the outbreak, the full spread of which probably never will be known.

On the other hand, the German press already warns the world if the day’s events lead to another agitation campaign against Germany “the improvised and spontaneous outbreaks of today will be replaced with even more drastic authoritative action”. No doubt is left that the contemplated “authoritative actions” would have a retaliatory character.

Says the Angriff, Dr. Goebbel’s organ: “For every suffering, every crime and every injury that this criminal [the Jewish community] inflicts on a German anywhere, every individual Jew will be held responsible. All Judah wants is war with us and it can have this war according to its own moral law: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”.

One of the first legal measures issued was an order by Heinrich Himmler, commander of all German police, forbidding Jews to possess any weapons whatever and imposing a penalty of twenty years confinement in a concentration camp upon every Jew found in possession of a weapon hereafter.

The dropping of all pretense in the outbreak is also illustrated by the fact that although shops and synagogues were wrecked or burned by so-called Rollkommandos, or wrecking crews, dressed in what the Nazis themselves call “Räuberzivil”, or “bandit mufti”, consisting of leather coats or raincoats over uniform boots or trousers, these squads often performed their work in the presence and under the protection of uniformed Nazis or police.

The wrecking work was thoroughly organized, sometimes proceeding under the direct orders of a controlling person in the street at whose command the wreckers ceased, line up and proceeded to another place…

Crowds Mostly Silent

Generally the crowds were silent and the majority seemed gravely disturbed by the proceedings. Only members of the wrecking squads shouted occasionally, “Perish Jewry!” and “Kill the Jews” and in one case a person in the crowd shouted, “Why not hang the owner in the window?”

In one case on the Kurfürstendamm actual violence was observed by an American girl who saw one Jew with his face bandaged dragged from a shop, beaten and chased by a crowd while a second Jew was dragged from the same shop by a single man who beat him as the crowd looked on.

One Jewish shopkeeper, arriving at his wrecked store, exclaimed, “Terrible”, and was arrested on the spot.

In some cases on the other hand crowds were observed making passages for Jews to leave their stores unmolested.

Some persons in the crowds-peculiarly enough, mostly women-expressed the view that it was only right that the Jews should suffer what the Germans suffered in 1918.

* Note how the headline makes it sound like the German government stopped the riot, when it actually started it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Why We Can't Imagine Death

The End? [1]
By Jesse Bering
Scientific American


Why do we wonder where our mind goes when the body is dead? Shouldn’t it be obvious that the mind is dead, too?

And yet people in every culture believe in an afterlife of some kind or, at the very least, are unsure about what happens to the mind at death. My psychological research has led me to believe that these irrational beliefs, rather than resulting from religion or serving to protect us from the terror of inexistence, are an inevitable by-product of self-consciousness. Because we have never experienced a lack of consciousness, we cannot imagine what it will feel like to be dead. In fact, it won’t feel like anything—and therein lies the problem.

The common view of death as a great mystery usually is brushed aside as an emotionally fueled desire to believe that death isn’t the end of the road. And indeed, a prominent school of research in social psychology called terror management theory contends that afterlife beliefs, as well as less obvious beliefs, behaviors and attitudes, exist to assuage what would otherwise be crippling anxiety about the ego’s inexistence.

According to proponents, you possess a secret arsenal of psychological defenses designed to keep your death anxiety at bay (and to keep you from ending up in the fetal position listening to Nick Drake on your iPod). My writing this article, for example, would be interpreted as an exercise in “symbolic immortality”; terror management theorists would likely tell you that I wrote it for posterity, to enable a concrete set of my ephemeral ideas to outlive me, the biological organism. (I would tell you that I’d be happy enough if a year from now it still had a faint pulse.)

Yet a small number of researchers, including me, are increasingly arguing that the evolution of self-consciousness has posed a different kind of problem altogether. This position holds that our ancestors suffered the unshakable illusion that their minds were immortal, and it’s this hiccup of gross irrationality that we have unmistakably inherited from them. Individual human beings, by virtue of their evolved cognitive architecture, had trouble conceptualizing their own psychological inexistence from the start.

Curiously Immortal

The problem applies even to those who claim not to believe in an afterlife. As philosopher and Center for Naturalism founder Thomas W. Clark wrote in a 1994 article for the Humanist:

Here ... is the view at issue: When we die, what’s next is nothing; death is an abyss, a black hole, the end of experience; it is eternal nothingness, the permanent extinction of being. And here, in a nutshell, is the error contained in that view: It is to reify nothingness—make it a positive condition or quality (for example, of “blackness”)—and then to place the individual in it after death, so that we somehow fall into nothingness, to remain there eternally.

Consider the rather startling fact that you will never know you have died. You may feel yourself slipping away, but it isn’t as though there will be a “you” around who is capable of ascertaining that, once all is said and done, it has actually happened. Just to remind you, you need a working cerebral cortex to harbor propositional knowledge of any sort, including the fact that you’ve died—and once you’ve died your brain is about as phenomenally generative as a head of lettuce. In a 2007 article published in the journal Synthese, University of Arizona philosopher Shaun Nichols puts it this way: “When I try to imagine my own non-existence I have to imagine that I perceive or know about my non-existence. No wonder there’s an obstacle!”

This observation may not sound like a major revelation to you, but I bet you’ve never considered what it actually means, which is that your own mortality is unfalsifiable from the first-person perspective. This obstacle is why writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe allegedly remarked that “everyone carries the proof of his own immortality within himself.”

Even when we want to believe that our minds end at death, it is a real struggle to think in this way. A study I published in the Journal of Cognition and Culture in 2002 reveals the illusion of immortality operating in full swing in the minds of undergraduate students who were asked a series of questions about the psychological faculties of a dead man.

Richard, I told the students, had been killed instantaneously when his vehicle plunged into a utility pole. After the participants read a narrative about Richard’s state of mind just prior to the accident, I queried them as to whether the man, now that he was dead, retained the capacity to experience mental states. “Is Richard still thinking about his wife?” I asked them. “Can he still taste the flavor of the breath mint he ate just before he died? Does he want to be alive?”

You can imagine the looks I got, because apparently not many people pause to consider whether souls have taste buds, become randy or get headaches. Yet most gave answers indicative of “psychological continuity reasoning,” in which they envisioned Richard’s mind to continue functioning despite his death. This finding came as no surprise given that, on a separate scale, most respondents classified themselves as having a belief in some form of an afterlife.

What was surprising, however, was that many participants who had identified themselves as having “extinctivist” beliefs (they had ticked off the box that read: “What we think of as the ‘soul,’ or conscious personality of a person, ceases permanently when the body dies”) occasionally gave psychological-continuity responses, too. Thirty-two percent of the extinctivists’ answers betrayed their hidden reasoning that emotions and desires survive death; another 36 percent of their responses suggested the extinctivists reasoned this way for mental states related to knowledge (such as remembering, believing or knowing). One particularly vehement extinctivist thought the whole line of questioning silly and seemed to regard me as a numbskull for even asking. But just as well—he proceeded to point out that of course Richard knows he is dead, because there’s no afterlife and Richard sees that now.

So why is it so hard to conceptualize inexistence anyway? Part of my own account, which I call the “simulation constraint hypothesis,” is that in attempting to imagine what it’s like to be dead we appeal to our own background of conscious experiences—because that’s how we approach most thought experiments. Death isn’t “like” anything we’ve ever experienced, however. Because we have never consciously been without consciousness, even our best simulations of true nothingness just aren’t good enough.

For us extinctivists, it’s kind of like staring into a hallway of mirrors—but rather than confronting a visual trick, we’re dealing with cognitive reverberations of subjective experience. In Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno’s 1913 existential screed, The Tragic Sense of Life, one can almost see the author tearing out his hair contemplating this very fact. “Try to fill your consciousness with the representation of no-consciousness,” he writes, “and you will see the impossibility of it. The effort to comprehend it causes the most tormenting dizziness.”

Wait, you say, isn’t Unamuno forgetting something? We certainly do have experience with nothingness. Every night, in fact, when we’re in dreamless sleep. But you’d be mistaken in this assumption. Clark puts it this way (emphasis mine): “We may occasionally have the impression of having experienced or ‘undergone’ a period of unconsciousness, but, of course, this is impossible. The ‘nothingness’ of unconsciousness cannot be an experienced actuality.”

If psychological immortality represents the intuitive, natural way of thinking about death, then we might expect young children to be particularly inclined to reason in this way. As an eight-year-old, I watched as the remains of our family’s golden retriever, Sam, were buried in the woods behind our house. Still, I thought Sam had a mind capable of knowing I loved her and I was sorry I didn’t get to say goodbye. That Sam’s spirit lived on was not something my parents or anyone else ever explicitly pointed out to me. Although she had been reduced to no more than a few ounces of dust, which was in turn sealed in a now waterlogged box, it never even occurred to me that it was a strange idea.

Yet if you were to have asked me what Sam was experiencing, I probably would have muttered something like the type of answers Gerald P. Koocher reported hearing in a 1973 study published in Developmental Psychology. Koocher, then a doctoral student at the University of Missouri–Columbia and later president of the American Psychological Association, asked six- to 15-year-olds what happens when you die. Consistent with the simulation-constraint hypothesis, many answers relied on everyday experience to describe death, “with references to sleeping, feeling ‘peaceful,’ or simply ‘being very dizzy.’ ”

A Mind-Body Disconnect

But Koocher’s study in itself doesn’t tell us where such ideas come from. The simulation-constraint hypothesis posits that this type of thinking is innate and unlearned. Fortunately, this hypothesis is falsifiable. If afterlife beliefs are a product of cultural indoctrination, with children picking up such ideas through religious teachings, through the media, or informally through family and friends, then one should rationally predict that psychological-continuity reasoning increases with age. Aside from becoming more aware of their own mortality, after all, older kids have had a longer period of exposure to the concept of an afterlife.

In fact, recent findings show the opposite developmental trend. In a 2004 study reported in Developmental Psychology, Florida Atlantic University psychologist David F. Bjorklund and I presented 200 three- to 12-year-olds with a puppet show. Every child saw the story of Baby Mouse, who was out strolling innocently in the woods. “Just then,” we told them, “he notices something very strange. The bushes are moving! An alligator jumps out of the bushes and gobbles him all up. Baby Mouse is not alive anymore.”

Just like the adults from the previously mentioned study, the children were asked about dead Baby Mouse’s psychological functioning. “Does Baby Mouse still want to go home?” we asked them. “Does he still feel sick?” “Can he still smell the flowers?” The youngest children in the study, the three- to five-year-olds, were significantly more likely to reason in terms of psychological continuity than children from the two older age groups were.

But here’s the really curious part. Even the preschoolers had a solid grasp on biological cessation; they knew, for example, that dead Baby Mouse didn’t need food or water anymore. They knew he wouldn’t grow up to be an adult mouse. Heck, 85 percent of the youngest kids even told us that his brain no longer worked. Yet most of these very young children then told us that dead Baby Mouse was hungry or thirsty, that he felt better or that he was still angry at his brother.

One couldn’t say that the preschoolers lacked a concept of death, therefore, because nearly all of the kids realized that biological imperatives no longer applied after death. Rather they seemed to have trouble using this knowledge to theorize about related mental functions.

From an evolutionary perspective, a coherent theory about psychological death is not necessarily vital. Anthropologist H. Clark Barrett of the University of California, Los Angeles, believes instead that understanding the cessation of “agency” (for example, that a dead creature isn’t going to suddenly leap up and bite you) is probably what saved lives (and thus genes). According to Barrett, comprehending the cessation of the mind, on the other hand, has no survival value and is, in an evolutionary sense, unnecessary.

In a 2005 study published in the journal Cognition, Barrett and psychologist Tanya Behne of the University of Manchester in England reported that city-dwelling four-year-olds from Berlin were just as good at distinguishing sleeping animals from dead ones as hunter-horticulturalist children from the Shuar region of Ecuador were. Even today’s urban children appear tuned in to perceptual cues signaling death. A “violation of the body envelope” (in other words, a mutilated carcass) is a pretty good sign that one needn’t worry about tiptoeing around.

The Culture Factor

On the one hand, then, from a very early age, children realize that dead bodies are not coming back to life. On the other hand, also from a very early age, kids endow the dead with ongoing psychological functions. So where do culture and religious teaching come into the mix, if at all?

In fact, exposure to the concept of an afterlife plays a crucial role in enriching and elaborating this natural cognitive stance; it’s sort of like an architectural scaffolding process, whereby culture develops and decorates the innate psychological building blocks of religious belief. The end product can be as ornate or austere as you like, from the headache-inducing reincarnation beliefs of Theravada Buddhists to the man on the street’s “I believe there’s something” brand of philosophy—but it’s made of the same brick and mortar just the same.

In support of the idea that culture influences our natural tendency to deny the death of the mind, Harvard University psychologist Paul Harris and researcher Marta Giménez of the National University of Distance Education in Spain showed that when the wording in interviews is tweaked to include medical or scientific terms, psychological-continuity reasoning decreases. In this 2005 study published in the Journal of Cognition and Culture, seven- to 11-year-old children in Madrid who heard a story about a priest telling a child that his grandmother “is with God” were more likely to attribute ongoing mental states to the decedent than were those who heard the identical story but instead about a doctor saying a grandfather was “dead and buried.”

And in a 2005 replication of the Baby Mouse experiment published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, psychologist David Bjorklund and I teamed with psychologist Carlos Hernández Blasi of Jaume I University in Spain to compare children in a Catholic school with those attending a public secular school in Castellón, Spain. As in the previous study, an overwhelming majority of the youngest children—five- to six-year-olds—from both educational backgrounds said that Baby Mouse’s mental states survived. The type of curriculum, secular or religious, made no difference. With increasing age, however, culture becomes a factor—the kids attending Catholic school were more likely to reason in terms of psychological continuity than were those at the secular school. There was even a smattering of young extinctivists in the latter camp.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Stumbling over the Holocaust

Stumbling over the Holocaust [1, 2]
By Jefferson Chase
The Boston Globe

On a brigth, cold afternoon in Berlin last month, some 100 people stood watching as sculptor Gunter Demnig dug up a bit of sidewalk in front of the elementary school at Admiralstrasse No. 14. Beside him was a 4-by-4-inch brass-plated cobblestone. Its inscription -- "Here lived Willi Hopp, born 1899, died Nov. 17, 1944 in Auschwitz" -- referred to an apartment house that once stood there.

The onlookers applauded as Demnig embedded the stone, its surface slightly raised from the pavement. Someone could come along and trip over it. And that's precisely the idea.

Part of an innovative, if quixotic, effort to map out Nazi genocide by marking the homes of its victims, the tiny brass memorial at Admiralstrasse 14 is the latest addition to the more than 3,000 "Stumbling Stones" that Demnig has laid in cities and towns throughout Germany over the past decade. Demnig, who looks more like an explorer in his broad-brimmed leather hat than an artist or a historian, calls it "a decentralized monument to the past."

Where the memorial stones are laid is determined not by governmental committees, but by history itself, as researched by Demnig, schoolchildren, or patrons. (The costs of the project, around $100 per installation, are paid by private sponsorship.) No distinctions are made between Jewish and other Holocaust victims: You can stumble equally well over the names of Sinti and Roma, Jehovah's witnesses, political undesirables, the mentally ill, and homosexuals.

The effect on the viewer is all the more striking and personal for being accidental. Approximately 140,000 of the 566,000 Jews who lived in Germany in 1933 were killed. Staring down at the modest testimonial to a single human destiny, one can't help but imagine a face to go with the name -- or picture neighbors peeping from behind curtains as someone was taken away.

If genius is simplicity, then Demnig's idea of unobtrusively fixing the Holocaust in Germany's urban geography qualifies as a kind of genius -- especially when one compares the Stumbling Stone project to the official, 27-million-euro Holocaust Memorial being built next to Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. That monument, composed of 2,700 concrete slabs, has been a bone of bitter contention since it was first proposed in 1988. Organizers and politicians have fought over everything from whether a monument was needed at all to what form it should take to whether firms that profited from the Holocaust under Hitler should be allowed to participate in its construction. Residents of the city scorn the project, for the most part, and many object to its being dedicated only to Jewish victims, excluding other groups.

"You'd think with a Holocaust memorial," noted the German-Jewish pundit Rafael Seligmann, with acid reference to the notorious sorting procedures at Auschwitz, "we'd at least try to avoid a selection."

Demnig's idea is free of identity politics. His own interest in Nazi crimes against humanity stems from the discovery that his father had fought as a Wehrmacht soldier for the fascists in the Spanish Civil War, and the Stumbling Stones originated in an earlier documentation of the deportation of Sinti and Roma from his native Cologne. Nevertheless, Demnig's work has not been universally welcomed. While most cities now accept the project, Demnig has been sued by building owners, who claimed the miniature memorials lowered their property values, and resistance in small towns remains strong.

"In villages, everybody knows everybody," says Demnig. "Some people remember what happened and don't want it made public." His first stones were laid in guerrilla fashion after local authorities refused to grant him the relevant permits.

Others have objected that the cobblestones, because they are made to be walked on, are disrespectful of the dead. But Demnig rejects the association with gravestones, pointing out that the locations of the stones are not gravesites and the individuals they name have no remains. Plus, the friction from the soles of people's shoes actually polishes the brass, in effect honoring the dead.

Monolithic memorials often stumble over diverse public expectations -- as illustrated most recently by the controversy over the World Trade Center memorial in New York. Memorials are expected not only to honor the dead, but to offer survivors a site for enacting their grief and to teach society about the horrors of the past. The Stumbling Stones manage to address all these needs, albeit in piecemeal fashion.

Demnig knows he won't succeed in laying stones for all of the 6 million-plus victims of the Holocaust throughout Europe. Indeed, it would be a feat if he managed to commemorate even the German victims. Intentionally or not, Demnig has created the sort of "open" monument which postmodern theorists often posit and architects rarely achieve. The very nature of the project reminds us that history, like memory itself, is an ongoing process.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

How to Prove You're a Jew

Burden of Proof [1]
By Gershom Gorenberg
The American Prospect

Am I a Jew? This is a remarkably strange question for me to ask. No aspect of my identity is more obvious to me. I've been aware of being Jewish since before I can remember. We missed school on Rosh Hashanah; everyone else had Christmas trees. My grandparents' native language was Yiddish. This is besides the fact that I chose 30 years ago to move to the Jewish state.

Nonetheless, while writing "How to Prove You're a Jew" [2] for The New York Times Magazine, I ran the personal experiment of seeing whether I could come up with evidence of Jewishness that might satisfy the Israeli rabbinate. My detective work yielded meager results. No official U.S. document lists me as a Jew. No Jewish marriage contract, or ketuba, for my parents lay hidden in an attic. No Orthodox rabbi alive knew my late mother as a child. With a cousin's help, I found what's probably a record of my grandmother's arrival at Ellis Island in 1910, with her ethnicity listed as "Hebrew" -- but her name is spelled "Sure" rather than "Sarah." Maybe that document would convince a judge in Israel's state-run rabbinic courts. Maybe not.

All of which makes me a fairly typical American-born Jew -- not too different from Suzie, the woman I wrote about in the Times, whose daughter was nearly unable to marry in Israel. In the article, I explained that marriage in Israel is entirely the province of religious authorities, which for the Jewish majority means the state-run rabbinate. Rabbinate jobs are awarded as political patronage; secular parties have satisfied religious coalition partners by giving those jobs to ultra-Orthodox rabbis. Increasingly, the rabbis in the state bureaucracy demand proof that people registering to marry are really Jewish. The proof they seek -- government documents, testimony from a select group of Orthodox clergy -- is unavailable to most American-born Jews.
Judging by how quickly the article climbed the "most e-mailed" chart it disturbed many American Jewish readers. In writing that piece, I kept to the role of narrator, telling a story. But one can't tell a story like this without seeing implications. Here are a few.

Most obvious, Israel needs to separate state and synagogue. As a matter of human rights, it is unacceptable that a couple seeking a civil marriage must go abroad. It is also absurd that to have a religious ceremony, one must be vetted by a clerical bureaucracy, then find a clergyman approved by that bureaucracy.

The point of separation is not only to protect nonbelievers but also to protect Judaism from the state. As Tulane University sociologist of religion Brenda Brasher once pointed out to me, the United States is the most religious country in the West precisely because of its unusual separation of church and state. America is a hothouse of religious innovation and variety, because religious institutions have to attract people to come through their doors. They can't depend on the state to pay their budgets. Judaism in Israel, tied to the state, alienates most Israeli Jews.

Over the years, I've talked to leaders of Reform and Conservative Judaism who would like the Israeli government to subsidize their institutions as well. They are mistaken. For Israel to be a Jewish state does not mean that the government must support Judaism. Rather, it should mean that because the country has a Jewish majority, Jews enjoy more cultural autonomy than they do as a minority elsewhere -- creating space for a ferocious, delightful debate about what it means to be Jewish and what form Judaism should take. To the maximum extent possible, the state should stay out of that debate.

Which brings me to a second implication. I suspect the article upset many Jews because they would like to agree on what the word "Jew" means, on who belongs to the club. But there's no such consensus. Why should there be, really? We famously don't agree on anything else. Eliminating ultra-Orthodox control of Judaism in Israel will not lead Jews to agree on what constitutes conversion, or on whether the child of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother is a Jew (Reform Judaism says yes; Conservative and Orthodox say no).

The ambiguities actually go further. American Jews tend to define "Jew" as a religious term but to treat it as an ethnic identity -- a tribal matter of shared ancestry, inflections, foods, and fears. Most Israeli Jews insist "Jew" is the name of a nationality, parallel to "French" or "Palestinian." Yet they generally assume that someone who converts to another religion ceases to be a Jew, and that someone who converts to Judaism has joined the ethnic group.

Because of the multiple meanings, two Jews can work together to raise money for a Jewish philanthropy, even when one is not sure the other is quite Jewish enough for his son to marry. This sociological reality could be softened by mutual respect. An Orthodox rabbi should be able to trust a Reform rabbi who says that someone's mother is Jewish. But the Reform rabbi will continue believing a Jewish father is sufficient to make someone a Jew, and her Orthodox colleague will disagree. Ultimately, the word "Jew" is postmodern, loaded with contradictory meanings. If I have made people uncomfortable by reporting this fact, there's nothing I can do about it.

Nonetheless, as a Jewish state, Israel can't entirely get out of the business of definitions. Regarding itself as the Jewish homeland, Israel grants Jews the right to immigrate. This isn't unique. Germany, Ireland, Finland, and other nation-states have laws granting preferential immigration rights to members of the dominant ethnic group. (The nation-state is an imperfect institution, but it is not going out of fashion, as Kosovars will testify.) To grant that right, you have to define who belongs to the group.

Israel could eliminate the problem by nullifying its Law of Return. Judging from the e-mails I received, very few of the American Jews who were perturbed by "How to Prove You're a Jew" would like this solution. Even if they never intend to move to Israel, they want to know they qualify.

Yet if Israel lets in anyone who says he or she is Jewish, it would lose control of immigration. It is now a developed country, attractive purely for economic reasons. There's no perfect solution to this quandary, but there may be ways to ameliorate it. Israel should use a wide definition of "Jew" for the legal purpose of defining who qualifies for immigration on that basis. It should also enact a consistent policy on how non-Jews can qualify for immigration, so that there's an alternative track. Israel is no more immune from this need than any other Western country. Instead of instant citizenship for Jews, all immigrants should go through the same process of naturalization, over the same amount of time, with the same requirements. And once people are citizens, their ethnic identity should not be the state's concern. The need to prove you are a Jew wouldn't vanish, but it would be both easier and less important.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Jews are seeking right of return - to Germany

Jews Who Fled Germany Seek Citizenship [1, 2]
By Karen Matthews
Washington Post

When Helen Springut was growing up, her parents wouldn't vacation in Germany or buy a German car. The legacy of the Holocaust was too bitter. But Springut, 26, has been to Germany several times and doesn't think "all Germans are Nazis."

Now she is applying for German citizenship under a law that allows Jews who fled Hitler, and their children and grandchildren, to become naturalized Germans. For many people, that means receiving a European Union passport that can pave the way for living and working in Europe.

The German law, which has been on the books since the 1950s, applies to Jews who were stripped of German citizenship during the Nazi era and their descendants. It can also apply to communists and others driven from Hitler's Germany for political reasons.

The German consulate in New York handles up to 30 such applications a month, and one law firm here says it has 120 Jewish clients seeking German citizenship.

Most of those taking advantage of the law are from regions of the former Soviet Union, but there are also applicants from the United States, Canada and Australia. More than 4,000 Israelis also received German citizenship in 2006, a 50 percent increase over 2005.

According to the German government, there are now some 200,000 Jews living in Germany, up from 25,000 before the 1989 collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Springut, a Harvard graduate who works in film production in Hollywood, has no immediate plans to move to Germany and will not lose her U.S. citizenship if her application is approved.

Springut learned she might be eligible from someone in the German consulate in Los Angeles. She then began gathering documents to prove that her paternal grandfather, who was born in Germany and left in the 1930s, was a German citizen.

It hasn't been easy. "As the Allies approached, the Nazis just burned everything," she said. "Documentation doesn't really exist."

In New York, the Fridman Law Group offers to help applicants through the process and advertises its services in local papers.

Nathalie Tauchner, who runs the group's German Citizenship Project, said the firm has handled about 120 cases and has obtained German citizenship for more than two dozen clients since starting the service one year ago.

Heinrich Neumann, a spokesman for the German consulate in New York, said applicants don't need an attorney's help. "It's a matter of fact," he said. "You have to meet the conditions."

In general, the German government discourages dual citizenship, but it makes an exception for eligible Jews. If granted citizenship, they are entitled to the same government benefits guaranteed to other Germans.

"You are equal with every other German. We don't have first-class and second-class citizenship," Neumann said.

Tauchner acknowledged that using a lawyer is not necessary "but under certain circumstances it makes your life a lot easier."

She said the law can be complicated. For example, an American Jew might think his or her grandfather was a German citizen because he was born in Germany in 1925.

But if he was the son of Polish immigrants to Germany, he might not have been a German citizen under the laws in effect at the time.

"It's one thing to say 'My grandfather was a German citizen and therefore I'm eligible,'" she said. "It's another thing to have proof of that."

Tauchner said her clients seek German citizenship for different reasons. Some fled Nazi Germany themselves and are now in their 80s and 90s.

"Their motivation is, something was taken from them in an unjust manner and they want to get it back," she said.

The children and grandchildren of the Holocaust generation have different motivations.

"They are primarily interested because it does open Europe to them," Tauchner said.

Few of those clients have definite plans to move to Germany, she added. Rather, they are thinking: "Now I can broaden my job search. I don't have to work in the United States. I can also look in England."

Not all children of Holocaust survivors are ready to make their peace; the memory of 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis persists.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, was born in Poland in 1940 and saved from the Holocaust by a nanny who had him baptized as a Catholic.

Foxman said he has seen ads in Israel encouraging Jews to seek Polish citizenship as well. "From one perspective it's nice that Poland or Germany or some of the Eastern European countries are looking for Jews," he said.

While he has traveled in Germany, he says his own children won't go there.

"Some of the younger generation are not willing to let go yet," he said.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Lehman Brothers from Rimpar, Bavaria

There are no Jews in Rimpar [1, 2]
By John L. Loeb Jr.
Jewish Post

The Lehmans founded the great international investment banking firm of Lehman Brothers and among many other philanthropic endeavors endowed the Lehman Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Family members - many without the surname "Lehman" - have for 150 years played major roles in America's business, cultural and political life.

It is just one month to the day since my mother, Frances "Peter" Lehman Loeb died, and I find myself participating in a most singular event. I am in the small village of Rimpar, Germany, from which her ancestors came, participating in a ceremony honoring the Lehman family.

I am sitting in one of the impressive chambers of the Town Hall of Rimpar, once a castle of the great prince- bishops of nearby Wurzburg. Surrounding me are citizens of Rimpar, officials from Wurzburg, representatives of the Federal Government in Bonn, The Bavarian State Government in Munich; Duke Max of Bavaria, a direct descendant of the Kings of Bavaria; schoolchildren from Wurzburg High School, sister school to the Edith Altschul Lehman High School in Dimona, Israel; and 14 of my relatives, all descendants of Abraham Lehman who lived in this picturesque Bavarian town two centuries ago.

We are there in June, 1996, at the invitation of the Rimpar Town Council and its mayor, Anton Kutt, who inspired by a proposal from a young Catholic journalist, Dr. Roland Flade, were paying tribute to the family that Abraham Lehman had fathered.

The mayor of Rimpar was reading a letter from Helmut Kohl, chancellor of the German Republic, extolling the Lehman family and commending the Rimpar Municipal Council for keeping up "the memory of Jewish life in Rimpar and the victims of the Holocaust." This was an act the chancellor said, that was "setting an example that will be recognized far beyond their village."

As the ceremonies proceeded, I felt a flood of emotions, I thought of my mother, how proud she had been of her family and their record of accomplishments to which she had added a most notable page. I remembered my grandfather, Arthur, the senior partner of Lehman Brothers. I remembered his brothers, my great uncles, Herbert and Irving Lehman, the former a Governor and Senator of New York; the latter, the Chief Justice of the State's highest court.

Echoes came back to me of the stories I had head as a child of how my great grandfather, Mayer Lehman and his two brothers, faced with a law that allowed only one member of each Jewish family to marry and to work, had been forced to leave their home in Rimpar early in the 19th century to seek their fortune in the new world, originally as peddlers.

There are no Jews in Rimpar today.

Earlier in the day, a plaque had been unveiled at my great great grandfather's house which still stands in what is today the main street of Rimpar. Today it is a pharmacy.

Christian Will, a former member of the Bavarian Parliament, had the idea for the plaque. As an 11-year-old, she witnessed Kristallnacht. "We are the last generation that actually witnessed Kristallnacht and the expulsion of the Jews...The synagogue was plundered. They had thrown everything all over the street."

Following the unveiling of the plaque, we walked to the Town Hall built on a gentle slope about 100 yards from the Lehman House. In a small, stone room, the mayor dedicated the permanent exhibition about the history of the Jews of Rimpar. It features Government Herbert H. Lehman and the Lehman family. The display of photos and text paid tribute to the nine Jewish residents of Rimpar who died in Nazi concentration camps. Members of the Lehman family also died during the Holocaust, although none was then living in Rimpar.

Of the nine children of Abraham Lehman, only the three younger brothers, Henry, Emanuel and Mayer, came to the United States before 1850. Their eldest brother, Seligman, received the one license to work and marry for each Jewish family in Rimpar. Six sisters moved to other villages where Jewish quotas allowed them to settle and marry.

During the 1930's, with the rise of Hitler, their descendants heard they had a cousin in America, Governor Lehman, and they appealed to him for help. A family charitable fund, run by Dorothy Bernhard, my mother's sister, was organized. Under Dorothy's aegis, over 100 affidavits were issued. In the 1930's, if you had an affidavit, you could enter the United States. However, only 65 members of the Lehman family emigrated. It is unclear what happened to the other family members but we have to assume that they all perished in the Holocaust.

We also know about a first cousin of Governor Lehman: Eva Lehman. At the time that the Lehman family records were unearthed by Dr. Flade, he also discovered one of the largest files of Gestapo records existing in Germany. The originals had been destroyed but he found microfilms in the Bavarian State Archives in Wurzburg and matched them up with Lehman descendants.

In those files he found that Mrs. Thalheimer had been murdered at Treblinka. She had been able to get one of her children and grandchildren to America, but we had not been able to trace them. Through a series of amazing coincidences, her granddaughter, Ruth Nelkin of Great Neck, Long Island, New York, read about the event and contacted me. She had left Wurzburg when she was two- years-old. With her daughter, Amy, she arrived in Rimpar at the last minute.

How moving, how ironic, how strange this whole occasion.

The citizens of Rimpar were honoring a Jewish family that was unknown to them until today. Members of the Rimpar Municipal Council had voted unanimously to fund this project. The Chancellor of Germany was writing us; our relatives buried in the lovely Jewish cemetery of Heidingsfeld, now part of Wurzburg, rest in immaculately tended grounds.

As I listen to the words of praise, of regret, of warning, I thought how much fate and circumstances played in our lives and how lucky I was that my great grandfather had the good sense and the ambition to emigrate to the United States.

Russian Jews in Germany

Russian Immigrants Struggle in Small German Towns [1]
By Nathaniel Popper

HAMELN, Germany — Sounds of hammering and sawing came from the back of the six-year-old Jewish community center in this Lower Saxony town. Three older men, all volunteers, were at work on a stage for the new prayer room.

Surrounded by sawdust and pine planks, the men took a break to debate, in Russian, the proper way to affix a mezuza to the door frame. After about 20 minutes of discussion the men admitted that none had ever seen a mezuza on a door before, and they decided to wait on any decision until the next of the infrequent visits to their town by a rabbi.

The energy and commitment of these men gives reason for the high hopes that have been pinned to Germany’s burgeoning Jewish community — the fastest-growing Jewish community in the world, thanks to the steady flow of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. But hopeful discussions about a Jewish renaissance in Germany often overlook the difficulties many of these new immigrants have had both integrating into German society and reconnecting with a Jewish faith that was lost to them in the atheistic Soviet Union.

“We can’t say now that Judaism is seeing a rebirth,” said Paul Harris, an expert on Russian Jewish immigrants at Georgia’s Augusta State University. “It’s far from being there.”

Since 1991, when Germany opened its borders to Jews from the former Soviet Union, more than 170,000 Jewish immigrants have arrived. Last year, for the first time ever, more Jews fleeing the ravaged economies of the former Soviet Union came to Germany than either Israel or the United States.

As part of the policy of accepting Jewish immigrants, which is seen in Germany as an act of repentance for the Holocaust, each new family is assigned to one of Germany’s 16 states by a strict formula. As a result, Jewish communities have sprung up almost overnight in cities and towns such as Hameln, population 59,000, that had no Jewish community before.

The distribution program was designed to spread the financial burden of the immigrants among the German states as well as to avoid creating Jewish ghettos in the large cities such as Berlin and Frankfurt, toward which immigrants would otherwise be drawn.

But in cities and towns such as Hameln, with its 450 Russian Jewish immigrants, the effort to disperse immigrant settlement has created isolated pockets of immigrants with few social or religious resources at their disposal.

A majority of the Jewish immigrants are living in places that until recently did not have Jewish communities, experts say. A full 72 of the 85 Jewish congregations officially recognized by the Central Council of German Jews were founded since 1991. Most are composed exclusively of immigrants in areas with no previously established Jewish community.

One of the three volunteers working on the community center’s prayer room, 65-year-old Vilen Kogan arrived in Germany six years ago and spends all his days at the synagogue speaking Russian. Discussing his work at the synagogue in broken German, Kogan, who has a cross tattooed on his bicep, makes no mention of any particular devotion to Judaism. Unemployed, he simply has nowhere else to go during the day.

Kogan’s 28-year-old son, Boris, came to Germany at the same time as his father. He spends all his time with the other young Russians in town. Like his father, he has not found steady work since arriving in Germany, with its rigid labor market.

In Israel and America, where Russian immigrants have been settled in places with already established Jewish communities, the unemployment rates for the newcomers have dropped close to that of the larger population after three years. In Germany, the unemployment rate for Russian Jewish immigrants has remained at 40%, and it is even higher in small and midsized cities such as Hameln.

But Boris Kogan is not resigned to volunteering his time at the synagogue. While his father helps build the prayer room, he and a friend are across town setting up a beer garden they plan to open during the fall.

This leaves him little time for Jewish activities. He has never been to the community center and said, “Only the old people have time for that.”

“I know I am Jewish — it said so on my passport in the Ukraine — but it is not important to me,” Boris said.

This is a typical attitude among younger and middle-aged immigrants, said Olaf Gloeckner, who researches Russian Jewish immigrants at the Moses Mendelssohn Center in Potsdam, Germany.

“Among the middle generations coming to Germany, there has been almost no inclination to turn to Jewish religion,” Gloeckner said.

The energetic leader of the Hameln community, Jakov Bondar, recognizes the lack of engagement among the younger immigrants with exasperation.

“It’s so important for us to have Judaism here. It’s what sets us apart,” Bondar said. “I’m glad that I was discriminated against in Russia for being a Jew. Otherwise I would have forgotten I was Jewish.”

But without any established Jewish community nearby, he has struggled to transmit his enthusiasm for Judaism to the younger generation. He has set up a Sunday school to get the youngest generation involved, but he has not found anyone who knows Hebrew, and as a result, the lessons consist mostly of efforts to transmit the Russian language, along with a few biblical stories from a Russian book of Jewish tales.

A rabbi — there are only 34 in Germany, according to the Central Council — visits the congregation every few months, and emissaries from the chasidic Chabad outreach organization make occasional stops, but for the most part, the congregation’s Russian immigrants are on their own when it comes to building a Jewish community.

Consequently, the congregation is not particularly observant. A yarmulke is not required in the prayer room, and breakfast with Bondar and Kogan is fried shrimp. Nevertheless, when Bondar is asked the denomination of his congregation, he quickly answers: “Orthodox.”

The answer is less a statement of doctrinal belief than a response to the complex religious politics of Germany.

The Central Council for German Jews, which oversees the government funding for local congregations, has frequently voiced its preference for congregations that observe matrilineal descent and its reluctance to fund Reform Judaism, which was founded in Germany.

Soon after Bondar founded his congregation, an American-German Jew set up a Reform congregation for Russian immigrants in Hameln with support from the Appleseed Foundation, an American philanthropy. In order to differentiate his congregation, and retain the support of the Central Council, Bondar is forthright in declaring his commitment to traditional Judaism.

While Bondar’s congregation is funded by the Central Council, he complains that even the approximately $30,000 it receives each year is not enough to purchase the prayer books and kosher food needed to establish a functioning congregation.

The Central Council’s executive director, Stephan Kramer, said that he commiserates with Bondar.

“The financial support for the existing communities is by far not enough for the quick establishment of the necessary infrastructure for the still-growing economic, social and religious demands of the communities and their members,” Kramer said.

But Bondar insists that the larger problem is that Russian immigrants have little pull in Central Council debates over questions such as where the available money goes and how quickly it flows to the Russian communities.

While new immigrants make up 70% of the registered Jews in Germany, they are not represented on the executive board of the Central Council, and only two of the 16 chairmen of the individual Jewish state federations are Russian immigrants.

Without a grasp of the German language and removed from the established urban centers of Jewish power in Berlin and Frankfurt, the immigrants have struggled to get a foothold in the Jewish establishment.

The distance between the new and old communities has been accentuated by a skepticism toward the new immigrants among the existing Jewish community.

“The Jews who were in Germany were already very concerned with being accepted,” said Andrei Markovits, a professor of German politics at the University of Michigan, “and then in come these new guys from the East — the Ostjueden — who the Western Jews have always looked down on, long before World War II.”

Bondar said that this attitude comes across very clearly. When he has asked for more help from the existing Jewish community, he said he frequently receives the same answer: “You Russians come and expect everything. Have patience. We were patient when we returned after the war.”

But Bondar warns that without more resources to build a Jewish community in Hameln, the younger generation will be lost to Judaism.

“We have no teacher for Hebrew and no rabbi,” Bondar said. “Slowly the congregation will turn into a hobby club or a social help center. Instead of integration, this is the way to assimilation.”