Burgeoning Jewish Life in Central Europe

On sevearal occasions, the educational committee of our community, the IGB, has organized long weekends for adolescents who have recently reached the age of bar or bat mitzvah. On several occasions, I had the pleasure and privilege to lead such a trip to a European destination, and the question was always where to go. The purpose of the trip is to boost the youngsters’ interest in continuing to build their Jewish education. For that, one needs both to learn the past and see the future. One particular challenge going with such a group is the language barrier – Basel youth speaks German as their first language. Not all 13 and 14 year olds, even in a quadrilingual country like Switzerland, have extensive foreign language skills, and even if they do speak more than one language fluently, they don’t all speak the same second language. So for us, it has always been a good bet to give priority to German speaking areas, which, indeed, are areas of a very rich Jewish past, however, many of those places are about a Judaism that has been, that is in the past tense. It would surely fill the youngsters with sadness that so much was destroyed so recently, but that does not motivate too many to be more Jewishly engaged. They live in the here and now, and the past, however rich, is not enticing, unless it continues in the present.

And so, we took a particular liking to Berlin, because, despite the reality that the present local kehilla is but a weak shadow of its former self, it is the largest German speaking Jewish community, with well over 10’000 registered Jews, and is estimated to have perhaps as many as three times that number of Jews. But more importantly, it is not a disappearing community, or one where only the forces of assimilation hold sway. On account of the great work of the Lauder Foundation, the city boasts a growing men’s yeshiva and women’s midrasha, which, more than anything else, show the vitality of Jewishh life and contribute to it. This is the topic of a recent Washington Post article, which I urge you to read. An excerpt:

Orthodox Jewish community takes hold in Berlin

Now when the sun sets on a Friday night, dozens of Jewish men clad in traditional Shabbat garb with big black hats and dark long coats walk down the streets past hip coffee shops, chic boutiques and tiny art galleries to attend services at Rykestrasse synagogue.

There about 200 believers now and it’s growing fast: There are several weddings a year and the nursery school has become so overcrowded that parents have to register their children soon after birth if they want to get one of the coveted spots.

“In many other Jewish places in Germany, there’s a sadness, it’s all about the past,” said Rabbi David Rose, the director of the congregation’s yeshiva where young men study Judaism’s traditional texts. “Here we have a lot of students, it’s all very alive.”

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