First rabbis since 1942 ordained in Germany

Religious leaders welcome new rabbinical ordinations as important step towards rebuilding strong Jewish community.

german rabbis 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
german rabbis 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Three men have been confirmed as rabbis in Dresden's new synagogue, the first to be ordained in Germany since World War II in an event hailed as a milestone in the rebirth of Jewish life in the country responsible for the Holocaust. Germany's Daniel Alter, 47, was the first of the three men graduating from the Abraham Geiger College to be ordained in the ceremony in the synagogue, which was rebuilt after the fall of the Berlin Wall -- the first in the territory of the former East Germany. He was joined by 35-year-old Thomas Cucera, of the Czech Republic and 38-year-old Malcolm Matitiani, of South Africa. They are the first rabbis to be ordained in Germany since the Nazis destroyed the College of Jewish Studies in Berlin in 1942, midway through the war. Just before the ceremony began, Matitiani said he was "excited and happy" and that there was a twofold significance to being ordained in Germany. He told the AP it is important for him "because of the scholarship and the symbol of reviving Judaism in Germany." "It's the birthplace of progressive Judaism and it has a long history of Jewish scholarship," he said. Germany had a thriving Jewish community of more than 500,000 when the Nazis were voted into power in 1933 and began to implement their anti-Semitic policies, causing many to emigrate. Following the implementation of the so-called "final solution" during the war, in which the Nazi's murdered some 6 million European Jews, around 200,000 German Jews were killed, leaving only between 10,000 to 15,000 in the first years after the war. After decades of little growth, the German Jewish community has more-than tripled since reunification in 1990, thanks in a large part to a government program to take in Jews from the former Soviet Union. More than 100,000 Jews now live in some 102 established communities throughout the country. "After the Holocaust, many people could never have imagined that Jewish life in Germany could blossom again," German President Horst Koehler said before the event. "That is why the first ordination of rabbis in Germany is a very special event indeed." To help serve the burgeoning community, Abraham Geiger College -- named for the liberal rabbi considered the founder of the Reform, or liberal Jewish movement -- opened its doors in 1999 conjunction with the University of Potsdam in eastern Germany. It is a private, nonprofit institution that is sponsored by the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the German government and the Leo Baeck Foundation. Alter, Cucera, and Matitiani are the first graduating class. Alter and Cucera will remain in Germany while Matitiani will return to his native South Africa. At a news conference on Wednesday, the college's director Walter Homolka said the ordination was only the beginning.