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Freie Jüdische Umschau / International

Triumph of the Will:
Former Seat of Nazism hosts Major Progressive Jewish Congress

Munich - 30 October - 2 November 1997

If the Shoah marked the end of Judaism in Germany, Rabbi Leo Baeck might well have been amazed to witness Hitler's Munich headquarters, which were the venue for an Erev Shabbat service, chavurah meal and Israeli dancing during this year's WUPJ European Region Conference. Temple Beth Shalom, the newly established Munich Progressive community, were the hosts under their charismatic leader, Rabbi Walter Homolka.

Delegates from 12 different countries - Poland, the Czech Republic, Spain, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Israel, UK, Switzerland, Austria and the USA - were present when proceedings began with a memorial service at Dachau concentration camp just outside Munich. A day of workshops followed led by UK Jews including Rabbi Professor Jonathan Magonet, principal of Leo Baeck College, Bebe Jacobs of the Centre for Jewish Education, Barry Hyman and Judy Smith of RSGB, Frances Sacker and Rabbi Andrew Goldstein of ULPS, Sara Kyte of Norwood/Ravenswood as well as educators and youngsters from Holland and Switzerland.

The highlights however were the Shabbat services. Ruth Cohen, European Region Chairman and WUPJ Senior Vice President said, To stand and say the prayer for the State of Israel, to join with a community act of workshop and to dance where the most evil fiend in Jewish history once set out to destroy us, was the most overwhelming sensation. My body shook with emotion. Many emerging communities were present and as the well-established progressive communities of Europe support them we shall challenge the fear of a 'vanishing Diaspora'.

One delegate said, Emotions ran from deepest grief for the past to elation at doing what we did where we did. The title of Leni Riefenstahl's film tribute to Nazism, "Triumph of the Will", kept going through my mind, only this time it was our triumph. I also kept thinking of the Chanukah phrase "A great miracle happened there" and knew I was part of history in the making.

"History in the making" passed from platitude to realism with the celebration of Shabbat services in the very room where the Munich Agreement was signed in 1938; now the Hochschule für Musik. And with the workshop venue in the Literatur Haus, another former Nazi building. The Munich Agreement or Pact was signed by Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy on 29 September 1938 to settle the crisis over Czechoslovakia by which Sudetenland was ceded to Germany, after which Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared there would be "Peace in our time".

Rabbi Francois Garai, European Region President: We in Europe have made choices like the Israelis have made choices - we have decided to stay here. We may be right, we may be wrong. The Europe of today is not what Europe was after the flood of fire and ashes. Despite human hatred we will believe in our creator. As Noah did after the flood, we have to re-build our Jewish communities.

Rabbi David Goldberg, European Region Vice-Chairman: There are no eternal butchers and no eternal victims.

Rabbi Dr Charles H Middleburgh, Director Designate ULPS: There is a tangible sense of being part of something historic and symbolic, historic because of what this conference represents in fact, symbolic because of the hope that it holds out for a revivified Progressive community in this country, the nation that gave Reform Judaism to the world.

As Jews we can never see the future or ponder where we wish to go in it without acknowledging the past, and this we have done. We are not just here to celebrate, enhance and contribute to the New Progressive Judaism in the new Germany, we are here to remember a thousand years of German Jewry.

This major international Progressive Jewish gathering in Germany included the dedication of a new Progressive Jewish cemetery in Munich and the publication of the first German-Hebrew Siddur and Machzor since the war. Suggestions for next year's conference venue included Sweden, Israel and Hungary.



The Union of American Hebrew Congregations held its biennial convention in Dallas, Texas, on October 29 through November 2. Some 4,500 delegates from all over North America were in attendance, as were delegates from Israel, the UK, Australia, South Africa, Central America and Europe. (There would have been many more Europeans had the World Union's European Region not been holding its own conference in Munich at the same time.) Resolutions approved by the UAHC General Assembly called for, among other things, religious freedom in Israel, civil recognition of same-sex marriages and socially responsible investing.

1997 / 5758 - Freie Jüdische Umschau

content: 1996 - 1999