Jüdische Allgemeine has brought an article by Gideon Lewis-Kraus to my attention in which Lewis-Kraus questions the authenticity of German Jewish life in Berlin.

Lewis-Kraus points out that Jewish life in Berlin is marked by non-Jews that enjoy doing things they perceive as typically Jewish, such as listening to klezmer music (which was a cultural expression of Eastern European, not German Jewry), immigrants from the CIS, and NY Jews trying to live up to a cultural heritage that is not theirs, respectively trying to realize cultural dreams that were crushed in NY.

The question Lewis-Kraus rightfully raises is whether there even exists anything like a Berlin Jewish identity, particularly considering that the largest body of Jews in Berlin and people passionate about Jewish culture in Berlin are immigrants from across the Big Pond or people that have crawled out from behind the former Iron Curtain (like my beloved Russendisko artists) or that are, indeed, not Jewish.

I have to admit, I’ve never been to Berlin. And I don’t feel any desire to. As a Rhinelander by mentality, I feel about as passionate about going to Berlin as about going to Düsseldorf. Cologne’s way more cosmopolitan anyway. (There’s a popular joke here in the Rhineland that there’s more of a party atmosphere at a Cologne cortège than during a Carnival parade in Düsseldorf.) But Lewis-Kraus’ article does make me wonder whether Geman Jewish cultural life has been or whatnot dominated by cultural concepts of American and CIS Jewry, whether we could even draw a definite line between different Jewish cultural spheres, and whether it really matters at all what kind of Jewry has been establishing itself in Berlin. What really entertains my mind in this context is the question whether assimilation-bashing tendencies do even provide for that kind of highly educated bourgeoisie that bred Mendelsohn, Weill, Kandinsky, Lasker-Schüler, Einstein, and Heine but to name a few. Suppose we’ll see…

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  • If they are trying to really pray Judaism, in real-time, well, that is all anybody ever did. If that is true, it is authentic. This is an ongoing process, and you never get there, you are always on the way.

    As for the creative, innovative, productive bourgeoisie … I worry its day is over, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Something else may be needed now.

    The Torah is eternal, even if the Nobel Prize turns out not to be, G-d forbid.

    You have the Torah. You want roots too? Well, have you been to Israel? Have you given them some money or time?

  • Froylein, Froylein warum der Berlin Hass? 🙂 Da musste hin, die Stadt ist einfach der Hammer!

    I really enjoyed Kraus’ bit and as a former Berlin resident agree with about everything he said.

    Speaking of Façades, I would also add that active Jewish spiritual life in Berlin leaves a great deal to be desired. For having a Jewish memorial, Jewish museum, a few Jewish graveyards, and the neue Synagoge, active Jewish life is more or less limited to Chabad and the Joachimstaler Strasse shul.

  • JM, my apologies for the delay in reply. For some odd reason your comments lately don’t appear by me until somebody else has commented…

    I don’t think the bourgeoisie’s days are over yet, certainly not over here, where a well-established middle class is gradually turning into distinctively set-apart educational as well as social upper and lower middle class. I also don’t think that social, cultural and educational advances towards a society one chooses to reside in inevitably mean a loss of religious identity. I’d rather claim that only somebody who’s educational and cultural experiences are well-rounded possesses the ability to deliberately decide on / in favour of a faith. Many people tend to stick to what they were born into, without any questioning, yet the Talmud claims that what makes humans be humans (as opposed to animals) is a human’s ability to (deliberately) say “no”.

    I have been to Israel; part of my university studies was biblical exegesis. I don’t buy each and any bridge I get offered. 🙂

    Elon, die Antwort ist einfach: Preußen. 😉

  • Froylein: when you say “Rhinelander”, do you mean Bavarian? The one thing all of the Bavarians I have met have in common is their hatred of Prussia (and their tendency to toot the Bavarian horn, of course).

    I was in Munich once for a few days on business long ago. The drivers are crazy, but the beer is top-notch.

  • Ephraim, Rhinelanders live in the very west of Germany; this area was under Prussian occupation after the Vienna Congress, and the authority-loving Prussian mindset (rooted in Protestant theology, which from the start claimed obedience to worldly authorities a biblical requirement and put worldly rulers in charge of its churches) has never been too digestable for people here. To give you a vague idea…

  • Does everybody in Germany hate the Prussians?

    Not that I blame them, necessarily; just checking.

  • Indeed, Ephraim, consider that Germany was not a unified state, but a loose association of German-speaking territories until Bismarck first attempted to unify if from top-down. Many perceived Prussians as a domestic colonial power, – endorsed by most European monarchies – forcing their administration onto about any German-speaking part of Europe besides Austria-Hungary by the help of military presence. Napoleon, whose defeat had provided for that situation as it also meant the political defeat of many political leaders (generally part of the nobility that co-operated with Napoleon; he’d secularized church property and given that property to them as a considerable bribe) in the areas he had occupied, had brought about a few positive / important changes in the French-occupied territories (Code Civil aka Code Napoleon, 1804) such as civil weddings, heritage laws that granted a share of the heritage to any child as opposed to the primogenity law that had previously been in effect, thus providing for more marriages among non-first-borns (which generally were abolished in Europe till the mid-18th century) – basically it was the first work of law that granted civil rights to many. French savoir vivre was way closer to the mentality of the people in the occupied territories (Rhinelanders are occasionally called the Italians among the Germans – we talk with our hand and feet, sing as often as we can, enjoy good food and drinks, consider being punctual offensive – a courteous Rhinelander is always fifteen minutes late to a dinner invitation -, squeeze in vowels where they don’t belong in standard German, would consider not stuffing guests with food up to the ears an offence, and business is family) Also, Prussia pulled all of Germany down with it into WW1. Both my great-grandfathers on my mother’s side were drafted, one was in the navy, the other – standing 6’5″ tall, being handsome and knowledgeable in handling horses – was made part of Emperor William II’s life guard. The latter was one of two of his unit that survived Verdun. Both my great-grandfathers were decidedly pacifist for the rest of their lives. People didn’t want this war in which Prussia had aimed to show off its military power it had considered superior, hence there was a lot of nationalist popaganda aiming at the honour of young men to enlist for the war “for Germany”. So indeed, if a Rhinelander calls somebody a Prussian, what he actually means to say, “You’re an absolutely humourless creature with a stick up your tuches, no sense of a nice cuisine, fine arts, fashion. You hop when somebody says, ‘jump.’ Oh, and BTW, you’re ugly.”
    Just to give you an idea. 🙂

  • Hm. You guys sound like the Bavarians I know.

    I would like to take the Rhine tour at some point. All that Riesling and all those castles.

  • Let me know when, and I’ll help you with the itinerary. There’s a festival of fireworks on the Rhine river in the summer called Rhine in Flames, which is pretty popular. Summer’s can be incredibly hot here though as the slate mountains store the heat and radiate it at night, so nocturnal temperatures can be as high as in the high 80s then, and air conditioning isn’t common here. May’s a good time for travelling, as temperatures are usually mild then and there’s little, if any, rain. Also, there are no school breaks during May in this area, so places are cheaper then.

  • froylein ignores the Prussia of progressive, 19th century social welfare legislation. And the cool spiked helmets….. btw, how many Rhinelander or Bavarian delegates to the Reichstag voted against war credits in 1914?

  • Tom, during Bismarck’s lifetime only one person benefited from Prussia’s social welfare legislation. The delegates to the Reichstag were Prussian dummies as afterall, those pre-dominantly Catholic areas were not entitled to actually partake in politics since Bismarck’s ‘Kulturkampf’. Bismarck himself said, “Mit den Katholiken ist kein Staat zu machen.” (= You cannot make a state [i.e. engage in politics] with Catholics.)

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