german synagogue 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
No Jews have lived in Arnstein since the Nazi era. Thus it was with some surprise that residents of the town of 9,000, located among rolling farmland halfway between Frankfurt and Nuremberg, witnessed the reopening of a 200-year-old synagogue on Saturday.
Shortly after learning that a three-story private home in the center of the town's Christmas market was a former synagogue, the municipality bought it from its private owners, "redeeming the synagogue from captivity and turning it into a cultural house that will be an exact restoration to what the synagogue was like 60 years ago," Jewish National Fund Germany director Tzachi Ganor told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
What began as an initiative to renovate a local Jewish landmark quickly turned into something much larger.
With the help of Epraim Lapid, a former Jewish Agency official, Arnstein opened a relationship with the Gezer Regional Council. A sister-city agreement is awaiting approval by the council and the Arnstein regional legislature.
The proposed agreement has already borne fruit. During Mayor Plappert-Metz's visit to Gezer two weeks ago, "We took her to plant a tree in Hulda Forest," said Ganor. "She was as excited as anyone would be in that situation and decided that she wants to plant an orchard of 1,000 trees in the forest."
"The mayor has committed to pushing this, so that when the synagogue is ready, the donations [for the orchard] will already be on hand," he said.
During Arnstein's annual Christmas market, the JNF, the German-Israeli Association and the municipality held an "Israel event," offering Jewish and Israel-related maps, brochures, give-a-ways, flags, art and food. The Jewish community of nearby Wurzburg created posters depicting pre-WWII Jewish life in the area; a JNF booth raised both awareness and funds for JNF activities among the non-Jewish townsfolk. Residents had a chance to sample falafel, humus and Israeli wines.
What led a tiny German town to suddenly take notice of its Jewish past and to form a connection to Israel?
"Coincidence," according to Claudia Korenke, national vice president of the German-Israeli Association. "About a year ago, I was talking to the mayor in a local pub [on a different matter]. By chance, I only had on me my German-Israeli Association business card, and she [Plappert-Metz] said it was interesting and that they had a synagogue in town they wanted to renovate," Korenke told the Post on Tuesday.
"It is absolutely certain no one in Arnstein ever had contact with Israelis," she declared with a laugh, adding, "I saw the articles in the local papers yesterday and today. There was a huge article on the JNF and Israel, and they even collected some money [for JNF]."
"The mayor was satisfied with the event" and has asked Korenke to help arrange more events in the future. "I will take care of that," she promised, adding that a youth exchange was already being planned.
For Lapid, who represented the State of Israel at Saturday's ceremony, the new-found connection is a significant one. "This is a non-Jewish town that saw fit to reopen [the synagogue] as a symbol of their connection to Judaism and Israel," he said.
Ganor agreed. "Some 90 communities in the Wurzburg area were abandoned before WWII," he said. "In this event, in Arnstein's Christmas market, a former synagogue was redeemed."
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