Welcome to the Fastest-growing Jewish Community in the World: Germany

Jewish Voice from Germany, published by former Israeli, marks renaissance of long-dormant culture.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

For 10-year-old Rafael Seligmann, leaving Israel for Germany in 1957 was a trauma, but for his parents it was a return to the homeland they had fled 20 years earlier. Today, Seligmann, 65, a successful journalist and novelist, is a firm believer in the rebirth of German-Jewish life, and has just launched a new quarterly, Jewish Voice from Germany, with the hope of helping the new generation of Jews there.

Seligmann emerged in the German public consciousness in the 1970s through his articles in leading publications such as Der Spiegel, Bild, Die Welt and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. He also published six novels - his first, "Rubenstein's Auction" (1988 ), was recognized as the first German novel written by a Jew after the Second World War.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, right, and the publisher of the newspaper Jewish Voice from Germany, Rafael Seligmann, looking at a copy of the paper in Berlin last week.Credit: Reuters

A new Jewish-German publication was appropriate cause for celebration to lure German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle to the launch party two weeks ago. He also wrote a glowing tribute in the first issue: "This publication shows the world the new blossoming of Jewish life in Germany," wrote Westerwelle, adding, "Jewish life has once again become an integral part of our society. Seven decades after the Shoah, many different branches of Judaism are again ordaining rabbis in Germany, synagogues are being built, and Jewish schools and preschools opened ... our Jewish community is an inextricable part not only of our history, but also - and above all - of our future ... We need people who are engaged with and knowledgeable about Jewish history in Germany, and who have a vision for the future, and we need media to convey and elucidate this vision."

Some 100,000 Jews are registered within the community, even though the number of Jews in Germany is probably more than double that. Seligmann believes that if one counts the Israelis living in Berlin and other cities, and the Russian and American Jews living in Germany but not active in the community, the number is somewhere around a quarter of a million - roughly half the number of Jews that lived in Germany before the war.

Westerwelle and Seligmann both emphasize the future, rather than the past: "If I only wrote about the Shoah and the Nazis, I would run out of readers," Seligmann says. "The subject of the Shoah is, in a way, similar to drugs: it causes such strong emotions. But people are also interested in other parts of Jewish history, literature and culture," he adds.

The first 30,000 copies of the first issue reached some 150,000 readers in Germany, the U.S., Canada, Britain and Israel. The German press welcomed the publication warmly. Bild, for example, called Seligmann a "winner" and wished him good luck. That generosity somehow didn't infect the two Jewish competitors - the weekly Judische Allgemeine and the monthly Judische Zeitung - who chose to ignore the new publication.

"The German press was very excited," says Seligmann, "but the Jewish press chose not to mention us. That's all right. The public will decide whether to read us, notwithstanding what they write or don't write."

The Jewish Voice logo features its name in English and Hebrew, with a small German flag on one side and a Star of David on the other.

Seligmann states his goal clearly: "I have a dream. It is for a rebirth of German-Jewish life. Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, the historian Theodor Mommsen and the painter Max Liebermann all symbolized a unique flowering of the arts, of culture and of the economy," he wrote in the first issue's editorial.

Seligmann sees the new publication as a bridge: "It will connect Jews with Gentiles, Germany with the world. We want to communicate the long history that Jews and Germans share with each other."

"Here in Germany, we're witnessing the fastest growing Jewish community in the world," Seligmann continues. "We have Jewish artists, Jewish writers and Jewish businessmen. Berliners opened their hearts to Daniel Barenboim and Michael Blumenthal, the director of the Jewish Museum. Israeli and Jewish tourists flood the capital."

Still, even the Jewish Voice itself lends space to a less optimistic vision: Prof. Moshe Zimmermann, also writing in the inaugural issue, points to the fact that the Jewish community calls itself "the Central Committee of Jews in Germany - not of German Jews." He adds that "Jews in Germany have no chance of becoming a decisive factor again in the development of the Jewish religion or history."

Surprising? Well, it seems that Seligmann revels in complexity. A few pages after Zimmermann's article, an upbeat feature tells the story of thousands of Israelis in Berlin. The accompanying photo shows four naked youngsters draped in German and Israeli flags with the caption reading: "Learning to know each other."



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