The Hanukka menorah at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s appointment as the country’s next president is a welcome move for the Jewish community, according to the rabbi of the Jewish community of Berlin, Yehuda Teichtal.
“The fact that he will in February become the president of the Federal Republic of Germany is for the Jewish community a very positive sign,” Teichtal told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. Describing Steinmeier as a “uniter,” he said the minister has always brought together people of different minorities.
“He has always expressed a warm, positive approach, not just of reconciliation to the Jewish community, but also of a present and future active Jewish life,” Teichtal stressed.
He recalled Steinmeier’s attendance as a guest of honor at the Jewish community center inauguration in Berlin nine years ago. Steinmeier did not just accept the invitation and pay lip service, but stayed all day, an example of how he goes “above and beyond the call of duty,” according to Teichtal.
“His warm approach is something he has carried throughout the years,” he said. “Numerous times he has participated in Jewish events across entire spectrum.”
In referring to politicians who turn up to memorial services, Teichtal commented: “Remembering is one thing, it’s something else when a politician stands up for the present and future active Jewish community.”
Steinmeier has spoken up for the Jewish and other religious communities in practical ways, pushing forward a law to permit religious circumcision when the issue was in the spotlight four years ago.
Pointing to the UK’s Brexit vote and uncertainty in Italy following this week’s referendum, Teichtal called Steinmeier’s upcoming leadership a breath of fresh air. “With so many voices of extremism and right wing dividers, here comes a politician who is a person who truly cares, especially for the Jewish issue,” he said. “He doesn’t only talk the talk, but also walks the walk, which is very encouraging, especially today with so many insecurities.” Steinmeier’s commitment to the Jewish community is also valued outside of Germany. Earlier this week he was proclaimed an honorary member of the Jewish community of Thessaloniki at a ceremony at the Monastiriotes synagogue.
David Saltiel, the president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece and the Jewish community of Thessaloniki, said the honor acknowledged contributions “toward the promotion of the relations between the Jewish community of Thessaloniki and the Federal Republic of Germany as well as your commitment towards combating antisemitism and racism.”
The honor came after Steinmeier inaugurated “Divided Memories 1940-1950 – The Distance Between History and Experience,” an exhibit at the Macedonian Museum of Modern Art co-organized by the Goethe Institute Thessaloniki, The Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki and the Deutsches Historisches Museum of Berlin.
Steinmeier received his honor “with joy and gratitude,” he said, and as “a miracle of reconciliation.” “We accept the hands you are extending with great joy, but also with humility. And be sure that we will never let go of those hands,” Steinmeier noted, underlining that “without a doubt, Germany acknowledges its political and moral responsibility for the murders and the heinous crimes committed in Greece during World War II.
Teichtal commented, “All of these things show that from the first time he came to dedicate the synagogue, there has been an ongoing relationship and interest in strengthening Jewish life and expressing his support for that. It’s not just official – like many politicians – but it’s real.”