Stu Seltzer is an alumna of the Wexner Heritage Program, Westchester/New York ’07. Stu is currently Co-chair of the UJA Federation campaign for Westchester County, NY. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Donate a Torah in Germany? I can’t even bring myself to buy a German car.” This was my reaction when my friend Jon Spielman first invited my family to join him on his trip to dedicate a Torah to a synagogue in Brandenburg, Germany. However I kept thinking of my Wexner learning experience and its over-arching mission of “Jewish continuity.” “If there are Jews in Germany today we need to assist and embrace them,” I thought. So we jumped in on this unique family learning experience and joined the excitement by donating a shofar to this new synagogue (I’m Baal Tokia at my synagogue).
The Jews of Brandenburg were a strong Jewish community with over 1,000 Jewish families in 1938. On Kristallnacht, the German police burned down the synagogue, destroyed the Jewish shops and killed the rabbi. All the Brandenburg Jews left town shortly after this horrible night. The rabbi’s house became a German police station and remained an active police station until 1991 when the German government returned the property to the Jewish community. This past year, Russian Jews settled in Brandenburg and formed the first Jewish community since 1938. The Torah dedication ceremony (held on August 18, 2010) was a big deal for Brandenburg.
The symbolism was incredible when the German police, safely holding torches, lined the path for the Torah procession. The mayor of Brandenburg hosted an event for the Jewish community in its town hall with a formal kosher dinner including speeches from dignitaries about the dawn of a revival of Jewish life in Brandenburg.
The concept of Jewish continuity really closed the circle for me the next morning.I presented the shofar to the synagogue; spoke to them about the meaning; and gave a shofar blowing lesson. They looked up in awe with expressions that I typically see when I blow shofar for the nursery schools.
I thought to myself, “there is hope in a world where people can change from destroying the Jewish population to welcoming Jewish émigrés from Russia.” Overall this memorable trip just felt right and it has given me more clarity and meaning as I work on Jewish continuity challenges here in the US.