Academic journal article Jewish Political Studies Review

The Jewish Community in Germany: Living with Recognition, Anti-Semitism, and Symbolic Roles

Academic journal article Jewish Political Studies Review

The Jewish Community in Germany: Living with Recognition, Anti-Semitism, and Symbolic Roles

Article excerpt

At Issue

This article deals with the diverse images of Jews in Germany: which roles they take upon themselves andwhich symbolic roles German society sees in the Jewish community. The author tries to unfold the origins and the meaning of these roles including Jews as victims, as sensors toward anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism. The symbolic roles of Jews in Germany cannot be compared to those in other countries, as in Germany the real presence of Jews is publicly very important as "proof" that the countiy has developed into a democracy and a diverse, open society. Nevertheless Jews are also taken as responsible for Israel's policies and as such are targets for condemnation. Therefore, the roles which are put upon the Jewish communities and citizens are exchangeable depending on what German society needs and wants to see in the Jews.

Unified Germany has a population of 82.2 million. The percentage of Jews is estimated as between 0.13% and 0.2%. Nevertheless, many among the non- Jewish German population often mistakenly estimate that there are one million or more Jewish citizens. German society overestimates not only the so-called "Jewish influence" on politics, commemoration, and media, but also assigns the Jewish community the role of victims, sensors for Neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism, as well as that of the representative of Israeli politics.

The symbolic roles of the Jews in Germany cannot be compared to those in other countries. In Germany, the real presence of Jews is publicly very important as "proof that the country is a democracy and that its society is diverse and open. If Jews were to leave the country in great numbers, today's Germany, politicians and representative groups of civil society, would certainly make an effort to keep the Jews in the country because, without them, the idea of having found reconciliation with the past would shatter.

Introduction

Demography

When discussing the size of the German- Jewish population, various statistics must be considered. The most recent statistics collected by the Central Council of Jews in Germany (Central Council) from 23 regional associations and 104 communities in 2007 report 107,330 individuals.1 Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, and Munich have the largest Jewish communities. Jews who are not affiliated with these organized communities number about 90,000. This includes people who may not be Jewish according to halacha. Around 5,000 Jews are members of the Union of Progressive Jews; some of these communities are also linked to the Central Council.2

About 101,000 members of the communities affiliated with the Central Council are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, mainly from the Baltic States, Ukraine, and Russia. The overwhelming majority of all Jews living in Germany today have not been living there longer than 20-25 years.

For the most part, the post-war Jewish communities did not originate in Germany. Few German Jews returned to their former homeland after the Holocaust, whereas many Jews who originated in Eastern Europe found themselves in Germany as Displaced Persons (DPs), stranded or in DP camps. Out of these 250,000 to 300,000 people, only about 15,000 decided to stay in Germany. Amongst those who did remain in Germany, for the most part this was not by choice, but rather for pragmatic or tragic reasons - for example they could not obtain a visa for the U.S. or another country; they were gravely ill; or they had serious doubts about their strength to start anew time and again. The post-Holocaust Jewish communities in Germany are more or less rooted in the surviving Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe.

A large proportion of today's immigrants from the former Soviet Union are relatively young and well-educated, although their education often did not include Jewish tradition. Most of their children attend classes on Jewish religion and tradition, participate in community life, and engage in Zionist organizations. …

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