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Judaism Re-Emerges as Three Rabbis Ordained in Germany

By Mark Landler
THE NEW YORK TIMES


DRESDEN, GERMANY

Germany took a richly symbolic step in its long journey of historical reconciliation on Thursday as three men became the first rabbis ordained in this country since the Holocaust.

In a ceremony that blended bright hope for the future with a solemn homage to the past, the three — a German, a Czech and a South African — stood before a senior rabbi in Dresden’s starkly modern synagogue, as he told them they had been singled out, just as Moses had chosen Joshua, in Scripture.

“All of Germany celebrates with us today, and all of Europe as well,” said Rabbi Walter Jacob, the president of a rabbinical seminary in Potsdam, near Berlin, where the three men studied. Each wore a black robe and white prayer shawl and stood as Jacob laid hands on his shoulders.

“Today, we have made a new beginning,” Jacob said to the 250 in the congregation, many of them from the United States and Israel. The head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Ayyub Axel Koehler, was also present.

German television broadcast the hour-long ceremony live from Dresden’s New Synagogue, a strikingly modern structure built in 2001. It is near the site of the Semper Synagogue, which the Nazis burned down in November 1938 during the Kristallnacht pogrom, auguring the violence to come.

Germany’s Jewish population, which stood at 500,000 before the war and the mass killings at the hands of the Nazis, is modest but growing, thanks to an influx of Russian Jews since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. More than 100,000 Jews live here now, compared with 30,000 at the time of German reunification.

But Germany has a dire shortage of rabbis, not having ordained any since the Nazi regime shut down the rabbinical seminary in Berlin in 1942. Only 30 rabbis are active here, all from abroad.

After the ceremony, Rabbi Uri Regev, the president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, said: “You could feel the winds of history hovering over your head. For the first time since the horrific events that destroyed the Jewish community, you could see a renewal of that community.”

German leaders hailed the ordinations as a milestone in the rebirth of Jewish life here — a day of “recognition and joy,” in the words of Chancellor Angela Merkel. After five years of studying in relative anonymity, the newly ordained German, Daniel Alter, 47, said the lavish domestic and international this week left him almost dazed. “I woke up to the fact that I was in a storm,” he said.

Dresden itself speaks to the possibility of Germany’s rebirth. An Allied bombing raid in February 1945 reduced the city’s elegant old quarter to ashes — leaving it for years as a bleak testament to the horrors of war.

Heinz-Joachim Aris, a local Jewish leader, said he survived the Holocaust only because three days before he was to be deported to a concentration camp, the bombing raid and subsequent fires threw Dresden into chaos, allowing him and other Jews to escape into the ruins.