Jewish Life in Germany Today
Enlarge image Children enjoy the opening of a Jewish grade school in Stuttgart. (© picture-alliance/ dpa) Germany’s relationship to its Jewish community is of profound importance to the country’s post-war reconciliation and the continuing process of coming to terms with its Nazi past. While no amount of war reparations will compensate for the more than 6 million Jews who were murdered during the Nazi Regime’s terror, there are substantial efforts to revitalize the German-Jewish relationship so that renewed Jewish culture may once again become a vibrant part of today’s Germany. These efforts stem from both the tens of thousands of Jewish people living in the country as well as from the German people themselves.
Where they occur, the activities of right-wing extremists are met with protests, condemnation and legal action. Attempts to stamp out these groups for good are based on the recognition that anti-Semitism and intolerance are attacks not only on individuals, but on the very fabric of democracy.
The Jewish Population
The Jewish population in Germany has grown considerably since the early 1990s, due in large part to the immigration of tens of thousands of Russian Jews from the former Soviet Union. Overall there are about 108,000 Jewish residents living in Germany, according to the Federal Statistical Office (2006 figures are most recent available). That is still only about one fifth the number of Jews who lived in Germany at the beginning of World War II, but it is still a tremendous number. In fact, Germany has the fastest growing Jewish population in Europe.
Enlarge image In 2006 Dresden was the site of the first rabbi ordination in Germany since 1942. (© picture-alliance/ dpa) But numbers hardly tell the whole story. Jewish life in Germany is active, vibrant and gaining momentum. Jewish communities in large cities to smaller towns are restoring historic sites of worship and opening new synagogues, schools and community centers. While Berlin’s Jewish community is the largest in Germany and the Jewish Museum Berlin and golden-domed New Synagogue there are well known, Munich, which has the second largest Jewish community in Germany, also recently opened a Jewish museum. And as in Frankfurt am Main, many Jewish community centers boast Kosher restaurants.
The study of Jewish culture in all of its facets is an important discipline at many German universities, some of which have established internationally competitive research centers. An important center for contemporary Jewish scholarship can be found at the University of Potsdam’s School for Jewish Studies, while other German universities, such as the University of Trier, have Yiddish language programs integrated into their German language departments. Jewish grade schools are still rare, with only a handful in cities across Germany.
The blossoming of Jewish cultural events in Germany is a testament to the success of these efforts. Whether in literature, music, film, theater, or café culture, Jewish culture is not just for Jews – it attracts people of all faiths.
The Central Council of Jews
Enlarge image Central Council President Charlotte Knobloch shows Chancellor Merkel part of the Jakobsplatz Jewish Center in Munich. (© picture-alliance/ dpa) The Central Council of Jews in Germany is the main umbrella organization for all Jews in Germany and represents some 107 Jewish communities. The Central Council is a unique organization in that it supports all Jews, regardless of whether they follow the orthodox, liberal, reform, or agnostic path. In addition to representing Jewish interests to the German government, one of the Central Council’s main priorities is to assist the Jews who have immigrated from the former Soviet Union and help their integration into Germany and Jewish life.
In 2003 the relationship between the Central Council and the Federal Government was formalized with the signing of the National Agreement. Under the agreement, the Central Council receives more than 3 million Euros annually to help support its programs and the vast responsibility it has taken on to help integrate Jews from the former Soviet Union.