Germany to ordain first rabbis since the Holocaust
DRESDEN, Germany - A trio of students will be ordained as rabbis today, the first such ordination in Germany since the Nazi regime began the slaughter of six million European Jews more than 60 years ago.
The first graduating class of the Abraham Geiger College at the University of Potsdam is made up of just three men. But Dieter Graumann, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said he hoped this number would rise exponentially.
"We need many, many more rabbis in Germany. We have a great hunger for rabbis," he told a news conference called to introduce the rabbinical candidates, who will be ordained at the New Synagogue in Dresden today.
There are now an estimated 100,000 Jews in Germany, compared with 600,000 before World War II. Most of those 600,000 fled or were killed, leaving Germany with only 12,000 Jews after the war.
The flood of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s led to a rebirth of Germany's Jewish community but has highlighted the dearth of rabbis. There are only around 25 rabbis serving 100 congregations.
"Things have changed over the last 17 years. The community has gotten bigger, and we have to do something to maintain unity," Graumann told reporters.
The Potsdam seminary, established in 1999, was named after Abraham Geiger, who was a rabbi in Berlin from 1870 to 1875 and pioneered liberal Jewish thought in Germany.
The choice of Dresden for the ordination is also significant. It is the capital of Saxony, the German state with the strongest neo-Nazi movement.
Only one of the three graduates - Daniel Alter, 47 - was born in Germany. Alter will soon lead congregations in Oldenburg and Delmenhorst. The other two graduates are Czech-born Tomas Kucera, who will serve as a rabbi in the Bavarian capital of Munich, and Malcom Matitiani, who will head back to his synagogue in Cape Town, South Africa.
The trio will be the first rabbis ordained here since the College of Jewish Studies in Berlin was destroyed by the Gestapo, the feared Nazi secret police, in 1942, the seminary's director, Walter Homolka, said.
Due to the destruction of records, the precise date of the last rabbinical ordination in Germany is unclear. But Homolka said that the last one may have been as far back as 1940.
Homolka, Alter and Graumann all said that while today's ordination is positive, it does not mean that Jewish life is back to normal in Germany.