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

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.