Experiencing the Jewish community of Berlin

Daniel at the Brandenburg Gate

By Daniel Bloch, Executive Director, Cape SAJBD

In early March, the German Consul General, Tanja Werheit, nominated me to participate in a programme on Jewish life in Germany, organised by the German Federal Government. 

Humbly accepting the nomination and joining thirteen other communal leaders, I embarked on a trip to Berlin to learn about how this has become the fastest growing Jewish community in the diaspora, to learn about Holocaust education, and how they deal with the challenges of antisemitism. 

Our group comprised of directors of museums and holocaust centres, members of Jewish councils, journalists and Rabbonim. It was a diverse group of men and women from all over the world: South Africa, Indonesia, Latvia, Argentina, Israel, Spain, Belarus, Dominican Republic, Czech Republic, Poland, United States, Australia and Romania. Over the next week, we would become friends and learn more about one another’s communities as well as our shared challenges and opportunities.

The week-long programme was well organised and packed with a variety of meetings, sightseeing and learning opportunities. We met with government and civil society institutions at the German Bundestag, the German Federal Agency for Civic Education, the foundation EVZ in memory of the victims of National Socialist injustice, Kreuzberg Initiative Against Antisemitism, the Association of Counselling Centers for Victims of Right-wing-Racist and Antisemitic Violence, and the Federal Association of Departments for Research and Information on Antisemitism. We also met with the Central Council of Jews which, similar to the SAJBD, protects the civil rights of the Jews in Germany. We explored Jewish culture within the community, visiting the Jewish Museum as well as an emotional visit to the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum – one of the first concentration camps. One evening we were treated to various Jewish film screenings at the cinema Filmkunst 66. We also had enlightening conversations with community members from Makkabi Berlin, the Jewish Students Union of Germany, the Christian Democratic Union, various journalists, students from the Jewish High School Moses Mendelssohn, as well as Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal of Chabad Berlin. 

I learned much about the Jewish community in Berlin. Firstly, the government funds the Jewish communal organisations which is part of their commitment not only to acknowledge the contribution made by German Jewry but also to ensure the sustainability and growth of this vibrant community. Secondly, antisemitism is on the rise in Germany and both government and civil society are committed to Holocaust education, combatting antisemitism, and putting an end to violent acts against the Jewish community. Unfortunately, despite the advantages of living in Berlin, the reality is that most Jews do not feel safe walking around proudly displaying their Magen Davids, wearing their Yarmies and openly celebrating their Judaism. The security at each of the Jewish installations is noticeably high – I was interrogated upon my arrival at the local shul. 

Whilst the aim of this tour was to showcase Jewish life in Berlin, we learned so much about diaspora Jewry from each of the members of our group. There is a Jewish community in Indonesia where 60 Jews live amongst 220 million Muslims – thanks to the work of Rabbi Yaakov Baruch. Journalist Brenda Paula hosts a TV programme on Jewish life for Television Publica in Argentina and, soon, there will be eight Holocaust & Genocide Centres in Australia, with Kathy Baykitch running the Adelaide Holocaust Museum. There were so many interesting individuals on the tour and I learned much from each of them. 

However, one thing is clear: we all have a love for our Yiddishkeit, a deep-rooted religious connection with Israel and a clear mission to educate our neighbours about our communities. 

We have similar challenges related to antisemitism, shrinking communities and a lack of involvement from our young adults; however, we are still committed to making each of our communities the very best they can be. No matter whether you live in the Dominican Republic, Belarus or Poland, we are all Jewish and share a very special connection. 

Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies website: www.capesajbd.org, Instagram, and Facebook page.

• Published in the August 2023 issue – Click here to start reading.

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