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GERMANY EDITION June 5, 2012 Dear Friends: I have returned from my trip to Germany where I staffed the American group participating in the 32nd annual AJC – Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Exchange Program. I must say that it was a fabulous trip. Ingrid Garwels of the KAS put together a program that started in Berlin, took us to Erfurt, the Buchenwald Camp, Weimar and then a return to the Haupstadt. Our venerable translator, Heiner Sussebach, accompanied us – for him the 22nd year in a row working on this program. I don’t get overly enthusiastic about most things but this program which, so far, has lasted almost a third of a century is something to shout about. More important, perhaps, is the fact that well over 600 people have participated in it since its inception in 1980. It has had great impact on both sides of the Atlantic. If the improvement of German – American Jewish relations is important, this program has done more than almost any other. I firmly believe that it would not have been possible for AJC to open its office in Berlin were it not for the fact that many AJC leaders first became acquainted with the new Germany through the Exchange. I don’t think I have to spell out the importance of having an American Jewish presence in Berlin and how that presence has affected the thinking of many American Jews about the reality of today’s Germany – and vice versa. Over and above the political importance are the relationships the program has built between individual American Jews and Germans. In addition, the group experience has bonded members who traveled together. Some of the American groups, years later, are still having reunions.
The same goes for the Germans. While in Berlin I was invited to a gathering of about a dozen members of the 1982 German group admirably organized by one of their members, Wolfgang Vogel. Thirty years ago I had actually accompanied the group on a trip through the U.S. and so I merited an invitation to their dinner. It was one of the great experiences of my professional life. We all lied to each other about how young we look, had a wonderful meal sharing stories about the original trip and what we had been doing in the last 30 years. I will leave the subject by saying that 1982 marked my first trip to Germany – as an Exchange participant. It certainly changed my life. [A note to new readers. This edition of DuBow Digest, the Germany Edition, mostly deals with happenings, thinking, writing, etc. emanating from the U.S. In addition I also write an American Edition which mostly contains German news, etc. Both are posted at www.dubowdigest.typepad.com for all to read. If you want to be on both mailing lists just drop me a note at email@example.com. Happy reading!] On to the news… IN THIS EDITION THE PRESIDENT & ISRAEL - It was a good trip but not without a little controversy. A NEW JEWISH LEARNING CENTER – Berlin-Brandenburg is the place! Fantastic! LIBERAL DEVELOPMENTS – Judaism is not static. THE PRESIDENTIAL POLLS & THE JEWS – Our President, not yours. THIRD AMERICAN JEWISH REVOLUTION – An important piece on how Jewish organizations are facing the economic “retraction”. THE SUBMARINES – When is a secret not a secret? THE PRESIDENT & ISRAEL A couple of weeks ago Pres. Joachim Gauck visited Israel in what the Jewish world considered an important trip. Anytime a German national leader visits the Jewish State it is important. He also visited the Palestinian territories. The president received all the proper honors and, indeed, the visit was, by and large, a success. That is not to say that everybody was happy. The Times of Israel reported, “A former Protestant preacher, Gauck became popular for his role as a dissident in Communist East Germany, where he grew up as the son of early
members of Hitler’s Nazi party. He does not belong to any party and when his predecessor, the younger but much less charismatic Christian Wulff, stepped down earlier this year amidst corruption charges, Gauck was voted into office with the support of all major parties in the Bundestag. When he decided to visit Israel just weeks into his term — this was his first trip outside Europe and his first official state visit — Gauck received much advance praise. And while the Hebrew media took little notice of his presence, it made headlines back home, mostly positive. “It became a bigger story than we expected,” said one German reporter, adding that visits by German leaders — especially figureheads with no political clout — usually create little buzz. Gauck used big rhetoric wherever he went, words that on paper might sound corny or exaggerated. In Burin, he professed himself “excited” about the friendly reception and enthused that the village “impressed me with its beauty.” The residents were plainly delighted. During his Tuesday visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, he spent nearly 10 minutes on a lengthy entry in the guestbook, which left some readers teary-eyed. “Initially there is a flood of emotion, horror at the extent of evil, sympathy, empathy, mourning — because of the fate of a single child or because of the millions of innocent victims,” he wrote. Gauck, 72, knew that any German president coming to Israel is walking a tightrope, first and foremost because of the complicated history of German-Jewish relations. But the present is crucial as well. Berlin remains one of Jerusalem’s most important allies, and it is no secret that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is not happy with Israel’s settlement policies. Aware that he was not in Israel to make policy speeches, Gauck trod lightly, for the most part. In his speech at the state banquet at the President’s Residence, he spoke for 10 minutes about his past growing up in an anti-Zionist regime that did not allow him to properly understand the Holocaust. He said that Germany would “determinedly confront” those who threaten Israel but added vaguely, in what almost sounded like a throwaway sentence, that he hoped Israel would “send a signal” regarding settlements. To be sure, Gauck brought up the same issue in his conversations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, suggesting that settlements are really in nobody’s interest and could impede a peace agreement. Unsurprisingly, the Israeli leaders begged to differ. But the disagreements were muted, and aired in the context of a “special” relationship, within the legitimate rights of friends to express criticism.
Despite all the diplomatic tact and the enthusiastic verbiage, however, Gauck did make one interesting statement that went beyond the kind but characterless utterances of his predecessor: He caused something of a stir by apparently contradicting Merkel’s ironclad commitment to protecting the Jewish state from a nuclear Iran. In a 2008 speech in the Knesset, the German chancellor had declared that Israel’s security is part of her country’s “raison d’être” (“Staatsraison” in German). Therefore, she vowed, “Israel’s security will never be open to negotiation.” While she never explicitly pledged to defend Israel militarily if it ever came to a confrontation between the Islamic Republic and the Jewish state, some commentators took that statement as a guarantee of exactly that, and criticized her for making promises she didn’t intend to keep. In contrast, Gauck said Tuesday, rather less dramatically, that “Israel’s security and right of existence are determining factors of German policy — Israel shall live in peace and secure borders.” When reporters asked him a day later whether he agreed with Merkel’s dictum of Israel’s security being Germany’s “Staatsraison,” he responded that he wouldn’t have used that phrase. “I don’t want to think in war scenarios,” he said, adding, however, that “Germany should be the very last country to revoke its friendship and solidarity to Israel.” Some Germans were apparently dismayed by the shift; not only is the president not supposed to contradict the chancellor, but with Iran upping its belligerent rhetoric against Israel and remaining inflexible in nuclear talks, this is also not the time to disavow one’s support for Israel. But others appreciated the president’s honesty: after all, it is simply not realistic to promise Germany would take up arms in a possible war between Iran and Israel, they argue. In any case, however, as Gauck headed back to Schloss Bellevue in Berlin on Thursday evening, few Israelis took much notice of this debate. Most decision makers here aren’t counting on European assistance anyway. One organization that did not let the “Staatsraison” issue pass unnoticed was AJC. In a press release they noted, “…while emphasizing Germany’s commitment to Israel’s security, Gauck declined to express support for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s position that the defense of Israel is “Staatsrason“ (raison d’etre) for Germany. Gauck said that this position could cause the Chancellor “enormous difficulties” regarding Germany’s response to a crisis situation. AJC called for further clarificaiton of President Gauck’s positions on German support for Israel. ”Recent polls show an increasingly negative climate toward Israel in Germany,” said Deidre Berger, Director of AJC Berlin.
“The timing of President Gauck’s visit is of particular importance, given the threat to Israel of Iran’s secret nuclear program,“ said Berger. “We urge President Gauck to clarify that his statements do not indicate a shift by the German government in its position on Israel. We are concerned the comments, without reaffirming the position of the German Chancellor, will have a further negative impact in Germany on support for Israel.” While I do not have a direct line to the Chancellor’s Office I have the feeling that there are people in her administration that were also not thrilled about the President’s position. It does seem to be in direct conflict with that of the Chancellor. I must also believe that the staff of the Israeli Embassy in Berlin were, as well, not enraptured by the President’s position. Anything that even seems to erode German support for Israel to some is unwelcome. But, as The Times of Israel notes, „it is simply not realistic to promise Germany would take up arms in a possible war between Iran and Israel…”. Therefore, even taking the “Staatsraison” into consideration the visit goes into the history books as a considerable success. A NEW JEWISH LEARNING CENTER I think it is well known that the great immigration to Germany from the former Soviet Union is pretty much over. There are now 103,000 Jews registered in the Federal Republic and, perhaps, another 100,000 to 150,000 outside the official registry of the Zentralrat. While the numbers today are declining mostly because of aging and low birth rate, the one thing that seems to be booming is Jewish education and academic life. It was recently reported in Y-Net News that, “A new center of Jewish learning has been formally dedicated in the German capital. The "Zentrum Jüdische Studien Berlin-Brandenburg" was officially dedicated Wednesday. The Jewish Telegraphic agency (JTA) reported that a joint project of several Berlin educational institutions, the center will provide a symbolic focal point at Berlin's Humboldt University for Jewish studies programs, in the region where the 18th and 19th century Jewish Enlightenment movement, or Haskala, took shape. Under the new academic umbrella, students will continue taking courses at the four participating institutions: Humboldt University; the Technical University of Berlin; two programs of the University of Potsdam: the Abraham Geiger College, which trains Reform rabbis and cantors; and the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European Jewish Studies.
Cooperation partners include the New Synagogue Berlin - Centrum Judaicum Foundation, Touro College in Berlin, the Leo Baeck Summer University and the Walter de Gruyter publishing firm. The center, which also will offer space for interfaith dialog, is the brainchild of Christina von Braun, director of the Seminar for Cultural Studies of the Humboldt University. Its start-up funding of $8.5 million over five years comes from the German federal government and will support fellowships and professorships for visiting scholars from the United States, Israel, Great Britain, France and the former Soviet Union. It will endow two new academic chairs: one in Jewish biblical exegesis at the University of Potsdam, and another for Jewish music at the Weimar Academy of Music, in the former East German state of Thuringia. In addition, JTA has learned that a new center for training Conservative rabbis and cantors is set to open in 2013 under the auspices of the Geiger College: The Zacharias Frankel European campus of the Los-Angeles based Ziegler Rabbinical School. It will be the first Conservative seminary on the European Continent, according to Jewish Theological Seminary graduate Rabbi Gesa Ederberg of the Berlin Jewish community. This development underscores the growth in privately funded training programs for Jewish teachers and rabbis in Germany, particularly since the influx of nearly 200,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union since 1990. Anybody who studies the Jewish past knows that Jewish learning and academic development has a long and important history in Germany. Religious life and teaching pre-dates 1933 by several centuries. It is underway once again. It bears watching. Time will tell what sort of a contribution it can make to both Jewish and German life. LIBERAL DEVELOPMENTS One of the strange things about Jewish life and religious practice is that, at times and in certain places, things seem to defy the forward movement of history and in others progress is quite apparent. In Orthodox life we still see men and women seated apart and the garb of some men seem to be more 17th century than 21st. While some elements seem to be frozen in history progress is zooming ahead in others. For instance, as The Jerusalem Post reports, “The Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards -- which sets halachic (Ed. Note: Religious Law) policy for the Conservative movement -- has voted unanimously to provide the approximately 1,600 Conservative rabbis with guidelines on performing same-sex marriages.
The move is an official sanction of the ceremonies by the movement. The CJLS approved the documents Thursday by a 13-0 vote with one abstaining ballot. For years, the Conservative movement has debated how to approach samesex unions. Traditionalists often opposed such relationships while urging respect as progressives -- particularly some rabbinical students -- pushed for full equality. In 2006, the CJLS officially sanctioned gay relationships. At the time, it stressed that rabbis were not obligated to perform such ceremonies, but could do so and not be violating RA standards. Rabbis Daniel Nevins, Avram Reisner and Elliot Dorff created the new ritual guidelines. They offer two types of gay weddings, as well as gay divorce. “Both versions are egalitarian,” Nevins told the Forward. “They differ mostly in style -- one hews closely to the traditional wedding ceremony while the other departs from it.” The templates do not include kiddushin, the ceremony in which the groom presents his bride with a ring. However, they do detail a ring exchange that is based on Jewish partnership law, an established halachic concept, Nevins told the Forward. If the recognition by the Conservative Movement seems revolutionary, a development in Israel seems equally mold breaking. JTA reported, “This week’s announcement that the Israeli government for the first time will pay the salaries of some non-Orthodox rabbis represents a major victory for the Reform and Conservative movements. But it's a victory more of principle than major practical changes -- at least, so far. The Israeli attorney general’s office said Tuesday that Reform and Conservative rabbis in some parts of Israel will be recognized as “rabbis of non-Orthodox communities” and will receive wages equal to those of their Orthodox counterparts. For now, the decision applies only to Israel’s regional councils -- large districts of rural communities -- but not Israeli cities. And the non-Orthodox rabbis, unlike their Orthodox colleagues, will have no authority over Jewish law or ceremonies such as marriage or divorce. Rather than being funded by the nation's Religious Services Ministry, they will receive their salaries from the Ministry of Culture and Sport. Even though the decision will not affect most Israeli Reform and Conservative Jews because the vast majority of them live in large metropolitan areas such as Jerusalem and metro Tel Aviv, the decision nevertheless opens a door toward full equality with the Orthodox, non-Orthodox Israeli leaders said.
“The importance of the decision is that it sets the model for the relations between the non-Orthodox movements and the government,” said Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the executive director of Israel’s Reform movement. Jewish religious life in Germany, as many of you know, is patterned on the Orthodox model even though most of it seems (at least to me) to be a quite liberal version of that model. Non-Orthodox rabbis, for instance, have been paid by the government for a long time. With separate seating some synagogues have organ music and choirs. Both a “no-no” in Orthodox houses of worship. It is not static at all. However, there are a large number of the Russian émigrés who are not “Jewish” according to Halachic law. Either they have Jewish fathers but not Jewish mothers and, therefore, fall outside the definition of “Who’s a Jew”. Some (many?) I am sure would like to be official members of the Jewish community but cannot. Perhaps there will be some progress and a way will be found to incorporate them. The Jewish community in Germany could certainly use more members and the individuals in question could certainly benefit psychologically and emotionally from the acceptance. Who knows? Maybe progress will come knocking on Germany’s Jewish door one of these days. THE PRESIDENTIAL POLLS & THE JEWS I don’t know whether it pays for me to continue to report on how American Jews are likely to vote in the November presidential election. No matter what else is happening in the world the numbers do not seem to change. However, in an effort to keep you updated I guess I’ll keep plying you with the news until you say, “Stop!” A few days ago J.J. Goldberg writing in The Jewish Daily Forward reported, “There’s good news and bad news for President Obama in a new survey of American Jewish opinion released Thursday by the Workmen’s Circle. First, the bad news: Jewish voters favor Obama over Mitt Romney by about two to one — 59% to 27%, with 14% undecided. If undecideds follow the same 2-to-1 split, the result will be 68% to 32%. This points to a 10% drop from November 2008, when Obama got 78% of the Jewish vote, according to national exit polls at the time. The good news is that it’s not November yet, and if you compare June 2012 to June 2008, Obama is doing considerably better now than he was then. At this point in 2008 Jews were backing Obama by only 62% to rival John McCain’s 31%, according to Gallup’s tracking poll. Obama dropped further in July 2008, to 61-34, before beginning a steady rise in August. In fact, a surge might already be discernible this year, if we compare the Workmen’s Circle survey with a similar survey released two months ago, April 3, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute for the Nathan Cummings Foundation.
Will the president repeat his 2008 late-summer uptick? Hard to say. Romney isn’t likely to give him the sort of gift McCain offered when he chose the spectacularly unqualified Sarah Palin as his running-mate. On the other hand, everything else in the Workmen’s Circle poll, which was conducted by Professors Steven M. Cohen and Samuel Abrams, points to a Jewish public that remains solidly liberal. Given the starkly conservative cast of the Republican campaign so far, it seems unlikely that Romney could muster more enthusiasm among Jewish voters than the more moderate McCain did in 2008. It could be that distress over Obama’s Israel policies will lower his Jewish support, but both surveys show Israel playing very little role in Jewish voters’ thinking. In fact, Cohen’s statistical analysis of respondents’ preferences and demographic characteristics indicates that people who have strong opinions about Israel tend to show a host of other tendencies that factor as strongly if not more so into their decisions. There is more to the article which you can read by clicking here. It deals http://blogs.forward.com/forward-thinking/157187/all-the-news-on-jews-viewscomparing--polls / largely with how the polls are done and when. For our purposes it looks as if Pres. Obama will retain somewhere in the mid to high 60’s in terms of percentage and Romney will be in the 30’s. Of course, the Jewish vote is relatively small so, in the final analysis the numbers won’t really affect the final result. However, sine the Jewish vote is mostly in 5 or 6 large cities, the way it comes out might actually have a genuine on Senate and House of Representative races. They are not (repeat “not”) unimportant. Taking that into consideration I guess I’ll keep on reporting polls, etc. as they come out. THIRD AMERICAN JEWISH REVOLUTION I once again want to spell out that among the various purposes in my writing and publishing DuBow Digest is to go beyond German – American Jewish relations and, as well, acquaint you with all the important matters our community faces. One can only understand “the other” if one sees the complex problems “the other” is facing. Toward that end I am including this article which has absolutely nothing to do with Germany but spells out the difficulty the American Jewish community is facing because of the severe problems brought on by the economic recession. Please keep in mind that American Jewish life in all its aspects is supported mostly by voluntary financial contributions. No (or very little) government money is involved. Jews have a great record of taking care of themselves but with this economy new challenges are arising. Dr. Steven F. Windmueller, the retired Dean of the School of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College authored a piece in eJewish Philanthropy entitled The Unfolding of the Third American Jewish Revolution. He notes, “Over the past several years, we have been witness to the unraveling of the global economy and
more directly the American enterprise. This economic “tsunami” has led to a fundamental reordering of the structural and financial well-being of many core institutions. In particular, this upheaval is having a profound impact on the American Jewish community. Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff suggests that America is experiencing its “Second Great Contraction” (the first involved the Great Depression). In such an economic setting, output, employment, debt, housing prices, and equity can take four or more years to recover. He wrote recently: “The difference between ‘contractions’ and ‘recessions’ is that the former last much longer and requires a different medicine to cure the economy.” Rogoff sees the fiscal crisis today as more reflective of the Depression than a traditional recessionary cycle. This school of economic thought holds to the view that government must find an alternative solution than simply introducing short-term stimulus spending. Proponents suggest that as a society we are experiencing a reordering of our core social fabric and structure. The economic outcomes and new social realities will require us to think differently about certain basic elements, including “work”, “membership” and “community”. In the context of understanding both the events surrounding the Depression of 1929 and the current global economic picture, it may be of value to examine similar trends, shared challenges, and potential opportunities that shaped the lives of America’s Jews and their communal institutions during this earlier period that may provide lessons for us. After going over the history and development of Jewish organizational and communal structures, Dr. Windmuller opines, “If the current economic climate reflects a national “contraction” rather than a recession, then our financial strategies and institutional planning will need to incorporate a different and distinct course of action. The strategies that employed will have a profound impact on how our synagogues, agencies and organizations will operate as part of this lengthy period of economic transition. The article is complex – too complex for me to boil it down to just a few paragraphs. Dr. Windmueller lays out the problems carefully and suggests ways in which the can and should be handled. I cannot urge you strongly enough to click on the link below to read it in its entirety. If you’ll do that you will get an important insight into the problems American Jewry is facing and what they must do in terms of a revolutionary adjustment in order to face the future. Click here to read it. http://www.jidaily.com/ys6M/e THE SUBMARINES
For several years I have been following and reporting on the German sale of submarines to Israel. It was pretty obvious right from the beginning that the subs stood to be Israel’s second strike offensive weapon should an attack on Iran be deemed necessary. It was equally obvious that while Germany was not building the subs with nuclear capacity they would be quickly converted once they were in Israeli hands. After all, what did Israel need subs that only had regular torpedoes or machine guns? So, I was quite surprised that when a raft of articles started to appear this past week unveiling the great secret that the subs had nuclear capacity. If this was a secret, it was the worst kept secret in the history of secrecy. If there was any surprise it was that this non-secret all of a sudden became a media sensation. Of course, the subs have nuclear capacity. They would be useless otherwise. I don’t think there is any doubt that Israel and world Jewry feel a debt of gratitude to Germany for providing the Jewish nation with its most important weapon. When the Chancellor said that Germany would give Israel “its back” (I assume meaning its backing) this is just the kind of support it needs. Many other nations give lip service but in this case Germany is backing up its promises with action. If there was ever an action to ward off war and help preserve peace the sale of the subs are it. An Israel without this sort of responsive weapon almost insures a more aggressive stance by Iran and a possible war “to wipe it from the face of the earth”. Preventive weapons help preserve peace. Period! ********************************************************************************************** See you again at the end of the month. DuBow Digest is written and published by Eugene DuBow who can be contacted by clicking here Both the American and Germany editions are posted at www.dubowdigest.typepad.com Click here to connect
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