Germany's Jews step out of shadow of Holocaust

Thu Feb 23, 2012 7:26am EST
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By Madeline Chambers

BERLIN (Reuters) - Yitshak Ehrenberg has witnessed a transformation in Germany's Jewish community during his 15 years as an Orthodox rabbi in Berlin and he is determined to harness a new generation to ensure the religion thrives here.

"After the war, most of the community were refugees, survivors, broken souls who had lost their family and sometimes even their faith," the 62-year-old told Reuters from a luxurious living room filled with modern art and family photographs.

"Now that generation has gone and the community is twice as big but 90 percent are from the former Soviet Union. If it weren't for the new arrivals, the synagogue would be empty," said the Israeli-born rabbi.

Ehrenberg's experience reflects Jewish life which has been transformed across Germany by the influx of some 200,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union in the last 20 years.

The emergence of a new generation, keen to play a part in mainstream German society, has triggered the opening of bagel bars, Jewish restaurants, schools and synagogues in cities such as Berlin, Munich and Dresden in the last decade.

Berlin, with its trendy image for young people, has also become popular among Israelis, with about 20,000 living here.

Strikingly, younger Jews no longer see themselves as victims. In stark contrast to the generation of survivors who felt a duty to remind Germans of their guilt after World War Two, they dwell little on the Nazi period and its persecutions.

Today's community is a mix of religious and secular, orthodox and liberal, German- and Soviet-born Jews. It is very different from the pre-Holocaust community and Jewish leaders say it will never attain the cultural significance of the pre-1933 generations.   Continued...

A member of the Jewish community attends a service at the synagogue in Berlin's Pestalozzi Street November 7, 2008. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch