Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Jewish renaissance takes root in Germany

Boston Globe:

In Germany, new generation reclaims its heritage

Shelly Kupferberg, 31, is the granddaughter of Jews who fled the Nazi terror in the 1930s for the land that would become Israel. Her parents returned to Berlin in the early 1970s, weary of Israel's wars and yearning for their German heritage. She was raised both as a Jew and a German, and takes quiet pride in both identities.

''It's great to be a Jew in Germany," said Kupferberg, a journalist and adviser to Berlin's Jewish Festival. ''There's this feeling of a unique culture being reborn -- with more people in the synagogues, more Jewish artists, a sense, at last, that it's completely normal for Jewish people to be living and working here. That's something you couldn't say until recently."

The dark mid-20th century history of Germany is seared into every Jewish soul. But in a turnaround few would have imagined, Germany today boasts the fastest-growing Jewish population in the world.

While Germany's Jewish community is full of hope for the future, its rapid expansion has brought new tensions -- with animosity festering between longtime German-speaking Jews and recent immigrants from the eastern fringes of Europe, many of whom lost their Jewish traditions, if not their identity, under decades of communism.

''This is a time of difficult transition for a community that was once tiny and insular, but has suddenly grown large," said Stephan J. Kramer, secretary general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the nation's umbrella organization for Jewish groups. ''There is friction, there is anger, there is distrust, there is fear. We have started to lay the foundation for a dynamic Jewish culture in Germany. But we are far from completing the house."

Most newcomers are from Russia, Jews seeking a better life in a more prosperous place, but also escaping the anti-Semitism that seethes in many parts of the former Soviet Union. The ''Russian Jews" -- the term embraces the thousands arriving from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic states -- are joined by a small but significant wave of young Jews from Israel, the United States, Canada, and Australia. The Westerners flock mainly to Berlin, attracted by the capital's easy-going style and vibrant cultural scene...