Magazine article The Christian Century

Despite Anti-Semitism, Jewish Communities Thrive in Central, Eastern Europe

Magazine article The Christian Century

Despite Anti-Semitism, Jewish Communities Thrive in Central, Eastern Europe

Article excerpt

IN CAFE ELFENBEIN, which opened last year in a trendy Berlin neighborhood, two businessmen wearing yarmulkes--Jewish skullcaps--chat away.

The aroma of freshly brewed coffee and homemade rugelach fills the shop, where a rabbi has certified that all the food is kosher.

The addition to the city points to a trend obscured by rising anti-Semitism and terror attacks in France and Denmark that have alienated Jews. In Central and Eastern Europe, Jewish life is thriving.

One major reason is that the younger generation is shaping a new Jewish identity.

"Jewish life is flourishing in Berlin and the rest of the country," said Jutta Wagemann, spokeswoman for the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

The Jewish community in Germany remains small, about 200,000 out of 80 million people. It has grown significantly from its postwar population of 37,000 in 1950 because of immigration from the former Soviet Union. The community is putting its mark on the country's cultural landscape.

In the East German city of Cottbus, an area known for right-wing extremists, an unused church was recently turned into a synagogue, providing space for the 460 members of the Jewish-Russian community.

In 2013, the School of Jewish Theology at the University of Potsdam opened to great fanfare, making the city near Berlin the nucleus of Jewish studies in Germany.

In February, more than 1,000 Jewish young people age 11 to 19 met at the Jewrovision song-and-dance contest in Cologne, a knockoff of the decades-old Eurovision contest held across the continent. It's a talent show and gathering for youth to celebrate the sabbath, learn about Jewish tradition, and discover their own Jewish identity.

"There has been a big generational change," said Oren Osterer, organizer of the European Maccabi Games, the biggest Jewish sports event, which will take place in Germany for the first time this summer. "Many in the Jewish community in Europe didn't want the games to take place in Germany. They thought that Germany wasn't ready yet."

The younger generation wanted this to change, he said. Until 2011, the German Maccabi delegation at the opening ceremony didn't wear the country's national colors--red, yellow, and black. They instead wore Israel's blue and white.

In Germany, synagogues and Jewish schools have security. Jewish locations have been vandalized, and swastikas appear with unnerving regularity. Jews have been attacked on the streets of Berlin.

Even so, there has been no recent mass exodus to Israel because of those events, community members say. …

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