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Panel Is Upbeat About the Future of Jews in Germany

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
July - August 2005

A panel of Jews and Germans painted a positive picture of Jewish life in Germany at a meeting at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in Washington, D.C. in June.  

Moderator Tom Freudenheim, former deputy director of the Jewish Museum in Berlin, described what it is like to be young and Jewish in Berlin today: “Interesting, exhilarating and confusing.”  

Jews who come with preconceived, negative ideas about Germans leave that way, he said, but most others find life in Berlin exciting.  

Washington Jewish Week (June 30, 2005) reports: “Accompanying the synagogue’s photo exhibit on new Jewish life in Berlin, the Jewish-German dialogue was co-sponsored by the Goethe Institute and the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, with assistance from the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum and the American Jewish Committee.”  

Besides Freudenheim, panelists were communications, culture and technology professor Jeff Peck of Georgetown University; Andreas Kruger, German embassy first secretary; Matthias Hass, director of the U.S. program of Action Reconciliation for Peace in Philadelphia; and David Bernay, a campus advancement associate at Hillel’s Schusterman International Center, who studied for a year at Johannes-Gutenberg Universitaet in Mainz, Germany.  

Jews choose to live in Germany, said Freudenheim, “because they get jobs, because they marry someone, have opportunities there or because they’re just curious.” He said he never felt uncomfortable about being Jewish in Berlin.  

Peck, author of a forthcoming book, New Jews in A New Germany, pointed out that 100,000 Jews live in Germany, 12,000 in Berlin alone. “What we thought of as German Jews in the past doesn’t exist,” Peck said, noting that some 85 percent are from the former Soviet Union, and that in places of worship, Russian is often spoken.  

Peck described a vibrant community with film festivals, cultural and religious events and thriving schools and institutions. “Most Jewish people are there to stay — there are second, third and fourth generations,” he said.  

Bernay, a recent graduate of Middlebury College, said he wasn’t sure what he’d find when he spent a year of study in Mainz. In a school of 30,000, there were only a handful of Jews. He was eventually embraced by the Mainz Jewish community, largely composed of Jews from the former Soviet Union. “It was made up of a mishmash. Some were religious, some not,” said Bernay. “Some would just hold the prayer book, have a great meal and drink vodka.”  

He described what he called a “wow!” moment in the town of Weimar. Outside his hotel were police tanks and guns contaIning a demonstration by a small number of right wingers. But in the city center, five or six times their number gathered in a counter-demonstration, some singing Hebrew songs. “I saw the contrast,” said Bernay.  

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