Jews in Germany Today

The land where Hitler once ruled has a burgeoning Jewish community.

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Jewish emigration from the former Soviet republics continues. In the coming years, some 10,000 people per year are expected to make Germany their new home under the Jewish refugee program. The influx has dramatically strengthened Jewish life. Today, 83,000 of the registered community members are post-Soviet arrivals. In other words: Without the immigrants, the number of registered Jews would have dwindled to just 17,000.

Challenges

At the same time, the wave of immigration created a formidable challenge. Most immigrants have joined the Jewish communities. Indeed, the wave of immigration enabled the creation of new communities in a number of cities, like Rostock, Cottbus, or Frankfurt on the Oder in East Germany. The new members' links to Judaism, however, are often tenuous at best. For this reason, the communities invest large amounts of energy and money not just in an expanded physical infrastructure but in Jewish education and fostering Jewish consciousness as well. This effort will continue for years to come.

For their part, German authorities extend moral and financial support for the integration effort at the federal, state, and local levels. In early 2003, the federal government signed a state treaty with the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the highest Jewish representative body, pledging annual assistance of three million Euros (3.3 million dollars), in part to support the integration of Jewish immigrants.

Until now, the "Russian" majority has not attained full political representation in the governing bodies of local communities and Jewish organizations at state and federal levels. Given the fact that the communities are democratically ruled and choose their boards on the one-member-one-vote basis, growing "Russian" representation is a matter of organization and time.

Tensions

Tensions between "old-timers" and "Russians" exist, resulting, among other things, in a debate over whether Russian should become an official language of the communities. In practice, of course, the use of Russian in the communities, including their publications, is widespread. The Jewish leadership is determined to foster immigration and keep those already in the country within the community framework. Also, for the young generation, linguistic and cultural integration is easier than for their parents or grandparents.

In the longer term, the main question focuses on the community's identity. A central question is, to what extent will the enlarged Jewish population ensure its continuity by establishing Jewish families and passing on Jewish tradition?

Another issue is Jewish identity in relation to German society. As in most European countries, German national identity is predominantly ethnic. For minorities, this makes full identification with the country of their residence more difficult. So do expressions of xenophobia, even though Germany by no means leads the European field in this respect. For Jews, obviously, the history of the Holocaust remains an additional barrier and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

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Wladimir Struminski is a journalist. He was born in Warsaw in 1954. In 1969 he moved to Germany and then to Israel in 1982. Since 1987 he has been the Israel correspondent for the leading German-Jewish newspaper Judische Allgemeine Wochenzeitung.