Forget Israel-The Future Is in Berlin! Local Jews, Russian Immigrants, and Israeli Jews in Berlin and across Germany

By Kranz, Dani | Shofar, Summer 2016 | Go to article overview

Forget Israel-The Future Is in Berlin! Local Jews, Russian Immigrants, and Israeli Jews in Berlin and across Germany


Kranz, Dani, Shofar


It goes against the intuition of some, triggers strong responses from others, and still raises the eyebrows of many: not only did Jewish Displaced Persons (DPs) and German Jews withstand attempts to entice them to make aliyah from Germany post-Shoah and become "local Jews," but Russian Jews immigrated in higher numbers to Germany than to Israel for a while, and now Israeli Jews are immigrating to Germany, too. In other words, the country that planned the Shoah-executed by itself and its willing handmaidens-the country that by way of kol ha'arzotprat le'germania ("all countries with the exception of Germany," stamped on Israeli passports) could not be entered on Israeli passports until 1956, and which for many Jews still constitutes a no-go zone, has become a new center of Jewish life.

Or perhaps not. Do Jews in Germany see themselves in exile from Israel, or has Germany become their home of choice and, in the final words of the Hagadah shel Pessach-'ba'shana ha'ba'a be'yerushalaim', form part of a ritualistic, annual repetition, with little bearing on them living, structuring, and performing their Jewishness in Germany? This paper explores the worlds of a select number of characters who fall into the age cohort of the Third Generation1 and who form part of the three numerically largest groups: German Jews and Displaced Persons (DPs) and their descendants ("local Jews"); Russian Jews and their children who came to Germany in the 1990s; and Israelis who started arriving in significant numbers in the 2000s. By depicting their life-worlds, this paper endeavors to shed light onto how Jews in the country structure, live, do, experience, and contend their Jewishness collectiveness, and express Jewishnessess (sic) individually.2 The majority of the characters in this paper are ordinary Jews-Jewish commoners, one might say-because it is also my undertaking to show "Jewish normalcy," rather than join the problematic discourse concerning how far Jewish intellectuals of the Third Generation exist in Germany, whether Russian Jews are per se part of the intelligentsia, or if Israelis migrants are artists, academics, or start up entrepreneurs. This discourse remains a key feature of "anormalizing" Jews in Germany. It is not just a discourse of German nonJews about Jews, but of Jews about Jews too. Paradoxically, by this token some Jews comply with the stereotypes of Jews as special and unique, and contributing something indispensable to Germany, thus still implicitly defending the fact that they live in Germany if they are "local Jews,"3 or whether they are Russian or Israeli immigrants.4

In tackling these questions, this paper draws on fieldwork conducted in Germany, Israel, the UK and the US since 2003. Methodologically, it centers on thick descriptions5 and a participant centered, life-worldly approach.6 It is not concerned with theories and meta-theories of exile in general, Jewish exile specifically, cosmologies, or Jewish religious thought.7 It is only implicitly concerned with the question, "Why Germany of all countries?" This question has been dealt with comprehensively for "local Jews"8 as well as for Russian Jews,9 and it maintains only some novelty value for Israeli immigrants,10 the latest significant group to arrive in Germany. By this token, this paper pulls the different strands of my work together. So far, my output in each single contribution had always been focused on one specific subgroup of Jews, thus reflecting the existing diversity of Jews in Germany as well as the significant cleavages between the different Jewish groups.

In order to show the existing diversity, I will "follow" the key characters through Berlin and other cities; I will also introduce some characters from the "off," as they have left Germany to round off the picture. My key characters intersected only marginally, if they intersect at all. Jewish diversity-or heterogeneity-allows for rather different life-worlds to develop. This seems evidence that Jews in Germany are not a marginal group squeezed to the periphery of society, but rather a group of individuals who happen to share an ethnoreligion: sometimes, they wish to live in a community with fellow co-ethnics/coreligionists,11 but at other times are absorbed into things with little or no relationship to their individual Jewishnessess. …

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Forget Israel-The Future Is in Berlin! Local Jews, Russian Immigrants, and Israeli Jews in Berlin and across Germany
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