MIDDLE ISRAEL: No place for a Jew

The debate over the dignity of the Jewish return to Germany is now also about its safety.

People wear kippas as they attend a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue, to denounce an anti-Semitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa in the capital earlier this month, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. (photo credit: FABRIZIO BENSCH / REUTERS)
People wear kippas as they attend a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue, to denounce an anti-Semitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa in the capital earlier this month, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018.
A sense of appeasement, optimism, and long-gone normality descended on Dresden the day rabbis were ordained in Germany for the first time since the last of pre-Nazi Germany’s three rabbinical seminaries was shut down in 1942.
It was autumn 2006 and The New York Times waxed poetic that “sunlight danced off the waters of the Elbe River, the city’s meticulously restored buildings, and the Star of David hanging above the synagogue’s entrance” – having been salvaged from the ruins of the synagogue that was ransacked on Kristallnacht – “seemed an apt symbol for a day that linked past and present.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel concurred, calling it “a day of recognition and joy,” Rabbi Uri Regev of the Progressive Judaism movement said “you could feel the winds of history hovering over your head,” and newly ordained Rabbi Daniel Alter said that German-Jewish relations were set to continue improving, provided “we don’t allow dark, right-wing forces to reappear in Germany.”
Well, 12 years on, the dark winds have reappeared, as made plain by the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dr. Josef Schuster, who has just advised his flock “not to appear openly with a kippa in a big-city setting in Germany.”
No, this is not to deny the emergence of a new Germany, nor to belittle its leaders’ response to what they now face. It is only to say that in a Germany where a Jew must hide his faith, no Jew should live.
“GERMANY WANTS to do teshuva [repentance],” said in 2007 former Jewish Theological Seminary chancellor Ismar Schorsch, as he ordained the Conservative movement’s first Germany-bound rabbi, Gesa Ederberg. It was part of an interdenominational enthusiasm.
Chabad opened in 2000 a yeshiva in Frankfurt, a year after the Reform movement opened, within Potsdam University, the Abraham Geiger Rabbinical Seminary, to which the university added in 2013 the School of Jewish Theology, headed by Israeli Talmudist and poet Admiel Kosman.
Between them, the Reform, Conservative and Chabad movements share an urge to restore the Jewish people’s presence within the nation that last century stormed the Jews, their shrines and their faith.
Add to them an estimated 100,000 secular Jews who moved in from the former Soviet Union, some 25,000 who lived in Germany prior to 1990, and several thousand Israelis who joined them this century, and you get the Germany that now looms as the Diaspora’s only growing community.
Middle Israelis value the close state-to-state alliance forged by David Ben-Gurion and Konrad Adenauer, and they admire the new Germany’s respect for Judaism, but they oppose the revival of a Jewish community in that land, as this column explained already last decade while marking 40 years of German-Israeli diplomatic ties (“No place for a Jew,” 11 February 2005).
Yet what is now at stake is not this restoration project’s dignity, but its safety; not its relationship with the past, but with the future.
Yes, the ruling class is with the Jews. Merkel’s response to a Syrian immigrant’s assault of a man who wore a yarmulke – “this is a horrifying incident and we will react” – was clearly sincere, and Foreign Minister Heiko Mass’s public appearance wearing a kippa was genuine and impressive. And yes, protests in multiple cities where Jews and non-Jews gathered wearing skullcaps were heartening scenes.
However, even the largest of these gatherings, the one held in Berlin, drew only 2,000 people. In a metropolis of more than six million people, that’s hardly a crowd. What that says about the broader German public’s attitude is a matter of speculation.
What is not a matter of speculation is that German Jewry’s surroundings have been transformed, almost overnight, by the arrival of nearly a million Arab immigrants who have suddenly become their neighbors.
THE ARAB immigration’s direct challenge to the Jewish community has just been announced. Yes, physical assault will likely remain rare, but German Jews must think of this immigration’s political impact in upcoming years.
The first impact is already here, with the rise of the xenophobic Alternative for Germany. Having quickly established itself as the third-largest party, it has already caused serious political paralysis by siphoning votes from the ruling Christian Democrats. A Jew following this development must suspect that it is but the beginning of larger and uglier political mayhem.
The second effect, Arab voters impacting mainstream politicians’ positions, may take longer to mature in Germany, but can already be seen elsewhere in Europe, most notably in Britain’s Labour Party. Labour leader Jeremy Corbin’s repeated anti-Jewish gaffes and provocations may or may not reflect his emotions, but they clearly serve a rational calculation: collecting Muslim votes.
This political trend is already at play in countries such as Belgium and Sweden, and in due course will reach the German political center as well. While that may take some years to mature, malignant tension between Christian Germans and Muslim Syrians, Iraqis and Afghanis is already simmering throughout Germany, as millions feel they have been made to swallow what they are not built to digest.
No, there is no room for doomsday prophecies like Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s in a speech in Warsaw in July 1938, “catastrophe is approaching.... I see a terrible picture... the volcano that will soon spew out its flames of extermination.” But a Germany with a brewing ethnic confrontation and a mushrooming antiforeigner party can have in store nothing happy for a local Jew.
Middle Israelis may be overly sensitive, but they sniff strife, a clash between Ahmed and Fritz, where shrines will be leveled and blood will be shed. The horses under this approaching war’s cavaliers are already audibly restless, their heels clinking in Germany’s plazas, their snickers knifing through its air, where the question to the German Jew will soon hang: which barbarian side are you on?