This has been a whirlwind week for me in Berlin, where I’ve spent long days touring with other young Conservative rabbis. We have learned first hand about how Germans have confronted their past and are looking to their future. We have seen the German Jewish community rebuilding itself with a sense of pride and renewal.
This Shabbat, in the Torah portion Tetzaveh, we learn about the ner tamid (the eternal light). We can compare the ner tamid — a main focal point in the Temple — with the German Jewish community. Considering the horrific history the Jewish people in this part of the world endured during the last century, it is crucial to remember that this Jewish community’s light was never fully extinguished — it is eternal.
In the past few days, I have visited a concentration camp and several Holocaust memorials. That is precisely what one would expect our group of rabbis to experience here in Berlin. But that is only the first part of the story. We also visited a liberal rabbinical school (Abraham Geiger College), progressive synagogues (like the Masorti congregation where my colleague Gesa Ederberg serves as rabbi), Jewish centers, a Masorti nursery school, kosher restaurants, and Jewish museums. We learned how German school children are confronting their nation’s history during the Shoah.
Our group of rabbis spent an entire morning in the German Foreign Ministry being briefed on international relations by a high level, career diplomat. We were hosted at a luncheon on the top floor of the Reichstag, looking out over Berlin. We had a glatt kosher dinner with our Protestant colleagues, exchanging theological viewpoints and perceptions about memory over shnitzel and goulash. I have worn my kippah in the streets of Berlin over the past week without incident. I have heard Hebrew spoken throughout the city, both by Israelis and non-Israelis. When I took off my coat at a museum, the German guard smiled and said “Todah Rabbah” (Hebrew for “thank you”) and “shalom.”
This is a changing country. I was unaware of the renaissance taking place here in the German Jewish community. Democracy, tolerance, justice and understanding are all shared values here in Berlin. The light of our Jewish brothers and sisters here is not only still kindled, but it is burning bright.