Tom Kucera, a 36-year-old Czech, is the new Zatim, Vacrabbi at the Jewish community Beth Shalom in Munich. Kucera is the first rabbi educated and ordained in Germany since the end of World War II. He says this historical significance is difficult to grasp.
"For me it's much more personal, and I still have to think what does it mean to me to be a rabbi. So I see this importance not as historical, but on a personal level and that's what is amazing for me. Also it's a lot of responsibility for what I do and what I do in the future."
After services marking the beginning of Sabbath, everybody gathers around a table, chatting and eating the traditional Sabbath dinner. The women have brought nut cake, fresh honeydew melon and falafel. Since Kucera became their rabbi, Beth Shalom members say community life has changed.
"Of course, there were discussions. The new rabbi changed the songs we sing. So elderly people missed their favorite songs and couldn't sing along anymore. As a result, they argued with him and some don't attend the services anymore. Also, the service has become more stringent. It is more demanding, but it's not bad. In fact, I like it a lot this way."
These changes may well be the result of Kucera's comprehensive education at the Abraham-Geiger-College in Berlin. Founded in 1999, it's one of only three institutions in Europe which educate rabbis. And it combines academic study with the practical aspects of being a rabbi, like giving psychological support. Rabbi Walter Homolka is the director.
"We would like to see that people have already had previous training in another area so as to give them more exposure to the realities of modern life. Of course pastoral skills are necessary, the ability to modesty, to step back and moderate processes rather than just lead, but of course leadership skills are also necessary. So the whole range of abilities."
Given Germany's anti-Semitic past, choosing Berlin for a rabbinical College was highly controversial. Though it has its advantages, for example, university education is basically free in Germany. But many Jews were opposed to the idea of a rabbinical College being located here. Homolka says a Dutch rabbi even accused the initiators of disgracing Jewish culture by establishing such an institution on the ashes of six million murdered Jews.
Rabbi Kucera also felt uneasy at first about going to Berlin. He says he had to get used to living in Germany as a Jew.
"But basically past is one thing and we have to remember the past, but we have to be living in the future, we have to be more thinking of the future."
But neither the Abraham-Geiger-College nor the Beth Shalom community have their addresses published on public registers -- they are afraid of anti-Semitic violence. Some community members say they've been attacked with glass bottles by neo-nazis in Munich's city-center. And during Sabbath services, a police car with two officers patrols in front of the Beth Shalom community house.
Beth Shalom means house of peace. For the new rabbi, songs and music play an important role in community life, especially because he wants to attract more young people. He hopes that some of them will one day step into his shoes and become rabbis too. The founding of the Abraham-Geiger-College and Kucera's ordination represent a great step forward for Germany's Jews. And a fresh generation of rabbis might well mark the beginning of a new period of Jewish life in Germany.Listen to the report:
With between half a million and six hundred thousand Jews, France is home to Europe’s largest Jewish community. A majority live in Marseille in the South East of the country, in Strasbourg in the North East, and in Paris. For Network Europe, Radio France International’s Nick Champeaux went to several Jewish neighborhoods in the French capital, and filed this report.
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The jewish community in Sweden dates back to several hundreds years ago and the Jewish migration has had several huge waves. Gaby Katz from Radio Sweden has visited the Jewish Museum in Stockholm and they special exhibitions portraying Jews. She investigated the place of the Jewish minority in Sweden.
Romania belatedly acknowledged its role in the Holocaust. It was only in 2004, that a committee for the investigation of the Holocaust crimes published an official report according to which between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews were exterminated by the Romanian army in the war zones of Bassarabia, Bukovina and Transnistria. These are the highest numbers in a country other than Germany. Before 2004, there was very little talk of the scale of Romania’s contribution to the Holocaust. But the last 3 years has seen a lot of campaigning aimed at making Romanians aware of those crimes.
Berte is a Jewish holocaust survivor. In 1943, in Nazi occupied Holland, Berte was rounded up with her parents by the Nazis and sent to Camp Westerbok in the netherlands and then on to Bergen Belsen, the notorious concentration camp in Germany, where she spent the rest of the war. When she was freed by the Russian army in 1945 she was 7 years old. Last month she and 69 other Dutch survivors returned to the site of the camp to finally inaugurate a Dutch memorial. Radio Netherlands' Jonathan Groubert went with her...
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