From the day that I was able to understand the tragedies of the Holocaust, I never ever considered the possibility of visiting Germany. Moreover I avoided the purchase of autos and medical equipment that originate there. Even in regard to reparations I had ambivalent feelings, and understood the minority who felt strongly about normalizing Jewish/Israeli-German relations.
As a member of the Jewish Agency (Sochnut) I was witness to much recent discussion regarding the 100-120,000 halachic Jews who are living in Germany in addition to a similar number of FSU immigrants who are not halachically accepted by the Khillah (community) Taken together with the close military/political/economic ties I felt that it was time to visit and observe for myself.
I have already described our shiur’s visit to Israel with our donation of a torah scroll to the IDF Navy. From there we went to Moscow, which I shall subsequently report on
Allow me to start at the end. On Shabbat,I walked to the Orthodox synagogue which was located four blocks from our hotel. I wore a large blue and white kipah srugah (knitted skullcap). Though I passed hundreds on the street,as well as huge groups sitting at sidewalk cafes, I did not detect a single double-take or untoward reaction. There were about 300 worshippers at the synagogue Sat morning, a little less Fri and Sat evenings. Many were Russians who obviously did not know how to pray or read Hebrew. They had a wonderful young Cantor originally from Israel. The security was similar to that present in synagogues around the world.
The kosher restaurant was crowded each evening we were there, although for Shabbat lunch it was more relaxed and not as hectic. I was told that a second dairy kosher establishment had just opened.
Throughout our short visit to Berlin we were impressed time and again with the importance the City, Federal government and as far as we could tell the people ,placed on these sites. Clearly they were coming to grips with the holocaust tragedy, but also of the role of their parents and grandparents. in this period.
In front of homes where Jews once lived, there were bronze sidewalk plaques imbedded in the pavement with their names and disposition. In the formerly Jewish neighborhood, large pictures and signs were placed on light poles etc, each one representing the edict of the Nazis against the Jews, such as Jews cannot sit on the park bench. On many of the bus shelters there was an entire story in picture and prose dedicated to holocaust era events-such as the Wansee Conferenc, where Eichmann plotted to kill 12 million world Jews, or the story of Adolph Eichmannn .
We were fortunate the much publicized Holocaust Memorial opened the week we were there and thus had an opportunity to spend a few hours there. The Holocaust museum, the Reform Temple, the Jewish cemetery, the Olympic Stadium where Jesse Owens ran, the Brandenburg Gate ,the Wanssee center and the Potsdam Center (where Truman, Stalin and Churchill met at the end of the war), and so many other sites that are being built regarding Nazism, brutality and mans inhumanity to his fellowman all speak to the feelings of a new German generation .
As we sat the first evening in the kosher restaurant,located on the second floor of the Jewish Community Center, a train passed by on an overhead El that could be clearly seen through the open windows. Earlier in the day we had gone to a memorial for Berlin Jews at a railroad depot from whence they were deported to the Camps. Many in our group commented on the eerie feeling that the passing passenger train elicited within our thoughts. Yet we realized that was in the past, never to forget, yet praying for a saner tomorrow.
The hi-level visits in the past two weeks by Foreign Minister Shalom, and President Katsav are further proof of this trend. Interestingly World Mizrachi (Religious Zionists )have 23 shlichim ( representatives )in Germany to service the community.
None of this is to suggest that we ever forget. Nor should we be naive and believe that it could not happen in other countries and regions. However the German response under the circumstances is admirable as far a short visit can determine