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1,700 flags to celebrate Jewish life in Germany

Sabine Oelze
December 10, 2021

On Saturday, 1,700 flags will be raised to commemorate 1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany. Due to the pandemic, the festival year will be extended until summer 2022.

A colorful striped flag with the inscription: Auf das Leben, 1700 Jahre jüdisches Leben in Deutschland
Image: Thomas Banneyer/dpa/picture alliance

"Auf das Leben!" German for: "To life!" (l'chaim) — a Jewish toast — can be read from December 11 on 1,700 flags in Germany in different public institutions, state parliaments, parties, synagogues, churches, schools, universities, sports clubs, adult education centers, museums and the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

The campaign is an initiative of the association "321-2021: 1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany."

"Everywhere in Germany this weekend people are taking part in the action 'Fly the flag for Jewish Life and against antisemitism,'" read a tweet by the organizers ahead of the event. 

A commemoration of Emperor Constantine's edict

With the action, the anniversary year marking 1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany (#2021JLID) reaches its climax on December 11.

On exactly this day 1,700 years ago, the Roman Emperor Constantine issued an edict that marks the earliest evidence of Jewish life in Germany.

At the time, the Cologne City Council wanted to repair a dilapidated bridge but lacked the financial means, and a Jew named Isaac wanted to help out. He would, however, have to hold office in the city council. A request was subsequently submitted to the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great.

"By law valid throughout the empire, we permit all city councils to appoint Jews to the city council," read Constantine's resulting edict. The emperor had unknowingly produced the first written evidence of Jewish life in Europe north of the Alps.

Positive interim balance of the anniversary year

The festival year was opened with a ceremony on February 21, 2021 in the presence of Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Marking Jewish life in Germany

The year's program counted more than 1,500 events, including a traveling exhibition tracing the history of the edict of Emperor Constantine, as well as a podcast about Jewish life in Germany.

The organizers of the festival year "1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany" are pleased with the outcome of the program, which will be extended until summer 2022 due to the pandemic. 

"Many Jews said that for the first time in 76 years they had dared to show their customs in German squares and streets," says Andrei Kovacs, the managing director of the association.

How little non-Jews know about Jews is also shown by a video that was shot during the festival year. In it a young person says: "To be Jewish means to have to explain again and again what it means to be Jewish."

Another particularly impressive highlight, says Kovacs, was the construction of the first tabernacle outside a Jewish facility in Münster, at the Tabernacles Festival in September.

Jews and non-Jews experience togetherness

The Holocaust and antisemitism were not actually the focus of the festival year, but in view of an increase in antisemitic incidents, they cannot be ignored. According to the Department for Research and Information on Antisemitism (RIAS), there were a total of 522 antisemitic incidents perpetrated, including attacks, property damage, threats or agitation, in Berlin alone in the first half of 2021. 

"Judaism is constitutive for Germany," underlines the general secretary of the Association 321, Sylvia Löhrmann, adding, "The flag campaign aims to show that too. The fact that so many people are participating sends a strong signal: We belong together!"


This article was translated from German.