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Germany

German Jewish community opens first new liberal synagogue since war

The Jewish community of Hamelin has dedicated Germany's first new liberal synagogue building since the Second World War. The dedication comes over seventy years after the Nazis destroyed the city's original synagogue.

dedication ceremony hamelin

The new liberal synagogue is a sign of Lower Saxony's growing Jewish community

In a public demonstration of Lower Saxony's growing Jewish community, the mid-size city of Hamelin on Sunday dedicated Germany's first purpose-built liberal synagogue since the Second World War.

Liberal Judaism views men and women as religious equals and allows services to be performed in the local language.

The new house of worship was constructed on the site where Hamelin's previous synagogue, built in 1879, was destroyed by the Nazis over seventy years ago.

"Every dedication of a new synagogue is a clear signal that we take our future seriously and that we are ready to lay roots here," said Stephan Kramer, general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

The new "Beitenu" Community Center, which means "our house," has a congregation of 200. Congregants come from twelve different nations, primarily from the states of the former Soviet Union.

The spiritual core of the new synagogue is a 100-year-old Torah scroll, the Jewish holy text. The scroll - originally written in Germany -has been returned after being kept first in Israel and later the US for decades, according to New York Rabbi Jo David.

Growing community

Twenty years ago, Lower Saxony had a Jewish population of just 600. Today, that population has grown to around 9,000. Growth has been supported by public financing. The Beitenu center, which cost around 1 million euro ($1.3 million), received two thirds of its funding from state and local government. The remaining third came from private donations and loans.

torah scrolls

The new synagogue will house German Torah scrolls recently returned from the US

"This is a historic day for our state," said Lower Saxony's Minister of Culture Bernd Althusmann (CDU). "State and local government is helping to finance this growing community all over."

But Kramer reminded attendees at the dedication ceremony that the "demons" of the past continue to live. Last weekend, hundreds of Neo-Nazis marched in Dresden and Leipzig, leading to street clashes.

"We have to remember that not everyone has drawn the necessary lessons from history," Kramer said.

Author: Spencer Kimball (epd, KNA, dpa)
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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