‘A sign of faith’ in Jewish German life: University of Potsdam opens city’s first synagogue since the Holocaust

“We are sending out an important sign of faith in the future of Jewish life in Germany.”

By Dion J. Pierre, The Algemeiner

The city of Potsdam opened its first synagogue since the Holocaust on Wednesday, nearly 83 years after the last Jewish house of worship was destroyed by the Nazis. Complementing two rabbinical seminaries, it was the highlight attraction of the day’s opening ceremony of the European Center for Jewish Scholarship at the University of Potsdam.

Funded by donations from around the globe, the 40-person-capacity institution’s Shabbat candlesticks, Torah pointer, and Torah shield — with symbols representing the twelve tribes of Israel carved in high relief — were all made in Israel, according to Germany’s Jüdische Allgemeine newspaper.

The building will sit inside the Neues Palais in Palace Park, connecting two seminaries — the Abraham Geiger College and Zacharias Frankel College — with the School of Jewish Theology. The institution currently enrolls about 80 students, the school said, including 31 vying to be cantors or rabbis.

“A synagogue at an academic institute, that’s quite unusual,” said Walter Homolka, Chairman of the Union of Progressive Jews, to the German outlet.

At the opening ceremony of the Center on Wednesday, the Torah scrolls were placed inside the synagogue by Josef Schuster, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and Sonja Guenter, President of the European Union of Progressive Jews.

“We are rightly proud of the traditions of Jewish learning in our country,” Schuster said, citing the impact of Abraham Geiger and Zacharias Frankel, two German rabbis instrumental to developing Judaism’s Reform and Conservative movements, respectively.

“We are sending out an important sign of faith in the future of Jewish life in Germany,” Schuster added.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also attended Wednesday’s festivities. Addressing an audience of 250 guests from German society, he said the European Center for Jewish Scholarship is a “gift for our country” and an “educational institution that radiates far beyond its borders.”

Steinmeier also addressed rising concerns of bigotry against German Jews.

“It pains me and makes me angry that anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic hatred, and agitation in Germany, of all places, have been openly manifesting themselves again, for years now,” he said. “There can only be one response for us Germans. We, every individual, and we as a whole society must not tolerate anti-Semitism of any kind.”

In November 1938, the former Potsdam synagogue was plundered during Kristallnacht, also known by historians as the Reichspogromnacht, along with hundreds of synagogues across Germany.