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Jüdische Weisheit


Shabbat Shira in Stuttgart

By Mark Gelber

During the course of my research semester in Germany, I have had the opportunity to visit several Jewish communities for Shabbat and holidays. There is much that I could report on them from the perspective of an American-Israeli who has been visiting Germany for longer and shorter periods of time for more than 30 years. However, something quite special took place at the Stuttgart synagogue this Shabbat, which may be of general interest to a variety of readers in Germany, in Israel, in the U.S., and elsewhere.

First, there was a "mini-machane" which the Israeli madrichot (counsellors) and local youth-group leaders of Bnei Akiva organized. Anyone who has had the opportunity to witness the very dedicated work of Bnot Sherut (Sherut Leumi girls who spend time assisting Jewish communities thoughout the diaspora) or Bnei Akiva madrichim realizes what an important contribution these young people are making to Jewish life throughout the world. In any case, owing to the mini-machane, there were dozens of children of all ages running around the synagogue throughout Shabbat. That usually is not the case in German synagogues. There was a stand-up Kiddush on Friday night after the prayer service with a lot of nice fruit for Tu B’Shvat. All very good, but something even more noteworthy took place after the morning services on Shabbat.

On Saturday, there was a major kiddush-meal in honor of a marriage, which had taken place in Berlin in December. On any given Shabbat, there are about 100 people in the Stuttgart synagogue. Sometimes there are more, sometimes less, and most people stay on for the Kiddush-meal and socializing afterwards. About 90% or more of those in attendance are usually immigrants from the former Soviet Union. This time, for Shabbat Shira, there were about 150-200 people in attendance, because of the Kiddush, no doubt. This time it was a real event, the food was very good, and there were lots of fruits, more kinds than the evening before, for Tu B'Shvat (some I had never seen before!), and divrei tora, speeches by members of the community board, the Rabbi, etc. It was a nice atmosphere.

The most impressive thing, though, was the speech of the chatan (groom). He had grown up in Stuttgart and the kalah (bride) was a Russian immigrant from Moscow, now living in Berlin. They met in Berlin at the university or at the Jewish community when he was a student there. The chatan had been honoured with maftir during the prayer service, and he read the haftara beautifully. Anyway, here is a young German Jew, speaking in German, and his wife translates into Russian (as is the custom in the Jewish communities of Germany today.) One can sense right away that the Russians in the hall are absolutely delighted with this marriage, and they are in love with the kalah from her first word. In any case, the chatan says that the last time he spoke in the Stuttgart synagogue was 15 years ago at his Bar Mitzvah. He remembered the major topics of concern in the Jewish Community in Stuttgart at that time: 1) peace for Israel 2) the struggle to free the Jews from the Soviet Union. He spoke a bit about the Torah reading for Shabbat Shira, Parashat Bshalah, and the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, the crossing of the Sea into freedom, and the jubilation that ensued, relating these events in the crucible of the formation of the Jewish people, to the exodus of the Jews from the Soviet Union. He talked about how both times the Jews, in the Torah and today, were miraculously given an opportunity to begin new lives as free Jewish people. At this point, after what he said was translated into Russian, many Russians started clapping in approval. It was quite moving. He then said that although he could not realize it at the time of his bar mitzvah, when there were demonstrations for the Soviet Jews in Germany and other related activities, which the children were involved in, that there was a personal angle to this story, because he would one to those who benefited directly from the exodus of the Soviet Jews -- that is, he had the great fortune to meet his wife among the newcomers from Russia to Germany.

So, his young wife is translating this into Russian; every few sentences he stops and she translates. Then, she has to say in Russian how grateful her husband is for the exodus of the Soviet Jews and their arrival in Germany, because it made it possible for him to meet her, his own wife. Since it could be embarrassing for her to say this without a comment, in the middle of the translation, she switches into fluent German to say how grateful she is also for it, because it allowed her to meet him. This statement was also greeted with applause and cheers. Then, the chatan led the birkat hamazon, and the meal was over.

I found all of this quite exceptional, and I do not think I need to elaborate, except, maybe, for two things. First, what happened in the Jewish Community in Stuttgart on Shabbat Shira, even if it is exceptional, says quite a lot about what is happening in the Jewish communities in Germany today in terms of the integration and future of the Jews from the former Soviet Union. This couple seems well poised to assume leadership roles in the future Jewish community in Germany. Second, whereas the struggle for Soviet Jewry, which I remember well and also participated in as an American student activist in the 1970s, and after I immigrated to Israel, was largely successful, the struggle for peace in the Middle East has still been a failure. So, we must have done, and must be doing something, wrong. Perhaps it is true, although it did not seem that way at the time, that the goal of releasing Soviet Jewry was an easier one to accomplish than the goal of peace for Israel. Still, we need to marshall the same strengths that were brought to bear on the cause of Soviet Jewry, as well as the will to accomplish the goal of peace for Israel as soon as possible. We should never despair.

Mark H. Gelber is professor of German and Comparative Literature at Ben-Gurion University, currently on sabbatical in Germany.

Jüdische Zuwanderer aus der ehemaligen Sowjetunion in Berlin und Deutschland 29-02-2004

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