D The Jewish Community in Frankfurt (Oder)
The Jewish community in Frankfurt (Oder) has a long history.
The share of Jewish inhabitants has been relatively high through the centuries and its role as intermediary between East and West significant. At times the city's political climate was extremely liberal, so it is not surprising that Frankfurt's Jewish community was the second biggest in Brandenburg.
However, from 1933 most of the 800 Jews left Frankfurt. Those who did not manage to go in time were persecuted, abducted and murdered. The National Socialist tyranny irretrievably erased what had made Frankfurt a prosperous, liberal and tolerant trade-fair city.
During the GDR period there was no Jewish community in the city. Only since 1998 have the first Jews from the former Soviet Union begun to settle in Frankfurt (Oder) again.
Since 1990, 19,000 Jews yearly have come to live in Germany from the former Soviet Union. Particular integration problems arise thereby: many of the immigrants are advanced in age and speak no language other than Russian. The German government nevertheless sees it as its historical duty to guarantee the maintenance and sustenance of the Jews in Germany. In the year 2010, Germany already hosts the third biggest Jewish community in Europe.
Frankfurt's Jewish community, too, is from the former Soviet Union. Mr Molchadskiy, member of the Jewish community, explains why he came to Germany.
"And I said to my mother, there is no place in the world where our family has not been killed. Russia, White Russia, yes, Poland, and maybe where our ancestors were. Maybe we'll go to Germany."
But in Frankfurt some fundamental difficulties arise:
"I do research about my family and I thought to myself: only task I can fulfil here. Under such conditions, that no more Jews in our community won't be religiously trained any more: there's no rabbi, no Jewish school, no kindergarten, I have no acquaintances that I can speak Yiddish or Hebrew with. And that's not understandable for me: how can you not speak Jewish language with Jews?
Most of the community members had lost their belief in the time of Communist atheism, or hadn't even ever had a connection to Jewishness.
"There will never be a real synagogue here. There are no suitable religious people for this thing, that I can say for sure. That is my wish but it can't be fulfilled."
Mr Molchadskiy, as a believing Jew, still tries to enlighten others and to maintain the community. For example, the Sabbath is open to everyone.
In Judaism the Sabbath is the seventh day, which is devoted to God. It is a day of rest. No work at all may be carried out. The Sabbath begins at sundown every Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday.
"Celebrating the Sabbath in the synagogue means best clothes, best mood, and so on. And then prayer and then celebration. And you can sing, you must read a chapter of the Torah. Always a chapter per week."
Most of the members can hardly identify with Judaism any more, so it is hard to detect Jewish life in Frankfurt/Oder. The three most important elements of a Jewish community are missing: synagogue, rabbi and ritual bath - the mikvah. Most essential for a functioning community are, however, believing, active members.
"In 10-15 years we will lose the majority of this synagogue. On top of that, the young generation that comes here is taking other paths. They integrate into the society, have friends from German circles, and don't want to belong to religious Jewry. When we talk about religious life in Frankfurt (Oder), there isn't any today, and there won't be any religious Jewish life in future."
Sadly it is unlikely that there will ever again be such a lively, thriving Jewish life in Frankfurt/Oder as there was before 1933. The lacking old Jewish community and the remaining emptiness have to be a monument to what in its old form, was irretrievably destroyed. But the community life of the new Jewish community does give reason to hope for a permanent enrichment of the city. The building was indeed renovated in 2009. In a Sunday school the children learn Jewish traditions and Russian, and sing, make things and play together.
"In a word, I am a happy Frankfurter. Yes, Berlin is big, there are beautiful cities in Germany, but for me the most beautiful city is Frankfurt (Oder), definitely."
There is an attempt to maintain the community. The Jewish community is delighted to have visitors, even at its Sabbath celebration. Whoever is interested can experience on Friday evenings how Jews begin their day of rest. It is worth visiting on other days too: is the Community House open? Then do go in! You will find an exhibition on Jewish history in Frankfurt up to the Shoa, as well as information on today's community. The model of the old synagogue is also worth seeing.
Piotr Franz, student at the European University Viadrina