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October 24, 2019 6:33 am

For German Jews, More Security Is Not Enough

avatar by Ron Jontof-Hutter

Opinion

A solidarity vigil outside the synagogue in Halle, Germany, targeted by a neo-Nazi extremist on Yom Kippur. Photo: Reuters/Hannibal Hanschke.

After the Halle, Germany synagogue shooting during Yom Kippur, there were the usual outpourings of condemnation, pavement flowers for the victims, and feel-good statements of support. The German government swiftly promised “more security.”

The synagogue shooting occurred days after a knife-wielding Syrian man tried to enter Berlin’s Neue Synagogue. Elsewhere in the country, a brick was thrown at the head of a Hebrew-speaking woman. Two rabbis had also been recently assaulted, exacerbating Germany’s embarrassment.

Unfortunately, “more security” is not a policy, but a band-aid measure. Paradoxically, it reinforces the perception that Jews are peripheral to German society, which I have written about previously.

More security for synagogues, while essential, raises questions about whether Jews can really be part of mainstream Germany. More security means more of a fortress type of community, defined by fear.

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Additionally, German authorities have advised Jews to publicly hide their identities, including the wearing of Star of David necklaces, affixing mezuzot inside doorposts, etc.

Jewish communities were recorded living along the Rhine nearly 2,000 years ago in relative harmony. As pagan Germanic tribes gradually adopted Christianity from the 5th to the 8th century, anti-Jewish conspiracy theories — which encouraged violence and massacres — ensued, especially in the 11th century.

These theories included accusations of well poisoning and causing the Black Death, and became so entrenched in the folklore and national narrative, that they even transcended the ideals of the Enlightenment that swept across Europe. The fact that Jews in Germany were exemplary citizens, later winning some 20 percent of Germany’s Nobel prizes, though less than 0.75 percent of its population, indicates that antisemitism was very deeply entrenched in the culture.

Initially, post-Holocaust Germany somewhat muted its overt antisemitism. But over the last two decades, it has become emboldened, with former taboos swept aside.

Germany’s guilt about the Holocaust has been expressed in various ways, such as building synagogues; but it also included projecting this guilt onto Israel, which today has become Germany’s “Jew.” It is therefore puzzling that despite a minuscule Jewish population of about 100,000 in a country of 82 million, German government figures indicate that 40 percent of Germans espouse antisemitic attitudes, which continue to rise.

Management of antisemitism has never been effective. Measures such as more security and banning Nazi salutes do not change attitudes, which is the crux of the problem. New creative ways to ensure eradication need to be considered.

Some initiatives that should be considered — and that reflect Germany’s unique position in Jewish history — are:

  1. German schools must introduce compulsory introductory courses explaining Jewish history and culture, with special reference to contributions to Germany.
  2. Hebrew, a classical language, should join the two other classical languages, Latin and Greek, offered at universities.
  3. The basics of Jewish festivals should be explained. Some, like Tu B’shvat (New Year of the Trees) resonate strongly with the current concern for saving the environment.
  4. Churches need to teach children and adults that replacement theology in any form is not the Christian dogma of the present time. Churches must clarify without ambiguity that such theology has been the basis of pogroms, expulsions, conspiracy theories, and discrimination, and has no place in today’s Germany.
  5. Schoolchildren need to learn that Jesus was a practicing Jew, and that the popular curse word “Jew”  actually profanes Jesus.
  6. The history and development of Israel needs to be taught, with special reference to its legal, historical, and moral foundations.
  7. Community involvement, including public participation at festivals such as Sukkot and Hanukkah, should be encouraged. Just days ago, I saw a police station with a big sign on the pavement: “L’Shanah Tova 5780 and well over the fast.” Walking past two policewomen, they smiled and wished me a Happy New Year. Why not in Germany?

A bold initiative that goes beyond “more security” is urgently required if Germany wishes to take the lead in reversing antisemitism in Europe. Jews also need to be cautious about not defining themselves in terms of antisemitism. This would require community and religious leaders, educators, anthropologists, sociologists, social psychologists, and others to formulate a workable road map that would finally reverse the ongoing trends.

Instead of grim-faced German political leaders time and again expressing shame at the latest antisemitic assaults, let them express delight with Jews at a Sabbath dinner, dipping apples in honey, or enjoying a meal in a sukkah.

Thinking outside the box is now urgently required to stem the tide.

Would such initiatives take time? Yes. Are they doable? Yes. Is there a political will to eradicate (not manage) antisemitism? Hm.

Ron Jontof-Hutter is the author of the satirical novel The Trombone Man: Tales of a Misogynist. He is also creator/artistic director of the Kristallnacht Cantata: A Voice of Courage.

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