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Return to Friedrichsstadt

With great excitement, we return to the northern German city of Friedrichsstadt. Last year I had the privilege of conducting the first Jewish service in that city since 1938, a fact verified by the head of the Jewish Cultural Center there, Frau Christiane Thomsen and several others.

Since then, to my joy there have been several Jewish cultural events in that city including the Bat Mitzvah ceremony of Laura Wendt a young woman from Denmark, in a service led by my colleague, Rabiner Dr. Walter Rothschild.

Much credit for the “heavy lifting” in Friedrichsstadt as far as replanting Jewish life goes belongs to Horst (Ephraim) and Rita (Devorah) Blunk.

I had the privilege of making their acquaintance for the first time in 2014 during adult education sessions and services that I conducted with Walter Joshua Pannbacker in Kiel, a full hour away from their home. The desire of Horst and Rita–and the activity that inspires that desire–to revitalize Jewish life in their home region inspire me.

Without question the experience last year of conducting the first Jewish service there since Kristallnacht was a great thrill. It was even more gratifying to lead prayer in the Friedrichsstadt synagogue because it had been commandeered and turned into a headquarters for Nazi officers after November 9, 1938.

The experience reminded me of a recollection shared in a talk to us students by the then Dean of the California branch of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion by the late Rabbi Dr. Alfred Gottschalk (who went on to become President of the entire four-campus College-Institute). Gottschalk recalled a trip he took to Rome and his feeling as he stood beneath the famous Arch of Titus. In the arch is an inscription from the year 70 C.E., “Judaea capta.” Judaea is captured, and by implication, Judaism is no more. Gottschalk related how he looked up with pride at that inscription, and proclaimed, “Here I am Titus! Where are you and your empire now?”

During our worship in Friedrichsstadt last year, I remembered Gottschalk’s words, and I said to myself, “Here we are, Hitler. Where are you and your empire now?”

Because of all the Jewish cultural activity that takes place in Friedrichsstadt now, this year’s service will not have the same novel, first time since Kristallnacht feeling that last year’s did.

But that is a good thing!

My goal is not to be the first in a generation to represent Jewish life in different places in Germany. My goal is for Progressive Jewish life to become a regular, vibrant and contributing part of German culture once again. My second opportunity to lead worship in Friedrichsstadt feels like a small but meaningful step toward that precious goal.

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